When her eyes opened the next morning, for a few moments Jillian Cardarelli wondered if her dream night was a reality.
“It was totally surreal,” she said. “It was like a dream. I woke up and thought to myself, ‘Did that really just happen?’”
On Friday night, the 20-year-old Haverhill singer wowed a crowd of more 4,000 country music fans at the Oakdale Theater in Wallingford, Conn., as the opening act for iconic country band Alabama.
“It was honestly the best experience of my entire life,” said Cardarelli. “It was truly amazing. I feel so blessed and so honored. I had to pinch myself.”
It was the latest highlight in the young singer’s emerging career, which includes the release of her album “Just Me & You” during the winter and a move to Nashville to pursue her career and attend college in January.
“She was just great,” said professional singer Lisa Greg, who sang backup vocals for Cardarelli on Friday. “I toured with Faith Hill and Tim McGraw for six years and sang on albums for performers like Reba McEntire. She (Cardarelli) reminds me of a young Faith because she just has this big, fantastic voice.”
For Cardarelli, a life-long lover of country music, the opportunity to open for legendary Alabama — which has 41 No. 1 country hits and was recently voted the best country band of all time by tasteofcountry.com — was an amazing experience.
“I feel so blessed and honored,” she said. “I remember listening to Alabama’s music when I was 3 years old. My grandfather, who really passed the love of country music onto me, loved them and my father loved them. It was very intimidating.”
Performing a combination of her original material — including songs “Maybe Baby” and “Worth the Whiskey” — along with old favorites such as the Johnny Cash classic “Folsom Prison Blues” during her 30-minute set, Cardarelli quickly won over the crowd, which began singing along with many of the older songs.