Kelsea Ballerini has plenty of fans line up to meet her each year during CMA Fest. It's an honor for her to connect with every one of them, since she was once also waiting to meet her favorite singers as well.
"I've gotten to be a part of it for several years on the artist's side, but I used to be here as a fan," Ballerini told PopCulture.com and other media at CMA Fest. "Me and my mom would drive in from Knoxville, and I have these pictures from the first time I did this at the old Convention Center with these weird flower power shorts waiting in line to meet Taylor [Swift], Lady Antebellum and Justin Moore to get pictures. So to just be able to be on this side of it now, I feel like I really get to appreciate the fans and the lines that they wait in, and saving up to buy these tickets. It's a big deal."
All of the artists perform at CMA Fest for free, with a portion of the proceeds from ticket sales going to the CMA Foundation, which helps support music education in schools. Ballerini recently performed at the CMA Foundation Music Teachers of Excellence dinner, honoring music educators.
"I got to do the CMA Teachers dinner, where they picked the teachers that are incredible, doing amazing things in their schools from all over the country," Ballerini said. "It was my first time actually seeing kind of what's happening in the classroom that this all goes to. That really inspired me. I had a music teacher, her name is Becky Thomas. She's retired now, but she was the first person that encouraged me to be on stage. I was actually in a musical theater band, the irony, as the ostrich. I'm 98 percent sure she wrote that part in for me 'cause I had no talking lines or singing lines, in fact. I just walked across the stage.
"But after that she really encouraged me to write songs and the first time I ever played a song that I had written on stage, it was because of her," she continued. "That's really the heart of what this is all about. So to be able to be a part of that and knowing that there are kids in a classroom right now that are having those teachers that are able to have the funds and resources to give those kids those opportunities. That matters to me. I was that kid, so that's cool."
Photo Credit: Getty images / Jason Kempin