Kelsea Ballerini finished writing "Half of My Hometown" at about 2AM, and her co-writers urged her to text it to Kenny Chesney. Nervously, she hit send.

But to appreciate how the collaboration came together, you have to go back further. Ballerini tells Taste of Country Nights that the country hitmaker actually reached out to her two-and-a-half years earlier, when he saw her name scrolling on a billboard outside the Playstation Theater in New York City.

"He [Chesney] saw my name on the scrolling billboard in Times Square and took a photo of it, got my number and sent it to me and said 'I’m so proud of you, hometown girl,' because we’re both from Knoxville," Ballerini says. "It was the most encouraging, magical thing that could have happened to me two-and-a-half years ago. I like, freaked out.”

"Half of My Hometown" is one of two collaborations on Ballerini's Kelsea album, due March 20. The other is with Halsey, and Ballerini tells Taste of Country there was no Plan B for either song. "They were my people I really wanted to help me tell this story," she shares.

The reason she wanted Chesney is somewhat obvious: Both are from east Tennessee. The song talks about how half of her hometown left and half stayed, and how she's learning that as she returns home, she learns more about herself.

"And Kenny is the same way," Ballerini adds.

“One of the big things of this album is me kind of getting my head up for air over this last year and kind of realizing that I’ve kind of been dealing with a tug-of-war of really loving traveling, and really loving the opportunity that that allows me to have,” she says. “But starting to really understanding the value of home and hometown and starting to put roots down and invest more in friendships.”

"LA" and "Club" reflect those values, as well. "Half of My Hometown" was co-written by Ross Copperman, Shane McAnally, Jimmy Robbins and Nicole Galyon, and Ballerini cut her vocals immediately after writing it. So the vocals you hear on the album are the demo vocals, recorded in Florida. That's what she sent to Chesney at 2AM.

"Bold!" she exclaims during her ToC Nights interview. “The next day he wrote back like, ‘I love this song. It made me emotional listening to it.' Because I think we have really similar upbringings.”

A few months later they were in the studio together cutting his vocals, which led to another very special moment, but not for her. Watch the video above to the end to see what the pair did to make her father emotional that day.

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