Kelsea Ballerini is grateful to be getting back to work.

On Thursday night, the country star, 27, will perform a virtual concert for members of Verizon Up, Verizon's customer loyalty program. Back in October, her fellow Nashville mainstay Maren Morris kicked off the concert series, which has featured a star-studded lineup of all-female artists, including: Brittany Howard, Brandi Carlile, Jessie Reyez, KAROL G, Maggie Rogers, Chloe x Halle and Billie Eilish. (Click here for dates and details.)

Earlier this year, as the coronavirus crisis hit the U.S., Ballerini released her third album, Kelsea. And she kept busy throughout the pandemic: After deciding to reimagine each of the tracks, in September, she surprise-dropped a stripped-down version of the record, Ballerini.

Here, Ballerini opens up about getting back onstage, reuniting with her beloved band and her friendships with female collaborators.

You’ve only performed a handful of times this year. What does it mean to you to be doing this concert?

I am just like a kid on Christmas. It's so interesting, because normally, I'm used to doing a couple tours a year, whether I'm opening or headlining or whatever. Then this year, it's been a couple shows. Each one, it's surrounded by so much just excitement and gratitude. My band feels the same way. We're just really excited to play music.

This year for the music industry, the ripple effect has not just been for artists: It's really rippled down to bands, crew, bus drivers, bus companies, production, everything like that. I've only gotten to do, like I said, a couple of shows, and this show in particular allowed me to not have to furlough my band. So that's something that not a lot of people have talked about that I'm so grateful for. And that's another reason that I'm so excited to perform — because I'll know that not only am I getting to perform this new music for fans virtually, but it's also a show that allowed me to keep paying my band and their families. So it's a really, really big deal to me.

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What can viewers expect at this show?

This is the second time that we had a setlist where we were able to kind of pick between the Kelsea album version and the Ballerini album version, so it was really interesting. I really honestly have been just stalking people's opinions on Twitter and Instagram on what version they liked better. And so, I've found that with "Love and Hate," they like the Ballerini version better, so we're going to play that. With "Homecoming Queen," people are gravitating towards the new version, so we're going to play that. It's been really fun to kind of have all this time to collect people's thoughts and opinions on it. This is really the first time we've been able to put it together into a setlist.

What have you missed most about touring?

The first part of it is just the connection. I don't make music to just put it out on streaming and radio; I make music to meet people and hear their stories and sing it together with people. Putting out so much music this year and not having that connection aspect has been really difficult for me.

But the other part of it is my road band and crew — they're my family. We've been together more than we've been with our spouses and closest friends the last few years. So being separated from them for this long has also been … it's just been difficult, it's been different. This is another opportunity for us to check in. One of my favorite parts about this [Verizon Up concert] is, because we're all tested and because we all are safely together, we get to have an end-of-year little get-together after the show. I get to face-to-face say thanks for sticking through this year with me, which I wouldn't have gotten to do without this show.

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This VerizonUp concert series has an all-female lineup. What do collaborations with women mean to you, as an artist in Nashville?

I love that it's an all-female lineup, but I also love how diverse it is. There's so much representation from different genres, and it's really cool to be a part of. I've got to collaborate a couple different females, with Halsey in a completely different genre, which was so much fun to just kind of put our superpowers and what we're good at together and see what that created [on "The Other Girl."] Then recently, I got to collaborate with Shania Twain, who I grew up on, and then she added her superpowers to my song ["Hole in the Bottle" remix]. It's so much stronger and powerful when two females work together and respect each other and lift each other up and do it through music. It's still pretty rare to have female collaborations, and I want to definitely keep doing more of it. Even just within the industry in the last few years, in Nashville, I've definitely felt a big surge of camaraderie and respect between the women. That's been really nice and just makes you feel like they have your back.

Tell me more about working with Shania. Are you still pinching yourself?

Oh my gosh, yes. I was doing a virtual meet-and-greet yesterday, and someone asked me, "Who is your dream collaboration that you're looking forward to one day?" And I was like, "This is not a cop-out, but it's Shania." I can't do better than that. That is the peak for me, just to have someone that genuinely blazed trails that has allowed me to do what I do as a female in country music. In every way, from fashion to production, to touring, to obviously songwriting — she's just a boundary pusher. So to have her hop on one of my songs, it's really just the most magical thing that could have happened this year. We've met a couple times, and she's taken me under her wing. We've had time together to talk and drink wine, and she's just shared her knowledge with me. It's been a really wonderful friendship.


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