When the yearly CMA Fest special airs August 4 on ABC, it's one of the final parts of the Country Music Association's master plan: The biggest stars in one of America's most popular music genres play Nashville's largest venue -- for free -- so profits can go to music education in schools.
This year, Kelsea Ballerini hosts with Thomas Rhett for the third time. There's no doubt Kelsea's the perfect voice for the endeavor: She's a music education student who went on to attend CMA Fest as a fan before taking the stage as a rising star. Yet it was just months ago that Kelsea truly realized what that means.
"This was the first year I got to do the CMA [Foundation's] Teachers [of Excellence] Dinner where they picked the teachers that are incredible, doing amazing things in their schools from all over the country," she explains. "And that was my first time actually seeing what's happening in the classrooms... And that really inspired me."
In addition to a fancy dinner with country's biggest stars, the honored teachers each get several thousand dollars to use in their classrooms, and for themselves.
"I was actually in the musical Peter Pan," Kelsea recalls. "The irony -- as the ostrich."
"I'm 98 percent sure [my teacher Becky Thomas] wrote that part in for me. Because I had no talking lines -- or singing lines, in fact . I just walked across the stage."
"But after that she really encouraged me to write songs," Kelsea remembers. "And the first time I ever played a song that I had written onstage, it was because of her."
For Kelsea, that's the heart of CMA Fest.
"[Music education] matters to me. I was that kid," she smiles.
The 2019 CMA Fest special premieres Sunday, August 4 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.
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