ATLANTA — Midway through Ed Sheeran's set, an amazing thing happened.
With a lopsided smile and a charming accent, he somehow managed to get the 10,000-plus people crammed into Gwinnett Arena to silence their chatter and squealing of his name and even, for a few minutes, to disregard their smartphones.
Then, something even more incredible happened at the Jingle Jam concert Sheeran headlined in December.
Sheeran wasn't shushing the crowd to sing his hit ballad, The A Team, or even to do Little Things, the swoony tune he gave to his pals in One Direction, or Everything Has Changed, the song he wrote and sang with Taylor Swift for her current album, Red. No, the ginger-headed Brit wanted to work his magic by creating loops of his voice and percussion sounds with his mouth as the backdrop to a traditional folk song, The Wayfaring Stranger. The audience was rapt.
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"I've only just perfected being able to tell an audience to shut up," Sheeran said with a laugh. "I never had the right before. When you're opening for other acts, as I did for so long, your job is to entertain. But since I'm going to do more headlining shows and people are spending $28 to see me, I know they're there to listen to music."
When it was mentioned how impressive it was that the audience obeyed, Sheeran chuckled again.
"It isn't always. I once had someone in the front row plug in their iPod while I was performing."
As usual, it was just him onstage with his guitar and a looping pedal and microphone — an on-the-spot layering technique he learned seven years ago, at age 14, from Irish musician Gary Dunne.
He has two upcoming sold-out shows in Kentucky: a headlining concert on Friday at the Louisville Palace and then opening for Taylor Swift on April 27 at Rupp Arena in Lexington.
Raised in Framlingham, England, Sheeran has been honing his musical skills in pubs and pockets of Nowheresville since 2005, releasing 11 digital EPs before his 2011 album debut.
The ballad that launched Sheeran in the United States, The A Team, is up for a song of the year Grammy this month, an honor the young singer-songwriter accepts with humility.
"It's huge," he said. "There was only one thing left on my check list and it was a nomination. But I never expected to get song of the year. I feel like I've established myself in the U.K. and Australia, but to sit among truly great artists in America ..."