Nathaniel Rateliff’s ‘SNL’ Berth is Well-Deserved

It’s really hard to know how to even quantify the opportunity of the late night TV berth these days, or what sort of impact it may have on an artist’s career. Getting to perform on national television is always a big deal, and a bucket list item for most any performer. But the days of performing on The Tonight Show making your career are sort of over.

With appointment TV just not being that much of a thing anymore, and the bifurcated nature of media in general, it’s just hard to draw a large audience, especial in light of many late night shows becoming just a slightly funnier extension of the news, and the COVID-19 pandemic putting a crimp in production quality.

But the one exception may still be Saturday Night Live. Since it only happens once a week and their season for new shows is limited, the rarity and honor of the opportunity is virtually unparalleled for television performances. It’s like a country artist getting the opportunity to play the Grand Ole Opry for the first time. There’s a weight behind it from the history of that stage.

Nathaniel Rateliff and his band The Night Sweats have never really fit well into the country music perspective on Americana as a more rock and soul-oriented artist. Not a knock whatsoever, just an observation on a performer you’re likely to see on the same festival lineups as many of your favorite independent country stars, but is not always considered directly adjacent to them like Jason Isbell, John Moreland, or Brandi Carlile often are, for example.

But make no mistake, Nathaniel Rateliff is a roots music hero, and a success story of independent music. In 2020, we finally saw independent country artists like Tyler Childers, Cody Jinks, and Whiskey Myers break through to earning Gold and Platinum certifications from the RIAA for sales. For Nathaniel Rateliff, he was already there. The self-titled Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats album from 2015 was Certified Gold in 2017, and the album’s big single “S.O.B.” was Certified Platinum in 2018.

Similar to The Avett Brothers (who also minted a Gold single with “I and Love and You” in 2014), Nathaniel Rateliff in a sort of under-the-radar fashion has become a massive roots music phenomenon and a perennial headliner that has helped put support behind elemental American music with a soul that’s been lost in most of today’s musical offerings.

All the more reason to celebrate that Nathaniel Rateliff has been tapped to perform on Saturday Night Live on February 13th. Sure, from the independent country and roots world, it feels like berths for Jason Isbell and Tyler Childers are probably past due. And who knows, they may be coming up in the offing. But Nathaniel Rateliff is still a worthy name from our side of the music world to root for, and this SNL honor is certainly worthy.

After releasing his first three albums as a solo artist, Nathaniel Rateliff formed the soul-oriented Night Sweats for his 2015 and 2018 records released via Stax. His February 2020 solo album And It’s Still Alright also released via Stax is more of an acoustic-oriented singer/songwriter effort, and may be the perfect entry point for listeners more shaded towards the country side of Americana. It was kind of a pandemic approach to an album before we knew the pandemic was upon us.

It’s cool to see Nathaniel Rateliff get the opportunity to take the SNL stage on February 13th. It’s a win for roots music, it’s a win for independent music, and it’s always fun when you get someone to root for when it comes to these opportunities.

Now SNL, please check out Tyler Childers and the tear he’s been on lately, and pull the trigger on him as well.

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