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Ballerini to play Headwaters County Jam Thursday, June 13


Like many artists before her, Kelsea Ballerini was told she shouldn't play too much of her new album, "Unapologetically," in her headlining shows that followed the November 2017 release of the album. The fear was that fans might not know the new material and could be disappointed if the show features too many new selections.

Ballerini did not heed that advice for her tour, playing "Unapologetically" pretty much in its entirety to make up the main body of her headlining shows in early 2018. Now that the album has become a significant success – its lead single, "Legends," topped "Billboard" magazine's Country Airplay singles chart, while her current single, "Miss Me More," has cracked the top 5 on that chart and is still climbing -- and established Ballerini as a headlining artist, it's safe to say "Unapologetically" will remain the centerpiece of her show.

"Especially with this record, I just invested so much heart in it," Ballerini said in a recent phone interview. "And for me, it was just really important to play my album and to see it connect because it's so close to my heart."

"Unapologetically" follows a 2015 debut album, "The First Time," that produced four singles. The first of those songs, "Love Me Like You Mean It," became the first debut single from a female artist to go No. 1 on the "Billboard" magazine Country Airplay chart since Carrie Underwood's "Jesus, Take The Wheel."

That single was followed by another No. 1 hit, "Dibs," which made Ballerini only the fifth solo female country artist to get back-to-back chart toppers with her first two singles. Her third single, "Peter Pan," topped both the Country Airplay and Hot Country Songs charts, while the fourth single, "Yeah Boy," went top 3 at Country Airplay.

But while Ballerini's career was getting off to a terrific start, things weren't going as well on a personal level for the now-25-year-old native of Knoxville, Tennessee. As the hits were coming, Ballerini was seeing things go sour with a boyfriend. The difficult breakup that resulted provides the starting point for the "Unapologetically" album.

The album opens with "Graveyard," a delicate ballad on which Ballerini wrestles with heartbreak and emotional bruises of the relationship, while promising she'll pick up the pieces and move on. The next track, "Miss Me More," laments the notion that Ballerini lost her identity and sense of independence while caught up in the romance and rush of love.

"I forgot I had dreams/Forgot I had wings/Forgot who I was/Before I ever kissed you," Ballerini sings.

"I think the best thing you can do after a breakup is just realize what you learned from it and realize the positives," Ballerini said. "You realize what you do want to be like and what you don't want to be like and all that stuff. And I think that was a really crucial relationship for me of learning that stuff."

As the album moves into its fifth song, things shift from loss into the second chapter of the story – life. Over the course of the songs "Machine Heart," "In Between," "High School" and "End of the World," listeners hear Ballerini rediscovering her sense of self and her confidence, rebuilding her life, moving into adulthood and finding the footing she needs for whatever comes next in her life.

The final four songs on "Unapologetically," introduce that next chapter – new love.

In spring 2016, Ballerini traveled to Australia to co-host an awards show with Aussie country artist Morgan Evans. Sparks flew and the two have been together since. The title song pretty much tells the story of love re-entering Ballerini's life and her finding herself willing to go all in on with her new beau and ready to take their journey together, wherever it may lead.

That's exactly what Ballerini has done in real life, as she and Evans married in December in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Life sounds pretty magical for the couple so far.

"Everyone has been asking me like 'So what's different? What's different?' I'm like 'Nothing, that's why we got married. I didn't want anything to be different,'" Ballerini said, offering her thoughts on her marriage. "I think that's the best part. That's the comfort. It's just like we're so content in our lives separately and together and we were both so focused on our careers (last year), it was amazing to take really two months to just celebrate the holidays and celebrate getting married with all the people that we love and have nothing change. That's the best part."

Ballerini said she didn't go into the second album knowing how it would take shape. She had been writing and co-writing (teaming up with such A-list collaborators as Ross Copperman, Shane McAnally, Ashley Gorley and Hillary Lindsey) for her second album for some time before she came to realize she wanted "Unapologetically" to tell the story of the preceding two years of her life.

"I mean, I never stopped writing from the first record," Ballerini said. "I just kept on writing, and all of a sudden it was time to make the second record and I had over 200 songs and I had no idea of what to do with them. I guess I'm old school because I love listening to actual like full albums. And I think as the music industry continues to change continues to be more singles oriented, I wanted to think of a way that people would still want to listen to the whole thing. I just figured I had already written all of these songs about my personal life and growth and breakup and falling in love and all of that, and I figured if I made it the story that it was and put it in order, maybe people would listen to the whole record. That's how you get to know someone."

Musically, "Unapologetically" finds Ballerini largely sticking to the template of "The First Time" to create a warm, mainly mid-tempo and ballad-oriented soundtrack to her stories.

Rising country star Kelsea Ballerini is set to take the stage at the Headwaters Country Jam near Three Forks Thursday, June 13 at 9:45 p.m. Photo by Ben Ritter

While several songs are rooted in country, "Unapologetically" also has a pop dimension. "Machine Heart," "End of the World" and "I Hate Love Songs" are among the songs that lean pop and even incorporate synthetic tones and rhythms into the mix. This musical approach, along with her ability to write songs that resonate with teens and young women has earned Ballerini comparisons to Taylor Swift, who started out in country before embracing the wider-ranging sound and modern production of mainstream pop and has become a supporter and friend of Ballerini's.

Now Ballerini hopes to help fans get to further know the music, messages and the woman behind "Unapologetically" with a series of festival dates this summer.

"I've written some monologues that will play over some music during the show, and we've shot video content that matches the lyrics of some of the songs," she said. "So it's really going to be an experience, like a Broadway musical but a country show is the best way I can describe it."


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