Kelsea Ballerini will headline a show next week at the Thompson-Boling Arena at Food City Center in Knoxville, Tennessee, her hometown. The 30-year-old grew up with the large venue as the backdrop to her childhood, never imagining that one day she would headline a show at the 21,600-seat venue, a show that would sell out in one hour.
“It was the years where I learned to drive,” Ballerini reflects on Trailblazers Radio with Fancy Hagood on Apple Music Country, speaking of her nostalgic feelings for Knoxville.. “It was the years where I had my first crush, had my first boyfriend. It was the years where my parents got divorced. It was the years where I made friends that I just went on a birthday trip with still, lifelong true, true friends. I had a lot of just really life-changing good and bad experiences in that town.”
Ballerini had a No. 1 hit with “Half Of My Hometown” in 2021, her collaboration with Kenny Chesney. The song, and the hometown show, both celebrate the city that made her the woman and artist she is today.
“My dad still lives there, and I’m very close with my dad,” Ballerini says. “I don’t talk about him as much because he’s not as intertwined in my music journey, but he still lives there with my stepmom, and so it’s like ‘Half of My Hometown,’ the song that I did was kind of my love letter to the place that let me go. But to come back, it just hits different.”
Ballerini attended shows at the Thompson-Boling Arena when she was a child. It was a place that at the time felt larger than life to Ballerini, who admits she would have never believed that she would one day sell out the same place.
“You know when you’re a little kid and you’re going to your first arena show, and you’re like, ‘This place is outer space large?’ This is the atmosphere,” Ballerini explains. “This place is huge…It gasses me up in some ways to be able to go back. That kind of makes me feel like that. Then in other ways … I so badly wish that I could go tell a 13-year-old Kelsea who is really struggling, I would just go hug her and be like, ‘You’re going to have a moment in this town one day that you’re just going to … it’s all going to make sense.'”
Ballerini recently dropped Rolling Up the Welcome Mat (For Good). The project follows her original Rolling Up The Welcome Mat EP, detailing her complicated and diverse feelings about the end of her marriage to Morgan Evans. While she used the songs to chronicle her own grief and heartache, the singer-songwriter never imagined that those deeply personal songs would resonate so much with the rest of the world.
“I made it for me,” Ballerini ascertains. ” It helped me so much. … I feel like it’s validated my reasoning to be a songwriter in the first place, which was to not feel alone, to have shared feelings and emotions, and then to navigate it together, the good, bad and the messy. It’s really realigned me with that within myself. Now I’m like, ‘How do I make another record after that?’ I don’t know. I’m very slowly trying to figure it out because I don’t want to mess it up because I’m so proud of where it’s gone.”
Ballerini’s Knoxville show takes place on November 2. Find all of her music and upcoming shows at KelseaBallerini.com.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Apple Music Country