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)

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