One of country music's sweethearts, Kelsea Ballerini, surprised CMA Fest attendees with a pop-up show at Spotify House on Thursday night (June 8), closing out an extravagant first day of Nashville's annual country music spectacle.
In a stripped-down set of three songs, Ballerini opened with her current single at country radio, 'If You Go Down (I'm Going Down Too),' and the crowd, who seemed to have come out specially for her, were obliged to sing along to the down home tune.
"Maybe I shouldn't say this, but this was my favorite part of CMA Fest last year. There was no way that I wasn't going to be here this year, so thank you for coming out," the Knoxville native beamed.
"I was supposed to sing two songs but I might just ask for forgiveness and play three, only because this is my last part of CMA Fest and I'm so happy to be here," Ballerini continued, paving the way for her next cutthroat song. "If you don't mind getting a little bit sassy with me, Nashville, this one is called 'Blindsided'".
In what she admitted was probably the most extravagant display of crowd interaction for the song thus far, Ballerini added the outro for the song which was originally debuted during her appearance on Saturday Night Live earlier this year. Filling Ole Red, the audience screamed along to every word like it was their job.
Ballerini closed out the night with just her and her piano player on stage for 'Penthouse,' which is a standout on her recently released EP, Rolling Up The Welcome Mat. The EP chronicles her journey over the last few years as she's navigated her marriage and divorce to fellow country artist Morgan Evans.
"I'd be remiss if I didn't play this song, because it's my favorite to sing right now," she explained.
"I love country music. I love storytelling and I love telling the truth in my music, and I've gotten back to that part of myself in the last year. I've never written more honest music than I have lately and this is a song that has reconnected me with myself and you."
Ending with a pitch-perfect performance of the heartbreaking power ballad, Ballerini left the stage with a wave of chants following her and a crowd eager for more.
Kelsea Ballerini - Setlist
From her set at Spotify House at CMA Fest 2023 on Thursday, June 8, 2023.
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Featured photo by Rick Kern, courtesy of Getty Images.