It's been a whirlwind of a year for singer/songwriter Kelsea Ballerini. Just last summer she was playing an acoustic gig on a Friday afternoon at The Reef on Beach Boulevard in Biloxi.
It was a year that saw her debut album "The First Time" shoot to the top of the country music charts and earning Ballerini some props from the likes of Taylor Swift along the way.
Ballerini will make her return to the Coast as one of the co-headliners Friday at the Crawfish Music Festival at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum. She is scheduled to perform at 8:15 p.m.
"It's so crazy to go back to cities where I played a conference room in a hotel or something and to play other places," Ballerini said in an interview with the Sun Herald. "I've grown so much in a year; I'm still soaking it up every day."
A year of accolades
"The First Time" has also earned Ballerini critical acclaim from Rolling Stone and the Academy of Country Music. She was the recent recipient of the ACM's Best New Female Vocalist award. Chris Stapleton was the winner of the Best New Male Vocalist award.
"I'm still like buzzing about it, it's crazy," she said.
Although Ballerini was scheduled to perform at the awards show, which she did with Nick Jonas on her new single "Peter Pan," she said she had no idea she was going to be a winner.
"I knew I was nominated, and I was going to perform. And, I was on a production call and I found out," she said. "I had no idea. I'm still freaking out. An ACM award is a huge deal."
Nashville at 15
Despite all of the accolades, if there is one thing that Ballerini is not, it's an "overnight success."
Ballerini, 22, wrote her first song at the age of 12, and she moved to Nashville at 15 with her mother to pursue her passion for songwriting.
"When I moved to Nashville, I had no idea how to get started, and I had no idea what I was doing, which was a really beautiful thing," she said, "because I was super naive because I didn't know what I could do."
She said she relied on social media to help establish herself in Nashville.
"I got on Facebook and I friended everyone I could and sent them videos and songs in hopes that someone would see and eventually, someone did," Ballerini said, "and I got my publishing deal."
The publishing deal allowed Ballerini to professionally pursue her passion for songwriting.
"I try to mix storytelling and personal experiences in my songs," she said. "Sometimes I write things that I don't feel too connected to and those are usually songs that I'm writing for other people. I don't think I would be an artist if I wasn't a writer."
Support from her peers
Ballerini also has received the support of her peers in the music industry, including Swift, who gave Ballerini her mark of approval: a Tweet about her music.
"It was important to me to be a part of a community, because I wanted to befriend some artists so I could learn from them," she said. "It's a crazy ride with a lot of highs and lows, and I wanted some people I could go through that with. And it just so happens that two of my favorite artists -- Taylor and (Lady Antebellum's) Hillary Scott -- are like big sisters to me."