The last time Sawyer Fredericks played the Palace Theatre, he was centerstage, as 2,800 devotees watched the soon-to-be winner of The Voice celebrate his triumphant homecoming in 2015.
Fredricks’ latest performance at the venue was both a bit similar and a bit different.
It still featured his recognizable folky pipes and slick guitar skills, along with a few cameras pointed at him — this time not filming for a television show, but rather a YouTube stream — but he wasn’t staring at a sold-out crowd during a Wednesday stream. This time, he was one of a handful of people at the venue, staring into a camera as he performed to an audience of hundreds of YouTube viewers.
But with about 10 of these bigger concert streams under his belt and after sharing countless of his own livestream performances with fans, he’s still learning to harness the emotion that comes with playing for a live crowd.
“The main thing I miss about having an audience is I don’t feel I can get into the emotion of my songs as much,” Fredericks told The Gazette after his performance aired Wednesday. “I just can’t draw from the audience at all. It’s a little bit better when I can see comments from the audience when I’m like performing live … [But for Wednesday’s stream], I had a little audience there. So I was able to feel a little more genuine when I was performing.”
On Wednesday night, the Palace Theatre rolled out the fifth installment of its Palace Sessions series, featuring Fredericks, fellow The Voice star Moriah Formica and American Idol finalist Madison VanDenburg. The pre-recorded YouTube stream aimed to raise money for the local venue with donation recommendations, and featured short sets from the Capitol Region singing-competition trifecta, ranging from VanDenburg’s melodic songwriting to Fredricks’ rich and twangy acoustic folk rock.
All three performers, aged from 19 to 21, were no strangers to homecomings before Wednesday night. Fredericks has headlined Saratoga Performing Arts Center and The Palace before, while VanDenburg and Formica joint-headlined the Times Union Center in the summer of 2019. Wednesday, however, was the first time the homegrown stars have played on the same bill. And while fans couldn’t sing along in person, the show proved that the Capital Region’s most recognizable voices don’t need a physical crowd to win over fans.
Fredricks kicked off the show at 7 p.m. with a five-song set, most tracks being from his 2020 release “Flowers For You.”
Opening with track “Days Go By” and working into the record’s title track and later “Lies You Tell,” he was a one-man-band to watch, showing his maturity as a vocalist. In between tracks, he shouted-out the Palace and asked for locals to donate to the venue, a sentiment echoed by event host WEXT’s Dave Michaels.
Following Fredericks, American Idol Season 17 finalist VanDenburg played through three originals, including her recently released track “Eighteen.” The smooth-voiced idol showed off her DIY chops, sharing with viewers that she wrote, produced, mixed and mastered the track on her own. Pairing her performance with a Yamaha keyboard and some breezy melodic ballads, VanDenburg also treated fans to unreleased song “Let Me On Down” and closer “For You.”
For someone who grew up watching others perform at the Palace, VanDenburg didn’t necessarily get a proper introductory performance at the venue, but she proved that she’s more than capable of gracing the stage when concerts return.
To cap off the event, Formica brought along an acoustic guitar and opened her set with a performance of her track “Slave.” The rocker proved that, even with stripped-back instrumentation, her mega-voice was incapable of being watered down. She then belted through tracks “I Will,” “Broken Soul” and “Better Off Alone” to close out the triple-header local showcase.
Sean Allen, director of marketing at the Palace, said the Palace Sessions series has given the theatre an opportunity to expand the types of shows it offers. He called Wednesday night’s lineup a “really cool combination” of talent.
“With a lot of these acts, there’s just never an opportunity that really presents itself to have them play at the theater,” Allen said of the series’ performances. “So we thought a cool thing was to grab some of the bands that we love, the performers that we love, and have them perform in the theater in different spaces.”
While concert cancellations may have affected the last year of his life, Fredericks still finds joy in being able to soundtrack his fans’ lives during a difficult time, in whichever ways he can.
“I want to be performing for people that are not able to go to concerts right now,” Fredericks said. “That is one of the reasons why I’ve been doing my Monday live[streams] all the time. It’s to give some music to my fans that are really sad that they’re not able to go out and see me perform anymore. And that brings me a lot of joy that I can still bring music into their households.”