Toby Keith won't physically be able to attend the CMT Music Awards on Sunday night (April 7), but his spirit will bolster through Moody Center in Austin, Texas.

During a night of celebrating artists's accomplishments over the last year, Keith will be honored with a tribute performance. The '90s and 2000s hitmaker died Feb. 5, 2024, after a cancer battle.

Ahead of the awards show, host Kelsea Ballerini talked to Taste of Country about the tribute performance and how Keith's legacy personally impacts her.

“Toby was such a staple in so many ways in country music,” Ballerini says. “Having this time and this space to honor him, I think it will be emotional, but also celebratory.”

Artists you’ll find gracing the stage to remember Toby Keith on Sunday night include his friends Brooks & Dunn, as well as Lainey Wilson and Red Rocker Sammy Hagar.

Hagar, too, will stand on that stage on Sunday not just as a musician, but a friend of the late singer.

“I’m honored to be part of this tribute to my dear friend Toby Keith,” he writes on Instagram. “I’m thinking 'I Love This Bar' would be the appropriate song choice ... don't ya think?”

Ballerini says she hopes the emotion felt by those who watch the 2024 show isn’t linear — that multiple feelings stir up for a man who didn’t stay in a perfect line when it comes to the music he put out, or who he was as a person.

“He deserves both,” she says with a fond smile. “He deserves to have that space to feel [fans] that loss, but also celebrate what he brought to so many people’s life through his music.”

Who Is Toby Keith to Kelsea Ballerini?

“He was one of those artists who was able to have heart, and then also party. He was both things,” the CMT Music Awards host states of Keith. "There was never, 'I’m just this kind of artist,' there was always this exploring full range of songwriting … full range of life."

Many others have said similar in the months since his untimely death, which came just shy of Keith's induction into Country Music Hall of Fame.

During Keith’s illustrious career, he won seven CMT Music Awards and collected 30 nominations.

“Whether that be a party song, or a beautiful ballad that makes you feel all of your feelings, I think the artists that have the legacy he does, are the ones that really do all of it," Ballerini says.

Where to Watch the 2024 CMT Music Awards

Check out a full list of performers for this year's CMT Music Awards show here.

Fans can tune into the live broadcast on CBS at 8PM ET on April 7. The show will also be available for streaming and on demand through Paramount+.

13 Toby Keith Facts You Probably Never Knew

Toby Keith lived a fascinating life, but even fans who thought they knew everything about this country music hero will learn a thing or two on this list of 13 Toby Keith facts.

Gallery Credit: Billy Dukes

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