As I approached the venue on a Wednesday night in mid-June, the chance of being in the front row was apparently gone. A crowd of 100 teenage girls swarmed around the doors, some awaiting their VIP experience and more waiting just to get in to see the show. All held an excitement and longing like no other.
The night's headliner was 18-year-old Jacob Whitesides, a Tennessee-born teen that has been making his mark as a pop singer-songwriting. With nothing but a few EPs under his belt, Whitesides has managed to create a name for himself at a young age, and has collected a couple million fans along the way.
While the fans waited impatiently along Hawthorne Boulevard, clutching their tickets and purses, some with gifts for Whitesides, some struggling to open their store-bought Starbucks Frappuccinos, Whitesides decided to treat those of us who couldn’t pay for the VIP package to our own little treat.
As the headliner for the night, it was completely unexpected to see him emerge from of the building to greet the already huge crowd outside. Yet, Whitesides seems to have not lost touch with how important the fan and artist connection truly is. Though we were instructed not to take photos, Whitesides spent time talking to each fan in line, giving hugs and autographs, high fives and complicated handshakes.
It was great to see this tight-knit interaction and so much love for his fans so early in the night—before the show even started. And once it started, this connection never ceased.
The night began early with fellow pop songwriter Shane Harper taking the stage around 7:50pm. Harper, known for his acting roles in movies like God’s Not Dead as well as his stint in Disney Channel’s Good Luck Charlie, showed a passion and talent matching that of what would come from the night’s headliner.
One of Harper’s most recognized songs of the set was his track from God’s Not Dead (listen to “Hold You Up” below), a song that he said held a lot of meaning for him. The crowd seemed to recognize the track, whether from the film or simply knowing Harper’s discography, and some sang along to his stripped-down version.
As Shane Harper’s set wound down, the crowd began to wait on the arrival of Jacob Whitesides. With a playlist of crowd-pleasing songs playing over the speakers, the audience shuffled to get a good view of his arrival as the stage setup wrapped up.
Whitesides took the stage and launched straight into a set of songs from his polished pop arsenal. The crowd immediately took to singing and dancing along with his upbeat melodies. Two little girls in the back of the room sported princess dresses and tried out popular moves like the dab to Whitesides’ songs. Most others in the crowd just bopped in place.
Between songs, Whitesides’ young and optimistic personality came out as he told stories of the songs he had written, and these tales only strengthened his connection with his fans. In such an intimate venue (but still bigger than his last headlining gig in the Northwest, which he pointed out), Whitesides was able to keep a constant, friendly chat with the audience.
Some fans would ask him questions, give him a compliment, or just engage in casual small talk with the singer, and he would, without skipping a beat, respond and talk back. It was something you don’t see often at a show—a kind of friendship between artist and audience.
At one point, a girl in the front row told Whitesides, “My dad’s waiting outside. I have to go. I’m sorry.”
Whitesides responded, “Aww no, I’m sorry. I wish you could stay. But I understand. Thank you so much for coming. It means a lot”—all before climbing down into the crowd to give her a hug and send her off.
In addition to this connection and displaying so much love for his fans, his performance and music were polished and precise, which defined his stage presence and gave more insight into his personality. From more upbeat songs featuring electric guitar, to stripped-down acoustic numbers, Jacob Whitesides proved through his performance that he truly is the new face of singer-songwriter pop.
With millions of followers already behind him, it wouldn’t be surprising if Whitesides grew to even larger proportions. With only two EPs to his name, there’s no telling how far his soon-to-come debut LP will take him. It wouldn’t be off-base to say we won’t be seeing the name Jacob Whitesides posted outside small theaters for very long—he’ll need a space with more capacity soon.