We all know that Music Row in Nashville can only have one good idea at any given time, and that idea usually boils down to the maxim: copy whatever is hot. That’s how country music went from one big song called “Cruise” from Florida Georgia Line a few years ago, to having the entire country music industry so completely overrun with Bro-Country acts, that’s all you could hear day in and day out for the better part of three years. Finding an original thought on Music Row is as hard as finding a steel guitar. In the vacuum of any true original ideas or creative direction, if mainstream country sees something they think will sell, they will put all their resources behind it and squeeze every bit of life from it until you can’t escape it and it shoots to the highest reaches of popularity for a short time, only to then nosedive from over-saturation in the classic arc of a hyper trend.
With the recent overwhelming success of Chris Stapleton, it was only a matter of time before we began to see clones and copycatters crop up among the hungry masses seeking stardom. You didn’t have to squint to see the Stapleton influence in the long-haired and bearded Adam Wakefield when he chose the exact same rendition and style of Chris Stapleton’s take on the country music classic “Tennessee Whiskey” for his audition on NBC’s The Voice. That same song done in that specific style is where the massive wave of success started for Stapleton when he performed it on the CMA Awards last November. And now it might be responsible for another bullet to success.
Subsequently, Adam Wakefield has given the Stapleton treatment to all his performances on The Voice, including “Seven Spanish Angels,” and the Toy Caldwell song, “Can’t You See.” It has landed Wakefield among the Top 12 contestants on the show, and according to the folks to handicap such things, he’s one of the very top favorites moving forward, with another Nashville resident and traditional-leaning country artist Mary Sarah not too far behind.
Being so similar to Chris Stapleton is not necessarily a knock on Adam Wakefield, at least not this early in his career. The young man clearly has some serious singing chops. Emulating Chris Stapleton is not an easy proposition, and Adam seems to be trying to find little moments to put his own spin on things if possible. If Wakefield’s smart though, he won’t get testy about the comparisons, and instead ride this Stapleton wave to wherever it takes him. In fact watching where Wakefield ends up might be a good barometer on just how much breadth the Chris Stapleton phenomenon contains. We’ve seen Chris monopolize the album sales chart for the last 15 weeks or so, and slay at all of the industry awards. But radio is still elusive, and we’ve yet to get a full measure of his touring capacity.
But no matter where Adam Wakefield ends up (and the track record for The Voice alum is not very good), it could only a matter of time before the Stapleton clones begin to populate major label rosters. The hope would be that instead of just fielding a bunch of bearded soul singers produced by Dave Cobb, they instead take the same insight Chris Stapleton did when he heard Sturgill Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, and got the inspiration for his debut Traveller. It’s about seeing the value of stripping down the production process, focusing more on the sound, the voice, and the words to the songs. Nashville is not bereft of talent, no matter what many disgruntled country music fans may tell you. Many times it’s how that talent is being handled.
The lesson of the rise of Chris Stapleton should not be that we need more Chris Stapletons. It should be that we need more artistic freedom, naturally talented artists, and original ideas. Then, and only then, can Music Row emulate the overwhelming organic success that Chris Stapleton has enjoyed.