From Central High School to country music stardom and now, back to Central High School, Kelsea Ballerini is bringing things full circle with a unique concert on Saturday.
We sat down with Ballerini to talk about her journey and a song inspired by a trip home.
“I mean Knoxville, that’s where my roots are,” she told us.
Roots, family and the high school she’ll be going back to perform at for the first time since leaving for Nashville at 15 with big hopes of becoming a county music artist.
It’s the school where she would play an original song for the first time: that performance at Central High School would also be her last one there until this Saturday.
“It was called ‘Learn How to Fly’ on the stage of their auditorium. That was my last big memory there,” remembers Ballerini. “It makes me emotional… I was 15 when I left and I just had this crazy dream and I think half the people were like, ‘You go girl!’ and half the people were like, ‘See you back here in two years when you’re like, ‘that’s not gonna work,” you know what I mean?”
Now, she’s bringing things full circle by kicking off the release of her new record, back where it all began.
“It just feels like that’s the most pure way to start it out,” she said. “I feel like the two years I spent at that high school, they were just super defining for me. It’s hard to describe, but I really feel like I got a lot of footing as a person there and my drive to be an artist came from those two years there.”
And Ballerinin won’t just take the stage at her alma mater, but also at the CMAs, where she’s up for female vocalist of the year alongside the same women she grew up listening to.
“I used to think when I’d hear people say it’s an honor to be nominated, I’m like, ‘okay,’ she said. But it really is! That really is an answer!”
It’s no secret Ballerini visits Hnoxville often to see friends and family. It was on one of her sneaky trips home to see her dad for just one night that her single “High School” came from.
“I just remember driving through the roads and seeing my [high school] ex’s car his car in the driveway exactly where it was parked four years before when I left and I just remember thinking, “Oh my gosh, some things change a lot and some things never change and whether that’s right or wrong or good or bad, I had changed a lot, and I realized that in that moment.”
That moment of realizing just how much her life had changed at nineteen years old drove her to do what she does best – write a song.