Style and excitement clothe the crowd of Niall Horan fans outside of one of the most revered music venues in the world, the Ryman Auditorium. The air is chilly but the crowd of huddling girls waiting in line appear to be unfazed. I am handed a “fan project” printout as I wait in line. Just one indication of the caliber of fanbase that surrounds Niall.
The lovely Ryman staff welcome Directioners and solo followers into the special space. I make my way up to the second floor in pursuit of tour merchandise. I file into the longest line of giddiness ever seen in order to claim something to remember the night by. John Mayer’s “Dear Marie” plays over the speakers all around. I am exactly where I want to be. The conversations around me are focused on one thing: Niall Horan. The lovable, Irish counterpart of the world’s biggest boy band, One Direction. Regardless of age and maturity the excitement is infectious. Items are being sold out just before I can reach the end of the line.
I make my way to my pew on the floor and settle into the spot I will occupy for the show.
The stage is warmed for Niall by another Irishman, Gavin James. His sweet, joking charisma and wide-ranging vocals are not mistaken for anything less than gratitude. He dotes on the city of Nashville throughout his opening set.
Less than two minutes before Niall is to take the stage, a commotion begins. Pointing and waving from the floor to the balcony: Luke Bryan and Charles Kelley are among ticket holders.
When the rooms gets dark, the screaming ensues. Much like its name, “The Tide” marks the beginning of the show and the wave of emotion that Niall will consistently evoke. Within the initial moments, Niall’s presentness is overwhelming- in the best way. Don’t let the tide come and take me comes from the stage. Niall reveals the personal nature of his debut album and it feels wholly authentic.
There is nothing less than everyone singing “Seeing Blind” back to Niall in top-of-the-lungs fashion. Flicker, Niall’s debut album, is not even a month old yet and every word to every song on the album is being sung by every person in the room. That is flooring and feels like an incredibly special thing to be a part of.
On this note, Niall speaks of his need to thank the fans for embracing his first album. Reaching #1 on the Billboard 200… Not so bad for a debut album.
He masks his famous Irish accent with a country impersonation before awe-ing over the Ryman: “no matter where you come from in the world, there is a bucket list of venues that you’d like to play, for me it’s Wembley Stadium… I’ve been lucky enough to play some of these places, Madison Square Garden, Croke Park at home in my home country… and the Ryman Auditorium” *rubs his arm* “goosebumps.”
“This Town,” “Paper Houses,” “You and Me” and “Fire Away” proceed.
Niall introduces the title track with special insight. For him, the writing of “Flicker” changed the entire direction of the album. The song is autobiographical and a pivotal point in the album.
The spirit of the room is something you can only feel. “Flicker” ends with the statement from its creator: “That was one of the best moments of my life. That was pretty sweet.” I nearly cry due to how present Niall is, how his lyrics help make sense of my own life and the intensity of the shared experience with everyone in the room. I recognize just how much Niall has seen and experienced in his touring life with One Direction, in many ways unprecedented success, yet he deems this moment one of the best of his life.
“Too Much To Ask” follows.
The mutual enjoyment is obvious but Niall also verbalizes it: “This is the point that you wish you had two albums.” Agreed, if only the night would never end!
The Flicker session continues with “Since We’re Alone,” “Mirrors” and “On the Loose.”
The band leaves the stage. Niall is alone with his crowd. He pays homage to One Direction with “Fool’s Gold.” He unplugs and quietens the crowd. The acoustics of the Ryman flatter the sound of the crowd singing back.
Niall puts his guitar down for the grooves of “Slow Hands.”
All of the energy is matched in the conclusion of the Flicker session: “On My Own.” The ballad is unmistakably of Irish influence. In all of his Irish pride and charm, he swings his guitar around with choppy strums and resolve: everybody’s got somebody, I just want to be alone.
The man of the hour says his thanks and goodbyes as he and his band exit the famous stage.
The crowd spills out of the Ryman and into the streets with a mix of the crowd exiting the nearby Guns N’ Roses concert at Bridgestone Arena. On a Monday night you can catch a Guns show or a Flicker Session in the same city. Nashville, you are the coolest.