TAMPA — As she put on an incredible show at Amalie Arena on Friday night, Alicia Keys made one thing very clear: She cherishes her audience.
We know because she told us so repeatedly, and from the smiles and energy she kept up for more than two hours, it was believable.
It hasn’t been long since Keys was last in town; she played an intimate show at the Seminole Hard Rock Tampa Event Center last year. But with a massive stage and screens, her Keys to the Summer tour was a true arena experience.
Fans who purchased the VIP experience got a deeper connection and face time with Keys in a unique way. In what is called the Soulcare Session, Keys talks to fans about personal, emotional topics.
We sat in on the 40-minute session before watching the concert. Here’s what we saw.
The Soulcare Session
Keys has been on a journey of self-care, which includes her own personal care product line called Keys Soulcare. Products were on display to try, as was a stand holding souvenir keys with words such as “creativity,” “wisdom,” “resilience,” and “clarity” etched on them. These would be some of the themes of the session.
Behind purple curtains, we entered a room covered in purple patterned rugs, bean bags and floor cushions. The scent of aromatherapy oil flowed from a diffuser. As we waited for Keys to come in, we watched a video of a sound bath — soothing tones made by rubbing a mallet around the rim of a bowl. A hush fell over the room. Those who talked did so in whispers.
When Keys arrived, the silence was broken with applause. Her vibe was chill.
“How’s it going?” she said. “Did I zen you guys out?”
She sat on a velvet sofa facing the diverse crowd of about 40 people. She explained that she likes to bring the energy and mindfulness of self-love and connection before she performs.
She opened up a dialogue about fear, and how it gets in the way of productivity. Several people shared things that they’re afraid of; rejection and disappointment were major themes. Speaking in a soft tone, Keys talked about her own fear of being judged.
Once she opened up the conversation for questions, the fans’ adoration came pouring out. She humbly received and warmly reciprocated their love. A fan said that she appreciated that Keys is “down-to-earth.”
“Thank you ... and that is the biggest compliment you could give me,” Keys said.
Another lively group revealed that they’d met in the VIP experience at Keys’ Tampa show last year.
Dubbing themselves the AK Crew in Tampa, Stephanie Martinez, Heidi Elliott, Sara Sillars, Brittney Josephs and TR Coney kept in touch and got together when tickets went on sale for this show.
Elliott, who was wearing a homemade T-shirt with a photo of Keys on it, said that the Soulcare Session was worth it for the level of connection with Keys, rather than the typically brief experience of most meet-and-greets.
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The session ended with Keys leading the group to wish one fan a happy birthday. After photo sessions with Keys, everyone was primed to watch their idol perform.
Connection and accessibility to fans carried over to Keys’ performance. The stage was set up in the center of the arena, flanked by two long catwalks with giant screens hanging overhead so everyone could see her no matter where she was on the stage. Keys’ bejeweled piano also rotated to give the audience optimal views.
That kind of visibility wasn’t available during the set of Libianca, who opened for Keys. Still, the Cameroonian-American artist and her band gave a powerhouse performance that had everyone grooving.
Arriving in some kind of shroud, Keys popped up on the stage to deliver “Fallin’,” her breakout hit that usually comes later in the set. The thunderous energy of the delivery set the night’s tone.
Keys performed a whopping 31-song set, drawing from her 20-year repertoire. Dressed in a sporty pant/skirt combo with an oversized hoodie, she worked every inch of the stage, riling up the crowd on each side and asking, “Can you feel me over here?” She commented on the energy Tampa was bringing.
During “Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart,” she shimmied her shoulders and danced down the catwalk, which excited the crowd. After she made her way to a staircase platform at the end of the stage, a male dancer came out to enhance the vibe of “My Boo,” Keys’ song with R&B star Usher.
“My first boo was from the Bronx, New York City,” she teased after the song, making the crowd giddy in anticipation for the anthem they were expecting — but that wouldn’t come until later.
It was “City of Gods” instead, with Keys singing, “New York City please go easy on me tonight,” before she disappeared down into the staircase on a trap door.
While she was away, background vocalist Norelle Simpson took control and keyboardist Q and drummer Garrison Brown flexed their skills on solos. Throughout the show, guitarist Curt Chambers played powerful licks contrasted by bassist Damo Farmer’s funky grooves.
Keys magically rose up through the staircase seated at a different piano, sporting a voluminous black cape and statement shades, and launched into the Prince cover, “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?” She stayed there, playing solo for the next few songs, then returned to the band for “Diary.”
More key moments came with “Girl on Fire,” with big plumes of smoke shooting from the stage, and “Empire State of Mind,” the audience’s favorite ode to New York City.
Ending with the love song “No One,” she came back for an encore of “If I Ain’t Got You” and let the audience sing the chorus a capella. When we could see her hands playing the piano on the screen, it was one last goosebump-inducing moment.
2. New Day
3. Love Looks Better
5. You Don’t Know My Name
6. Teenage Love Affair
8. Try Sleeping With a Broken Heart
9. Un-Thinkable (I’m Ready)
11. Blended Family (What You Do for Love)
12. Holy War
13. Come for Me
14. My Boo
15. City of Gods (Part II) (Fivio Foreign, Kanye)
16. How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore (Prince cover)
17. The Thing About Love
18. A Woman’s Worth
20. Not Even the King
21. That’s How Strong My Love Is
23. Like You’ll Never See Me Again
24. I Need You
25. The Gospel
26. Where Do We Go From Here
27. Girl on Fire
28. Empire State of Mind
29. Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) (Eurythmics cover)
30. In Common
31. No One
If I Ain’t Got You