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Gwen Sebastian, Kat Perkins, Tigirlily sing Journey together in Dickinson, North Dakota

From left to right, Tigirlily, sisters Krista and Kendra Slaubaugh, join Gwen Sebastian and Kat Perkins to sing “Don’t Stop Believing” as part of their surprise performance to close out Sebastian’s Alive @ 5 concert on Thursday night in downtown Dickinson. (Press Photo by Dustin Monke)2 / 3
Gwen Sebastian, second from right, and her band pose for a picture with fans packed First Avenue West on Thursday night during her concert at Alive @ 5 in downtown Dickinson. (Press Photo by Dustin Monke)3 / 3

The backstage trailer was full of musicians and excited energy as it hummed with the sound of secretive last-minute preparation Thursday night before the last scheduled Alive @ 5 concert.

Headliner Gwen Sebastian and yet-to-be-revealed guests Kat Perkins and sisters Kendra and Krista Slaubaugh of Tigirlily talked and joked as a guitarist strummed in the background.

Their first-ever joint act would begin in less than an hour, and this time in the trailer was the first rehearsal they’d held together for the show’s finale — a four-person performance of Journey’s ballad “Don’t Stop Believing.”

Despite the close proximity of their southwest North Dakota hometowns, conflicting touring and personal schedules had prohibited such a gathering in the past.

“We’ve all talked about doing a show together at some point in time, and of course, schedules never love that,” Sebastian said.

“Honestly, I’ve never seen her outside of L.A.,” Perkins quipped back.

Both were contestants on NBC’s “The Voice,” which helped them gain national attention.

The night represented not only one of the largest Dickinson concerts in recent memory, drawing thousands to downtown Dickinson, but also a homecoming of sorts for two of the four women on the stage.

All are natives of western North Dakota, with Sebastian raised in Hebron and Perkins from Scranton. Tigirlily sisters Kendra and Krista Slaubaugh hail from Hazen, where Krista is a senior at Hazen High School.

The crowd gathered in downtown Dickinson that night was the largest it had been all season as spectators milled and pressed close to the fenced VIP area, taking in blues-rock opener Boston Steve and the Big Deal, appearing with guest Zac Hacker, of “Nashville Star” fame, as they waited for Sebastian to take the stage.

At that point, nobody but the organizers knew of the three-part set to come.

When asked if Thursday’s united show was a once-in-a-lifetime shot, Perkins gave a hopeful response.

“I hope it’s the beginning of something, especially for next summer,” she said, to which the elder Slaubaugh excitedly added, “North Dakota diva tour!”

Kendra said in an interview that she and her sister had performed with both Perkins and Sebastian separately, but never as a full set.

“It’s really cool that us North Dakota girls can come together for one night and just kind of give a real girl-power performance and just have North Dakota there that’s supported each and every one of us so much,” she said of the Thursday show.

Kendra Slaubaugh said Sebastian had sent them the parts they would perform and they had rehearsed on their own before meeting up with the other two musicians.

She described that rehearsal performance in the trailer as “just magic.”

“Everybody here is at that level where we trust each other and know what’s going to happen.”

Not long after, the sisters joined Sebastian to the cheers of the audience to sing Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’.”

Perkins strode on not much later to belt out Heart’s “Barracuda,” kicking the night’s lineup into full power.

The mystery of the concert’s big reveal had been hinted at by Alive @ 5 head organizer Eric Smallwood, who had previously announced there would be a surprise at the Thursday show.

Country music star Blake Shelton was speculated to be making an appearance in Dickinson and rumored sightings of the musician were reported at various locations throughout the day. Smallwood said there had been an outside chance at hosting Shelton, which had ultimately not come through. Sebastian even addressed the rumors toward the end of the show, saying she’ll get the country star, who she performs with regularly, to North Dakota “soon.”

Regardless, Smallwood said he was “on top of the world,” shortly before Sebastian went on to start the night.

He said he had the show planned “in my head” for about a year and confirmed the three acts by Aug. 8.

“It took a lot of help and a lot of work to do it on a limited budget, and then a lot of excitement stored up that I couldn’t tell anybody, because for a long time I was the only one that knew what was going on,” he said. “That’s not exactly a fun position to be in.”

While the next show featuring all three western North Dakota acts may be indeterminate, they agreed it was a fun way to begin wrapping up their summer tour season.

“It’s definitely a good way to end the summer and go out with a bang,” Krista Slaubaugh said.

Haffner is a reporter at The Press. Contact him at 701-456-1206 or tweet him at ahaffner1.

Andrew Haffner

Andrew Haffner covers higher education and general assignment stories for the Grand Forks Herald. He attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he studied journalism, political science and international studies. He previously worked at the Dickinson Press.

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