Kelsea Ballerini’s No. 1 Party for “Dibs” Turns Into Weep Fest

Music industry supporters and friends packed the cavernous reception hall of Nashville’s ASCAP building Wednesday afternoon (April 13) to honor the writers of Kelsea Ballerini’s second No. 1 single, “Dibs.”

Ballerini composed the bouncy come-on song jointly with Jason Duke, Ryan Griffin and Josh Kerr.


It was a tearful ceremony, with Ballerini and her co-writers weeping openly about the sacrifices others had made to help boost them to their present eminence.

Equally distraught, no doubt, were the hardened partygoers who discovered that only soft drinks and bottled water were being served.

Joined by all four writers on stage, ASCAP’s Mike Sistad congratulated Ballerini for her recent Academy of Country Music win as new female vocalist of the year and for the fact that “Dibs” is her second No. 1 both as a singer and songwriter.

Her first was “Love Me Like You Mean It.”

“Dibs” was also the second No. 1 for Kerr and the first for Duke and Griffin, both of whom were awarded acoustic guitars, ASCAP’s traditional gift for its breakthrough country songwriters.

Griffin, now signed as an artist with Sony Music, is working on his debut album.

Also presented trophies were “Dibs” producers Forest Glen Whitehead and Jason Massey.

Gordon Kerr, CEO of Black River Entertainment, Ballerini’s record label, announced that “Dibs” has been certified as a gold single (meaning it has sold 500,000 copies). Accordingly, he passed out gold plaques to all the principals behind the single.

Kerr told the assemblage that the operative principle behind his label, the songwriters and, indeed, the larger Nashville music community is, “Delighted by success, but driven by significance.”

Doug Johnson, Black River’s vice president of A&R (artists and repertoire), noted that Ballerini, who began knocking on Music Row doors when she was 15, owed much of her success to being “an incredible dreamer.”

Duke was the first of the four songwriters to address the crowd. He spoke of the long and arduous road to scoring his first hit, including working as a bartender. His voice began cracking when he spoke in praise of his wife, who he called “a beautiful, patient believer.”

So heartfelt was his tribute that his co-writers also began dabbing at their eyes. The always attentive Sistad immediately whipped out a box of tissues and passed it around. But there were more tears to come.

Griffin became emotional when he looked out into the audience and made eye contact with his father. Although his was not a musical family, Griffin said his dad always backed whatever pursuits his sons wanted to follow, whether it was football, soccer or music.

To that end, he said his father simply sat down with a telephone book and began systematically calling every company that had anything to do with music and asking if there was any place there for his son. Finally, he found a recording studio willing to hear Ryan’s music. Everything else developed from that hard-won contact.

“It’s better than I could have imagined,” Griffin said of his first No. 1 celebration. “I’ve always wanted to stand on this stage, but I didn’t dream it would be with my best friends.”

Kerr recalled that he and Ballerini used to meet and write five songs a day.

“We’ve got a lot of bad songs, Kelsea,” he admitted. “But we got at least two good ones.”

Ballerini told how she left her first gold record (for “Love Me Like You Mean It”) in her car after it had broken down. When she next saw the record, it had melted in the sun. Nonetheless, she said, “It’s beautiful.”

She began weeping copiously when she thanked the Black River promotional staff for pushing her songs up the the charts and continued crying as she praised her mother, who stood at the side of the stage beaming.

All eyes were dried in time for the photos pictures.

Ballerini’s current single is “Peter Pan.”

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to CMT.com.