Tuesday night started the annual Tin Pan South Songwriters Festival in Nashville, Tennessee, and who better to take the stage at one of the many participating venues than ACM Award winning female vocalist, Kelsea Ballerini?
Ballerini joined fellow Black River Publishing writers Scott Stepakoff, Josh Kerr, and Forest Glen Whitehead at The Listening Room for a round that packed the house from wall to wall, leaving some latecomers out in the Nashville cold once the venue hit capacity. It should come as no surprise that the Ballerini and Friends show was one of the most anticipated of the night (and entire week), considering the incredible and deserved rise to stardom the Number 1 artist has experienced over the recent months.
The men who shared the stage with Ballerini have each written with the front-running vocalist, but are behind-the-scenes stars in their own rights. Kerr and Whitehead each garnered their own first hit songs with “Love Me Like You Mean It,” while Kerr received his second Number 1 as a writer with “Dibs” and Whitehead felt chart-topping success as a producer on same. Stepakoff has had numerous cuts on country music albums, while also boasting a catalog of tunes that any artist would be remiss not to place on hold.
With Ballerini being one of the most prominent females in the industry at this juncture, the crux of the audience was eager to hear what she would perform each round, knowing that hits were imminent, while newly written songs were possible. The crowd left the show fulfilled, as Ballerini and her constituents performed the well-known tracks, including new single “Peter Pan” and The First Time cut, “Square Pegs,” yet also found plenty of opportunities to show what the hard working Black River artist has been doing in her not-so-free time.
Surprising Tin Pan South goers, Ballerini brought acclaimed songwriter Natalie Hemby to the stage to perform two songs the pair recently wrote, “Catching Feelings” and “Rain On My Parade.” The songs are startlingly different from one another, but are similar in brilliant lyric and abundant emotion — two characteristics that are present in all Ballerini-penned and performed tunes. To that end, Ballerini also sang “Fun and Games,” another cleverly written song that is kissed by the golden girl’s touch and a contender to become a fan favorite if she continues to play it out.
Perhaps the most special moment of the night, aside from a tearjerker from Stepakoff, “Game Of Cards,” was Ballerini accepting the request of a young fan to sing her unreleased song, “High School.” Ballerini introduced the song as the first one she ever wrote solo, and explained how touched she was when the little girl, Harper, told her it was her favorite. Harper was brought to the stage by Ballerini and the two performed it as a duet, bringing the humble and appreciative star to tears.
There was truly no better show to experience as the first of a jam-packed week, as the Black River group of writers exhibited the kind of talent, poise, respect, and camaraderie that you can only find in the beautiful city of Nashville, Tennessee.