Taylor Swift swoons the Forum

Taylor Swift rocked the St. Pete Times Forum on Saturday night, as she closed another chapter of her “Speak Now” World Tour.

Thousands of fans filed in early, many sporting cowboy boots, hats and dazzling signs. Some wore their phone numbers on their t-shirts to show their support and unfailing love. Energy was heightened as Adam Brand and Needtobreathe performed as opening acts, but sparks flew as soon as Swift surfaced from within the stage in a cloud of fog.

She stared intently around the stadium before singing “Sparks Fly,” aptly wearing a layered golden metallic dress and shin-high army boots. Acrobats suspended from the ceiling were highlighted with spotlights as theatrical sparks split the air. After her number 17 Billboard debut single, she set aside a moment to thank the approximately fourteen thousand fans that filled the arena.

“It also really makes me smile to know that you guys bought those fourteen thousand of tickets in a matter of minutes,” Swift said. “(You’re here) on Saturday night, in Tampa, Florida, when you could’ve been doing a million other things.”

Fans around the Forum returned their love by lifting their arms and forming hearts with their hands. She introduced the songs that would follow as “stories” she’d love to share and asked Tampa one question: “Are you ready?”

Covering crowd-pleasing hits, with songs from albums present and past, the hair-tousling Swift was able to control her breathing and vocalized album-quality sound. Having collectively helped Swift take home Entertainer of the Year at 2011’s CMA Awards, her team of performers included gifted musicians, dancers and actors.

With her massive platform set up in a bedazzled southern style, Swift and her group used a golden staircase that winded up a theatrical screen, hoisted against a red velvet curtain draping the back wall of the stage.

Her song “Should Have Said No” was a well-executed performance. Swift sang as she witnessed her onstage love wait to be married to his pretentious bride. Soon, the song’s toe-tapping beat became inescapable, even to the groom, and the bride stormed off as the bridesmaids and guests broke into a choreographed piece. The crowd squealed and hollered as Swift ran off stage with the groom in the end.

During “Story of Us,” paired performers played out different stages of a relationship while colorful, cut-out animations played on the screen. The choreography had a Broadway feel to it, elevating the set from a concert to a musical anthology. However, each plot line was specific to the song and failed to coherently connect all of the songs together.

Even so, the crew’s choreography was decorative and diverse, including acrobatics, ballet, contemporary and even tap. The instrumental sound was just as assorted, enhancing the tracks into beautifully orchestrated pieces with instruments such as violins, banjos, ukuleles and guitars.

Swift expanded her musical presentation by ending her piano ballad of “Back to December” with OneRepublic’s “Apologize” and inserting a chorus of Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” into “Fearless.” She took a moment to travel from the front of the stage to the back of the room, running along the aisle touching the hands of ecstatic fans who pressed themselves up against security lines and body guards.

When she wasn’t switching dresses, or guitars, she dished out words of advice and insight into her music. At one point during the night, Swift began strumming on a blue guitar she had received from Bob Dylan on her 18th birthday. She went on to explain the impact the ability to write love songs has had on her life and reminisced on the importance of music in all of our lives.

“And that might be when we need music the most,” Swift said. “When we’re either crying in our car or giggling for no reason because we just met somebody.”

Swift then performed “Last Kiss” and “Dear John” – songs of love lost – with a twinge of sorrow in her voice.

The troubled emotion subsided as ear-piercing fireworks went off and the stage came to life as an illuminated forest appeared in the midst of soft waves of red and blue light. Ballerinas leaped and twirled to the center of the stage as violinists played the instrumental beginning of “Enchanted.” Though it was one of her last songs of the night, Swift reached breathy high notes with ease and accuracy.

Even after Swift and her band took their bows, throwing guitar picks to the crowd as keepsakes, the crowd demanded more. Swift returned to the stage and performed “Ours,” strumming out chords on a twelve-string guitar.

She ended the night with old fan favorites: “Fifteen” and “Love Story,” closing a show that was altogether timely, powerful and inspiring.