Playing the CMT Next Women of Country Tour stop in Nashville — her first-ever headlining gig in her adopted hometown — was a surreal experience for Kelsea Ballerini. Tuesday's show came less than a week before her debut album, The First Time, hits stores (on May 18th).
"I heard people sing [the LP's first single] 'Love Me Like You Mean It' so loud that I put up my microphone on the second line into the song," the singer-songwriter tells Rolling Stone Country. "I put my head down so I wouldn't start bawling. I looked over to the side stage at everyone from my label and my management [team], and it was just this moment. . . Those are the moments that you work so hard for."
The 21-year-old talent invited us behind the scenes of the show to capture intimate backstage and electrifying onstage moments — including one that turned this promising solo act into a trio. All photos by Joseph Llanes and captions as told to Rolling Stone Country by Kelsea Ballerini.