Ben Rector’s performance at 20 Monroe Live was an extraordinary glimpse into his world


I stood in line, eyes drooping and legs aching to move more than a little shuffle in one direction. It had already been an hour waiting outside the venue, and although I knew I had a long four hours of standing left to go, I felt optimistic that they would be an incredible next couple hours because of one person: Ben Rector.

I was right; he was better than I could’ve ever imagined. 

As a surprisingly quirky and personal performer, he managed to make every person in the room feel cherished and welcome for one night. In addition to the atmosphere of the event, the setlist for the night was the perfect combination of old songs and new songs off his album, ensuring that everyone in the crowd would at least know one song and could scream the lyrics with him.

In reference to a past performance of his, the Chicago Tribune referred to his music as having a “meticulously crafted, shamelessly romantic, folky pop” sound, a fact that describes it down to a T. It was an overwhelmingly emotional and intimate gathering, which is surprising considering it was not a small concert. But while I was surrounded by countless people who were complete strangers, I felt a sort of camaraderie with everyone, including Rector himself.

Like the “shameless romantic” that he is, Rector performed a throwback song from 2013 called “Forever Like That,” even going as far as to walk through to the balcony seats, sing with an enthusiastic fan, and then go sit on a man’s lap while serenading him. Beyond his bold actions, the way he crooned the lyrics and responded to the music was absolutely captivating, especially when a smile of pure joy lit up his face as the audience began to belt out the lyrics along with him. The song itself exemplifies the idea that love knows no limits, and the sound of heartfelt lyrics, a slow tempo, and soft piano filled the air with, to be simply put, a love for life. 

The height of the concert was when the song “Kids” from his new album Magic burst through the sound system. Unusually, the focus of that particular performance was not Rector but rather the expansive screen behind him. A compilation of hundreds of images and clips from iconic 90s movies and music videos flickered across the screen, making the audience “feel all the feels,” so to speak. A slide to the side by Rick Astley from his famous music video, E.T.’s ride through the sky, the shocked face of Marty McFly, baby Simba being lifted above the adoring crowds of animals. The nostalgia in the air was palpable as the crowd fell silent and swayed ever so slightly to the hopeful tune. I don’t even think I could pinpoint what about that song pulled on my heartstrings, but something about it really struck a chord in me, I noticed, as a small tear trickled down my cheek mid-song.

A unique technique of Rector’s when he performed was the way he diverted the audience’s attention away from him and toward something else he thought was more worthwhile. That selfless attitude towards his music career was so impressive to me, and it really shone through his performance.

The emotional songs did not end with “Kids” though. Later in the night, he performed “Old Friends,” a song from his new album that was accompanied by a video compilation, except this time with clips from his own life. One scene shows a young boy biking across the screen with his childhood friends, smiling and laughing with an amount of youthful innocence. Then in another scene, teenage Rector and his friends are seen practicing with their band in a garage, carelessly jamming out, faces full of joy. Having that opportunity to look inside Rector’s world for just a little less than four minutes felt incredibly personal. It was a connection to him that most audience members had never experienced before. In addition, the tone of the song was one of hopeful dreaming and wishing, which was fitting as the audience watched him journey through his younger years with his “old friends.” 

The concert gave me a lot to think about, and every time one of those tunes plays through my headphones, I’m taken back to those intimate couple of hours. For minutes and hours after the concert, my head was still spinning, and I was still in awe that the concert was that extraordinary. That night, as my head hit the pillow in the safety of my own home, songs of childhood memories and life’s magic echoed in my head, a soft smile playing upon my lips as I drifted slowly and soundly to sleep.