There’s still a long way to go, and a greater than average chance that he won’t make it into the final field of official nominees—let alone win anything—but Sturgill Simpson is currently in the running and being voted on by members of the Country Music Association for three of the 50th Anniversary presentation’s biggest prizes: Album of the Year, Male Vocalist of the Year, and New Artist of the Year.
Also surprising since she’s not on a major label, Margo Price has made the top 20 females being considered for Female Vocalist of the Year.
Just to make it this far feels like a coup d’etat whether Sturgill or Margo make it any closer. Currently the field of nominees for each award has been narrowed down to about 20 or so artists, songs, or albums in the respective categories. And before you say it would never happen, appreciate that last year at the CMA Awards, Chris Stapleton shocked everyone by getting nominated, and sweeping all three of the same distinctions that Sturgill Simpson is being considered for now, bolstered by the fact that Stapleton was the artist that all the voters were actually listening to instead of relying on sales numbers or some popularity contest to choose the winner.
Sturgill Simpson’s surprising showing in early CMA consideration has likely been the outcome of signing to Atlantic Records before releasing A Sailor’s Guide to Earth. Atlantic is part of the Warner Music Group, and has clout at these award shows. It has also been made possible by Sturgill Simpson’s perseverance in his career and the massive grassroots appeal for his music that he has cultivated with hard touring and critically-acclaimed albums. And just like Chris Stapleton, Sturgill has the respect of his peers—something that helped push Stapleton over the top. Keith Urban, Jake Owen, and others have publicly touted their love for Sturgill’s Music, and Zac Brown took Sturgill out on tour.
And not to get too ahead of ourselves, but if Sturgill Simpson or Margo Price end up being officially nominated, especially in Sturgill’s case since he’s up for multiple categories, they could also potentially be in the running for a performance slot on the awards November 2nd. All of this may seem implausible, but after Chris Stapleton’s implausible CMA’s and ACM’s during the last round of awards shows, who’s to say what could happen?
It all seems incredible for artists that a few short years ago were playing to small crowds in bar rooms. Sturgill Simpson’s first two records, released independently through Thirty Tigers, exploded onto the independent country scene, especially his second release Metamodern Sounds in Country Music which experienced a prolonged run popularity on its way to selling now nearly 200,000 copies. Even if Sturgill doesn’t get an official nomination for any of the awards, it’s still a feat to have come this far with no mainstream radio play. Same for Margo Price, who after spending years on Nashville’s bar circuit has seen multiple surprising opportunities, including playing Saturday Night Live and other late night shows around the release of her Third Man Records debut, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter.
And speaking of Chris Stapleton, his incredible run may still have some steam left. In early voting, Stapleton is being considered for the biggest distinction of the CMA’s: Entertainer of the Year. And with the year Stapleton has put together, especially in album sales, it’s not crazy to think he could end up in the final field. Stapleton is also being considered for Male Vocalist of the Year again, as well as Single of the Year for “Nobody to Blame.”
Other notable early nominee contenders include Album of the Year consideration for Brandy Clark’s Big Day in a Small Town and Jon Pardi’s California Sunrise, Brandy Clark and Jon Pardi for New Artist of the Year, Brandy Clark and Lee Ann Womack for Female Vocalist of the Year, the Randy Rogers Band for Vocal Group of the Year, and Joey + Rory for Vocal Duo of the Year. Eventually the fields of 20 will be pared down to the five official nominees.
Again, we are very early in the voting process and there is a chance none of the above highlighted artists make the final cut of nominees in favor of the same tired pop country names. But through the revelation of the first round finalists (which has not been made public in recent years), we’re finally starting to see where artists that worked their way up the ladder and are favored by the independent ranks are beginning to break through, even for the highest mainstream distinctions in the genre.