2020’s Top Country Video, Film, Musician, Producer & Live Performance
We’ve already run down the Album of the Year Nominees and the Winner(s), the Song of the Year nominees and Winner, the Artist of the Year, posted the Essential Albums List, and are now looking to put a period at the end of 2020 with an upcoming In Memoriam tribute and then move forward to what is coming up in country music in 2021.
But it still feels like there is some unfinished business in 2020. On most years, Saving Country Music would also run down the best live performances experienced in a given year, since the live shows are just as important as anything else in music. For obvious reasons, 2020 has put a damper on experiencing music in the live context, so drafting a list of live performances, or basing it off of the inferior experience of live streaming seems disingenuous.
Nonetheless, before the lockdowns took effect, Saving Country Music was in the trenches hard and heavy in January and February, and it seems unfair to not recognize the artists that poured their sweat out the most for our entertainment value.
Along with that, it also feels important to recognize the top achievers in the medium of film, video, instrumentality, and production in 2020, since there were some stellar efforts in that direction in 2020.
Best Live Performances of 2020
1. Mike and the Moonpies, Jamie Lin Wilson (and friends) – Mile 0 Fest – Key West, FL
Mile 0 Fest in Key West, FL commenced Tuesday evening with a free and open-to-the-public block party on the island’s famous Duval Street. Then later the party condensed into a tightly packed affair at the infamous Key West venue Durty Harry’s where Jamie Lin Wilson, Mike and the Moonpies, and many guests and collaborators held court. And for the second year in a row, the pre-festival club show resulted in one of the most memorable country music events all year.
Guitar pulls, songwriting swaps, and stage collaborations are one thing. But the magic that Jamie Lin Wilson with Mike and the Moonpies and friends sowed resulted in moments that will be very hard to forget, even amid many other unforgettable moments of a frenetic festival in an exotic place like Mile 0 Fest. It’s no wonder both are top talents in Texoma music. (read more)
1A. Tami Neilson – Folk Alliance – New Orleans, Louisiana
If word comes down that Tami Neilson is making her way to your town, pitch the tent, prop up the podium, assemble the pews, pass out handbills and burn up the telephones lines to put everyone on alert that the new queen of rockabilly herself is coming to testify and save souls with her earth-shattering shouts and dulcet coos that certify to anyone who has ever born witness to her in the flesh that she has no peer on this planet or any other when it comes to musical performance.
This is not a drill. No payola has been exchanged for the sharing of these opinions. Tami Neilson is one of the greatest performers breathing at the moment, and make no mistake, a consensus prevails upon this point when surrounded by people who’ve actually been lucky enough to behold her power in the flesh.
Best Video(s) of 2020
Hobbled by the pandemic as video creators and artists were, there were still some serious video offerings in 2020. But none had the cinematic vision of the videos accompany Charley Crockett‘s latest release, Welcome to Hard Times.
Crockett shot multiple videos in the Sierra Nevada with co-director Bobby Cochran, with two of the constants being an alarm clock and a canary yellow rotary phone. Welcome to Hard Times producer Mark Neill understood Crockett’s vision for this album, and that it had a visual component to it. “Mark understood where I wanted to take the music,” says Charley Crockett. “He heard what I had written and he said: ‘This is a movie. We have to tell this story.’”
Best Musician of 2020
Sure, it almost feels cheap to highlight the instrumental superiority and grace of Sierra Hull in the context of her contributions to Sturgill Simpson’s two landmark bluegrass records released in 2020—Cuttin’ Grass Vol. 1 and Vol. 2—when she herself has a notable solo career filled with the same musical prowess and songwriting authority, especially since she released a new album in 2020, 25 Trips.
But let’s also be thankful that Sturgill Simpson’s junket into bluegrass has turned on many listeners to the impressiveness and importance of Sierra Hull. With all due respect to Sturgill—who sang his guts out and is responsible for the songs and assemblage of talent the Cuttin’ Grass sessions boasted—most would concur Sierra Hull was Sturgill’s Ace in the Hole, if not the superstar of the sessions.
The bluegrass world and attentive Americana fans already knew. But now the rest of the roots world knows that Sierra Hull is not to be overlooked.
Best Producer of 2020
Dave Cobb and Dan Auerbach. Dave Cobb and Dan Auerbach. Sure, these two men are responsible for the lion’s share of many of the landmark releases in country and roots music over the last few years, and most certainly both have received their fair share of recognition for it. There’s a reason they’re both competing in 2021 for the Grammy’s Producer of the Year.
But if you haven’t been paying attention to the work Adam Odor has been doing as a producer, engineer, and studio owner down in Wimberley, Texas, you’re missing out. Adam Odor was the producer responsible for the 2019 Saving Country Music Album of the Year in 2019—Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold by Mike and the Moonpies. He worked on the new record from Saving Country Music 2020 Artist of the Year Colter Wall—Western Swing & Waltzes, and produced the new 2020 Mike and the Moonpies album Touch of You: The Lost Songs of Gary Stewart.
Beyond that, Adam Odor has also worked as a producer and engineer on projects from Jason Boland, Cody Canada, Drew Fish Band, Bart Crow, Aaron Watson, and many others. And as many can attest who have seen Mike and the Moonpies live, he’s also like the band’s 6th member.
Not a household name yet, but Adam Odor nonetheless deserves recognition.
Best Film of 2020
You wouldn’t think there was a movie centered around country music and the hot button issue of immigration that was released in over 800 movie theaters with the lack of attention being paid to this film by country and entertainment media, and that among other blessings, the film includes an Oscar-level performance from an incredible young actor who can also sing and compose music better than most mainstream country stars at the moment. But you would be wrong.
A tiny budget film that doesn’t feel like one, the biggest shame is how Yellow Rose co-starring Eva Nobelzada and Dale Watson is going so overlooked amid everything else going on in the United States at the moment. COVID-19 is keeping many from in-person theaters, and ironically, immigration has become a secondary concern at the moment compared to racial strife in American surrounding the black community. If this film had been picked up by Sony Pictures and received a wide released a year ago, it might be the talk of the media, and country music.
But regardless of it’s commercial impact, Yellow Rose is a great film receiving worthy-critical acclaim. And most importantly, it’s a great illustration of how country music is for everyone, as is America. Because ultimately we all hurt, and in ways that country music is a unique panacea for, no matter our color of skin, or country of origin. (read more)
December 31, 2020 @ 12:00 pm
I feel like Billy Strings deserves mention for his Streaming Strings tour and 12 Days of Bluegrass that wrapped up last week. I read somewhere where he had the best-selling bluegrass album of the year. Of course, the album was already out on January 1st and had 365 days to sell copies, but it still seems impressive considering Sturgill put two bluegrass albums out himself and Tyler Childers’ fiddle album would probably be counted in that category as well for chart and sales purposes.
Regardless, he’s definitely one of the guys who has managed to adjust to the realities of 2020 and still keep me entertained all year.
December 31, 2020 @ 12:57 pm
The success of the drive in tour should be enough to get a mention alone.
December 31, 2020 @ 12:01 pm
Love the Crockett videos. I’ve enjoyed quite a lot of music videos this year. I humbly offer the following in addition:
Tyler Childers – “Country Squire”
Runaway June – “We Were Rich”
Lainey Wilson – “Things A Man Oughta Know”
Hot Country Knights – “Pick Her Up” ft. Travis Tritt
I’m sure that I am forgetting many more. We can all agree that Tiffany Amber Thiessen in “Pick Her Up” is alone worth watching the video! That’s especially if you’re an 80’s/90’s kid like me.
Among pop country offerings, thus setting aside the production of the song, Russell Dickerson’s “Love You Like I Used To” is a great video. And Jake Owen’s “Homemade,” albeit a late 2019 release, has been one of my favorites. I’m a sucker for sentimental aesthetics, done well.
And Zephaniah OHora at Pickathon’s Watch A Concert A Day is my favorite live stream of the year. It’s still on YouTube and oh so good!
December 31, 2020 @ 3:35 pm
Bluebird & Homemade were my favorite Mainstream music videos!!!
December 31, 2020 @ 12:31 pm
I think what Adam Odor has done the last couple of years is nothing short of amazing! On top of the production and although I don’t know it for a fact but it’s probably true that he helped Mike and all the Moonpies put together the Live from the Prairie Rose weekly video variety show that helped get me through the 75 day lock down period. Forever grateful for those. He’s called “the glue” for a reason.
December 31, 2020 @ 12:32 pm
Shooter Jennings had a great year as producer–Jaime Wyatt’s Neon Cross and Hellbound Glory’s Pure Scum.
mouths of babes
January 1, 2021 @ 5:46 am
…And American Aquarium’s Lamentations. Also, the new Marilyn Manson, which has some country by way of hard rock moments on it.
December 31, 2020 @ 1:55 pm
I know you shat on his first album, but I caught an Orville Peck show in January and he puts on a great show. Possibly one of the best live voices I’ve heard. I’ve had songs from Pony and Show Pony in high rotation during 2020.
December 31, 2020 @ 6:17 pm
I wouldn’t say I “shat” on it. I just offered a spirited rebuttal to the idea that it was magic, or even really that country.
I made an express commitment to see him perform live at AmericanaFest last September. The sound was so terrible, I just had to walk away inconclusive. He could have put on the best show ever, but it was a muddy mess coming through the speakers. Will have to catch him under better circumstances.
December 31, 2020 @ 2:28 pm
Yeah the Moonpies albums just sound so good and so much better than other albums, Adam odor is awesome.
December 31, 2020 @ 5:08 pm
Congrats to Tami Neilson, & Charley Crockett!!!
Love these two.
December 31, 2020 @ 6:34 pm
I’ll throw one more category and one more worthy winner to your list of today’s list: The Sequestered Songwriters for Top Country Live Stream. Every Monday of the live music hiatus, Texas music’s best have held an online guitar pull for the ages, celebrating the music of Strait, Diffie, Rogers, Willie, Ketchum and more each week. It’s been truly a pleasure to watch the likes of Jason Eady, Jamie Lin Wilson, Cody Jinks, Drew Kennedy, Courtney Patton, Wade Bowen, Josh Grider and more pay tribute to their heroes each week.
January 1, 2021 @ 5:59 am
I also feel like Sequestered Songwriters deserves a mention on this site.
Live streams are very much a part of country music in 2021 and Sequestered Songwriters is not an “inferior experience” but the best thing on the internet right now.
January 1, 2021 @ 6:00 am
*that should read 2020, but it will be true for 2021 as well
January 1, 2021 @ 8:17 am
absolutely agree about sequestred songwriters, One of the few things that kept me sane during this year; i was even asked to play a song for the Springsteen tribute but didn’t make it in the end. Thanks to Jason Eady and Courtney Patton for putting up the whole thing.
January 1, 2021 @ 9:19 am
I’ve addressed this a couple of times in comments before, and frankly don’t like to address it because it’s ripe to be misunderstood that I don’t support what they’re doing with Sequestered Songwriters, which is not the case. I think it’s been really cool, and I’m glad they’re doing it. But at the beginning of the pandemic, I made the conscious choice to be very selective with the amount of live streaming events I chose to promote or cover, and instead to focus on the artists releasing studio albums who had the chance of being majorly overlooked by all the other news and stuff going on.
I’m not calling anyone out or making any accusations. But the simple fact is the legalities around holding live streaming events where your covering another artist’s songs are problematic. People way above my pay grade have pointed this out, and specifically when it comes to pandemic era streaming events. This is the reason organizations like BMI and ASCAP exist. Again, I’m not calling into question anything. It’s just something I chose to not cover. The only reason I’m explaining this is because I don’t want people to think I was purposely ignoring Sequestered Songwriters, or don’t care about what they’re doing.
January 2, 2021 @ 12:50 pm
That makes perfectly sense. Thanks for elaborating your motives.
EW in DFW
January 2, 2021 @ 10:00 pm
I saw Mike and the Moonpies w/ Jamie Lin Wilson at the Kessler in Dallas. It was fantastic.