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CMA Fest airs Wednesday, Aug. 8 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC

By Jeff Nelson and Sarah Michaud
August 08, 2018 05:00 PM
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Earlier this summer, country music’s hottest stars came out for CMA Fest 2018, performing in Nashville from June 7-11. For fans who weren’t able to make it to Music City for the star-studded event, it was filmed and will air at 8 p.m. ET Wednesday night on ABC in a special telecast hosted by Ballerini and Thomas Rhett.

This is the second year Ballerini, 24, and Thomas Rhett, 28, have hosted the CMA Fest broadcast together.

Thomas-Rhett-Kelsea-Ballerini
Kelsea Ballerini and Thomas Rhett
| Credit: Kevin Mazur/WireImage

“One thing about hosting: It really matters, the chemistry and who you’re doing it with because you’re with them for CMA Fest for four days,” Ballerini tells PEOPLE. “Because me and Thomas did it together last year and have become such good buddies, that made it really comfortable this year.”

Adds Thomas Rhett: “I love hosting with Kelsea. She is so much fun and has great energy. We’re actually friends, so it’s almost like we’re hanging out with a stadium full of fans.”

Participating in the annual festival is particularly special for Ballerini, who married “Kiss Somebody” singer Morgan Evans in December.

“I used to go to it as a fan, so to be able to wear all the different hats this year — to be able to perform and host and also be a fan — was awesome,” says Ballerini, who delivered a live rendition of her latest hit “I Hate Love Songs” at the event.

And this year’s festival came as Thomas Rhett has been settling into life with a family of four: Last summer, he and wife Lauren, 28, adopted daughter Willa Gray, 2, and welcomed daughter Ada James, who turns 1 next week.

“Life definitely looks a lot different this year, and it’s a little more chaotic, but in the best way,” says Thomas Rhett, who led the CMA Fest crowd in a singalong of his hit “Marry Me.” “They were able to make it out to the stadium, which I loved. They bring a whole new element and it’s cool to see things from their perspective.”

CMA Fest airs Wednesday, Aug. 8 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.