Saving Country Music’s Essential Artists to See at AmericanaFest 2016


With over 200 artists playing AmericanaFest this third week of September, it can be a little bit intimidating for the folks either looking to attend in person, or experience the gathering vicariously through various social channels and video streams. So here is a curated list of artists battle tested and approved by Saving Country Music for your AmericanaFest listening and viewing pleasure. In no way complete, this is just a starting point of discovery, while avoiding the obvious names like Wanda Jackson and Dwight Yoakam, or the Americana stalwarts such as Jim Lauderdale and Steve Earle.

Once again the awards Wednesday evening (9-21) will be streamed online, and Saving Country Music will conduct a live blog during the festivities. Keep in touch with SCM all week for updates and news from AmericanaFest.

For a complete AmericanaFest schedule and more information CLICK HERE.

Austin Lucas

austin-lucasWhat has never left Austin Lucas is the dedication and hunger that drives his music. The fact that he was able to get folks like John Moreland and Lydia Loveless to appear on his new record Between The Moon & the Midwest shows the respect he receives among his artist peers. The fact that he was signed to New West and shared a stage with Willie Nelson shows that he has the material and acumen to make it at the next level. His best days, and best material aren’t behind him, but are happening in the here and now.

Brent Cobb

brent-cobb“Man, what a great writer,” Dave Cobb says about his cousin Brent. “His dad gave me his CD, but a lot of my family plays so I just thought ‘Well, it’s just another CD.’ My wife made me put his CD on in the car of songs he’d been writing. We were driving back to the airport from the funeral that time, and he just knocked me out. He’s like Don Williams. So deep. Such a deep, beautiful writer. One of the first things he did was write a song for an Oak Ridge Boys record I was working on, and it sounded like a classic hymnal.”


Caitlyn Smith

caitlyn-smithIt’s not a lack of talent that Nashville suffers from. It’s figuring out how to shuffle the best talent to the front. Like another notable songwriter, Chris Stapleton—who paid his fair share of dues writing for others when he had a voice and a message that could resonate much deeper than what was rising in the mainstream, Caitlyn Smith is a relevant and powerful voice ready and warmed up in the batter’s box, just waiting for her chance at the plate to hit it out of the park.

Dori Freeman

dori-freemanSometimes the artists that are the best at tapping into those little currents of nerve tingling turns of phrases are not the ones that aspire to be the beneficiaries of mass media. For the love of God just let the songs speak out and choose their own path, and that’s what happens in her self-titled 2016 release. The sentiments are so naked and pure, and as potent to stirring the spirit as the smell of a baby’s head that it awakens more than just an appreciation for music, it awakens an appreciation for life.


Jason Eady

jason-eadyIf you were asked to populate a list of current country music artists that with no frills and no variations lay down country music as country music was meant to be, Jason Eady would very have to be at or near the top of your list. And if you found yourself beset on all sides by ravenous legions of flesh-eating pop country music fans whose only bane was the authentic sound of true country music being blared in their general direction, his latest record Daylight & Dark just might be your ideal go-to weapon to win your ultimate escape.

John Moreland

john-morelandThe intimate element is where John Moreland and his music thrives—live and alone, sitting on the stage in front of a microphone, bearing his soul with sheer honesty and brutality. And it’s this element that has won him so many loyal fans. People have fallen in love with John Moreland because he’s such the anti-star, and that’s one of the reasons his fans are so loyal, and so quick to defend when someone has a critical observation. But soon, if not already, he’s not just going to be an artist for those few open-minded diehard followers of heartbreaking singer-songwriters, but for anyone who’s a fan of good songs.

Luke Bell

luke-bellThere is no justice in the music business. Consider a sports league where there worst teams always win, and do so because of seedy deals and backroom politics. That is music in a nutshell. But every once in a while there’s an outlier—a case where justice is served, and someone who deserves to be lifted up to the podium actually gets that opportunity. Luke Bell doesn’t come across as some aspirational go getter looking to “make it.” That’s why his particular brand of traditional country feels so authentic. And why he probably deserves to “make it” more than those participating in the hustle down on Music Row.

Parker Millsap

parker-millsapThe Purcell, Oklahoma native has that rich, songwriting blood of the central plains we’ve seen in artists like John Moreland, John Fullbright, Evan Felker of the Turnpike Troubadours, and so many more. And growing up in an evangelical community also imparts that indelible country gospel foundation to his music. But more than anything else Parker Millsap is a blues singer, which may seem a bit of a strange label to stamp on the forehead of the bushy-haired and doe-eyed songwriter …  until he opens his mouth.


Sammy Brue

sammy-brue-single-mother-justin-townes-earleProdigies in the music world usually come in the form of instrumentalists. It is rare to find a prodigy whose passion is songwriting, and even more rare to find a young songwriter who can garner acceptance and notoriety from the established music world at such a young age. Generally speaking, younger artists just don’t have the type of bevy of experiences to pull from to enthrall the listener with compelling sentiments, and they just don’t have the cognitive capacity to understand the subtly and nuance necessary to engage an audience in true storytelling. And then there’s Sammy Brue.

Sarah Shook and the Disarmers

sarah-shookSometimes it takes a bad seed to make good country music. That’s just the way it is. Just how bad Sarah Shook is probably depends on your perspective, but she was born into a good Christian home and raised in a wholesome manner that taught her to do everything in virtually the exact opposite way she eventually did it. Home schooled and only exposed to worship music at an early age, Sarah rebelled when she got the chance and her first band was named “Sarah Shook & The Devil.” Sorry mom and dad, but there was something inside Sarah that had to come out, and though this isn’t devil music by any stretch, it’s certainly not scriptures. Her recent album Sidelong touches on something welcome to the country music ear, and makes for one excellent and compelling listen.

Tami Neilson

tami-neilsonFrankly, I’m a little intimidated about where to start raining praises on this record, but let’s begin with Tami’s voice. Like a country music genetic experiment gone good, Tami Neilson sounds like the result of Patsy Cline and Wanda Jackson having a baby. Tami Neilson is like the Adele of country music, and the remoteness of her base of operations (New Zealand) shouldn’t impinge on her music’s ability to touch and entertain country and classic pop audiences across North America and beyond.

William Clark Green

william-clark-greenThe Texas country ranks are chock full of heavy weights and legends who enjoy an inexorable amount of support from a fervent population of fans who would run through walls for their favorite artists, but as we approach almost 30 years since the formative beginnings of Texas/Red Dirt music when it first emerged from the greater Texoma region, the question of who will become the next Jason Boland or Stoney LaRue looms large.

That’s where William Clark Green comes in, as an artist and songwriter that seems to eerily embody the teachings and spirit of Texas country, yet in a young man’s heart, and with a young man’s energy and perspective that gives the type of renewed enthusiasm a scene of music needs to keep its spirit alive in a new generation.William Clark Green is the best of both worlds in many respects. He can sit in a songwriting round with wily veterans and go toe to toe with them with his curiously-aged wisdom, yet find appeal from a younger audience by bringing his own real world struggles that parallel their own to his material.

Willie Watson

willie-watsonEverything about Willie Watson’s approach is so dry, you expect it to fall flat on its face as a form of entertainment. But that’s ultimately what’s so cool about it. There’s such a dedication that is behind this approach he’s chosen that it steals your attention and conveys an intimacy that alludes most music. Willie Watson can downright mesmerize, and he shouldn’t be discounted as a singer and performer just because there’s nothing flashy to his craft. He evokes some singing moments that many pop singers wish they could re-create, while the guile and sense of character in his music is spellbinding.

Lori McKenna

lori-mckennaThe typical specimen of the ones we envision helping to save country music are usually young, angry, post-punk and thick-skinned honky tonkers with a penchant to swear in their music and wax aggressively about the ill’s of today’s country with a middle finger wagging at Music Row. But what if the effort to return country music to its past glory is just as much, if not more in the hands of 30-something and middle-aged songwriting women, who on the surface may not strike one as having the fortitude for a fight, but through their words and songs can find an important way to contribute to the cause of returning country to its high water mark, not through cussing and demagoguery, but through setting an example of the type of substantive efforts that make folks proud to count themselves among the ranks of country fans again?

The Secret Sisters

the-secret-sistersSisters Laura and Lydia Rogers were born and raised in one of the holy lands of American music: Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Fertilized with music from George Jones, Merle Haggard, and Doc Watson, and singing in a church that had no instruments, their Southern harmonies were born with such a purity that can only be found in sister siblings. When The Secret Sisters harmonize, it is the sound a pining heart makes, or the sound emitted when a crack cleaves the soul. Or it’s the salve that mends the heart and soul, depending on the theme of the story their soaring voices carry.

Other AmericanaFest Artists to Check Out:

  • The Fearless Kin
  • Sam Outlaw
  • Michaela Anne
  • Cale Tyson
  • Bonnie Bishop
  • Amanda Shires
  • The Black Lillies
  • Caleb Caudle
  • Hackensaw Boys
  • Jack Ingram
  • The Wild Reeds
  • Whitney Rose
  • High Plains Jamboree
  • James McMurtry
  • Mayeux and Broussard
  • BJ Barham
  • The Bellfuries
  • The Cactus Blossoms
  • Robbie Fulks