ARTS AMBASSADOR: Ben Folds
Imagine a city without classical music. No, wait, let's get specific: Imagine your city without classical music.
"If someone doesn't realize what a symphony orchestra does for their city, and they decide not to invest in it, they do so at their peril," said Ben Folds. "What is it going to be, just a big warehouse with strip clubs?" (Um, don't answer that, Tampa.)
Folds, 49, is an unlikely ambassador for the arts, considering his past as the piano-pounding frontman for North Carolina power-pop trio Ben Folds Five, whose rambunctious 1997 album Whatever and Ever Amen got many a '90s music nerd (like me!) through high school.
But he's come a long way since Rockin' the Suburbs as an angry young man. In recent years, he's collaborated with various symphonies, including the Florida Orchestra in 2014 and chamber-pop ensemble yMusic on 2015's So There, which concludes with a nearly 21-minute, three-movement concerto. When Folds and yMusic perform at the Mahaffey Theater at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, they'll bring much of So There, and a few of Folds' earlier songs, to life in ways you've never heard them before. And Folds thinks we Floridians are ready for it.
"Sun-and-fun kind of places haven't really yielded as much interesting music to me," he said. "But right now in Florida, there seems to be a real influx of both money and culture and interest in symphonic music."
Tickets to the show are $35.50 and up at (727) 892-5767 or themahaffey.com.
For more with Ben Folds, visit tampabay.com/soundcheck.
IT GIRL: Tori Kelly
How is it possible that Tori Kelly has never performed a full show in Florida? Doesn't it seem like she's everywhere? The Grammys, the MTV Video Music Awards, those omnipresent jingles for Pepsi — could the 23-year-old singer possibly be more present in our lives?
"I've been really looking forward to coming out that way," said Kelly, who performs at the Ritz Ybor on Tuesday.
So have we. Since last summer's release of her debut album Unbreakable Smile — which featured collaborations with Max Martin, Ed Sheeran and LL Cool J — Kelly has been fast-tracked to stardom. Sure, her '90s-R&B throwback single Should've Been Us should've been a little bigger, but her rangy voice remains unimpeachable, and her memorable turns at those aforementioned awards shows have widened her fan base considerably. At the Grammys, where she was nominated for Best New Artist and performed with James Bay, Kelly felt a little star-struck.
"I still kind of geek out when I see people like Pharrell," she said. "My family was sitting right next to the Foo Fighters, so that was pretty cool."
Soon enough, even those guys might know Kelly's name. She's everywhere, you know.
The show, with Thirdstory opening, is at 8 p.m Tuesday at the Ritz, 1503 E Seventh Ave., Ybor City. $27.50 and up. (813) 390-0397. theritzybor.com.
For more with Tori Kelly, click here.
'EX'S' MARK THE SPOT: Elle King
One huge hit and a couple of Grammy nominations later, Elle King is no longer merely Rob Schneider's daughter. In fact, these days, Schneider might be better known as Elle King's father. Such is the power of Ex's & Oh's, King's saucy, sassy debut single, and her 2015 album Love Stuff, which hews toward rollicking roots-rock and smoky throwback soul. Peg her as a one-hit wonder at your own risk, but like the ex-boyfriends of Ex's & Oh's, you might find yourself pining for her down the line. She'll perform with Clear Plastic Masks at 8 p.m. Saturday at the State Theatre, 687 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. $16 and up. (727) 895-3045. statetheatreconcerts.com.
COUNTRY CLUBBING: Billy Currington, Chris Janson
No need to bake in the sun all day at a tailgate to catch a good country concert this weekend.
On Friday, harmonica-totin' Missourian Chris Janson, left, swaggers into the Dallas Bull, 3322 U.S. 301 N in Tampa, to preach the Power of Positive Drinkin'. With his huge 2015 hit Buy Me a Boat, Janson introduced everyone to a new type of American Dream — a pickup, a boat, and a Yeti 110 stocked with Coors Light — and saw his country-rock crossover appeal take him to The Tonight Show. Doors open at 7 p.m.; tickets are $10-$15 at (813) 987-2855 or dallasbull.com.
And on Saturday, shaggy Georgia boy Billy Currington will detour from a small amphitheater tour for a club gig at the Ritz Ybor, 1503 E Seventh Ave., Ybor City. That's intimate quarters for a guy with nine country airplay No. 1 singles, including Don't It and Good Directions. Seth Ennis opens the show at 7 p.m., and tickets are $29.50 and up at (813) 390-0397 or theritzybor.com.