Whether you love Oliver Anthony or think he’s a fudge rounder, he’s definitely sparked off a ton of national interest in earnest songwriters who can stand in front of a microphone with just an acoustic guitar, and captivate an audience to the tune of going viral.
To those that frequent silly little music websites like this one, you’ve probably seen other artists do this, even if not on a similar scale. Many of your favorite artists, you first saw them on a video standing out in the woods or in an abandoned building, singing from their heart. But there are likely millions of people who are just waking up to this type or raw artistic expression in music as opposed to polished mainstream radio fare, no matter what they think about “Rich Men North of Richmond” or the Fudge Rounds line.
Solo acoustic performances were the very foundation of how Zach Bryan became one of the most popular artists in all of country music, and how Canadian Colter Wall completely revitalized Western cowboy music in the modern context. YouTube channels such as Western AF, GemsOnVHS, and specifically RadioWV where the Oliver Anthony video first emerged have been integral to helping to launch careers for these artists, and fueling the independent country music revolution.
There are many other artist from the Virginia/West Virginia/Kentucky region like Charles Wesley Godwin, Kelsey Waldon, and so on and so forth that also deserve the national attention Anthony Oliver is getting, as well as many other artists that fit more in the folk or Western tradition.
But if you want to find some artists who solely or primarily launched their careers off of raw and unaccompanied acoustic performances and are from the same region as Oliver Anthony, the eight performers below would be an excellent place to start.
Editor’s Note: Nobody was “forgotten” or excluded from this list. It is meant to be illustrative, not comprehensive. If you want to suggest some other performers, feel free to do so in the comments. But please don’t act like it is an insult to anyone not included.
If you’re looking for authenticity from rural West Virginia, look no further than Sierra Ferrell. Saving Country Music might have been the first periodical to cover Ms. Ferrell (yes, a humble brag), but it was her second appearance on the YouTube Channel GemsOnVHS singing her song “In Dreams” (8.7 million views) that really seeded her meteoric ascent that has her now selling out large venues and quickly making her way to headliner status at major festivals.
As former train hopper and busker, if you’re looking for a rags to riches story in country music, Sierra Ferrell is an excellent one.
When the story is told about how country music was saved in the modern era, it’s the post-punk roots musicians who should be given deserved credit for coming into seed the revolution. They were the ones to pick up the traditions that were cast off by the mainstream.
Benjamin Tod is the embodiment of that post punk roots archetype. As a high school dropout who spent much of his youth hopping trains and busking for ragged dollars to get by, he’s the kind of character a lot of other underground artists emulated. Raised in Cottonwood, Tennessee, Benjamin Tod met his wife and fiddle player Ashley Mae in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky when they were both still teenagers, playing music in a band called Barefoot Surrender, and eventually forming the Lost Dog Street Band in 2010, coined after the couple’s beloved labrador Daisy.
Working with GemsOn VHS, Benjamin Tod now has numerous solo acoustic videos now with over 9-12 million views.
As everyone is trying to sow conspiracy theories of how an acoustic performance on the YouTube Channel RadioWV is really an astroturfing, bot-driven, smoke-and-mirrors Svengali scheme designed for an industry plant, folks may want to recognize that Logan Halstead was thrown into the roots music consciousness some 2 1/2 years ago when he performed his song “Dark Black Coal” (6.8 million views) that debuted on the same exact YouTube channel.
Born in Kentucky and raised in West Virginia, at just 19 years old Logan Halstead released his debut album Dark Black Coal May 5th via Thirty Tigers. Halstead has already proven himself to be wise beyond his age, and has been welcomed into the cadre of songwriters from coal country and beyond, including Arlo McKinley who featured Logan on the song “Back Home” in 2022.
Though Drayton Farley is from Alabama, very similar to Oliver Anthony and others, he exploded into the national consciousness through heartfelt acoustic performances. His totally acoustic 2021 album A Hard Up Life is what put Farley on the map, including the song “Pitchin’ Fits” that now has 12 millions streams on Spotify alone. Farley released a proper, full band studio album earlier this year called Twenty On High produced by Sadler Vaden of Jason Isbell’s 400 Unit.
Once again, one of the viral moments for Drayton Farley was facilitated by the RadioWV YouTube channel. The live acoustic version of “Pitchin Fits” helped bust Drayton Farley out of obscurity, and now he’s touring nationally and playing big festivals.
Old time hollerin’ from the hills and hamlets of Kentucky has gone from a has-been pastime for forgotten souls and fuddy-duddys to creating the very foundations for the country music revolution and setting the woods on fire. If you’re looking for the Appalachian sound that has gone untouched by the rapacious cretins in Nashville and their commercial interests, Tim Goodin is a good place to start.
Goodin crawled out of Pineville, Kentucky and got the attention of many when he released an acoustic-only EP in 2022 that included the song “Son of Appalachia” that first got Saving Country Music’s attention. But it’s been his acoustic song “Pills and Poverty” that has really resonated with people, and put Goodin at the top of the list of new and upcoming Appalachian songwriters to keep an eye out for.
Cole Chaney is from the Kentucky town of Catlettsburg right on the banks of the Ohio River. Where many have dipped their toes into the Kentucky experience with their music, Cole Chaney wades in up to the neck, hollering and wailing about coal mines, flooding catastrophes, dreams cauterized in their infancy due to fleeting opportunities, and other conflagrations that the captivating and hearty characters of the region regularly experience, and that makes such compelling art and stories in the form of country music.
With a poetic disposition and an acoustic guitar, this 20-something former welder stirs a lot of emotion and has drawn a sizable crowd with an economy of instrumentation on his debut album Mercy, often only accompanied by fiddle, a bit of bass, and some mandolin, and sometimes by nothing but the natural acoustics of the room. It’s the nakedness of the effort that exposes the sincerity of the writing, and the brilliance of the composition.
The Local Honeys
A relentless and unmerciful expedition to unearth the essence of authentic Kentucky expressions captured in musical form will find one in the audience of Linda Jean Stokley and Montana Hobbs, known collectively as The Local Honeys. Already a decade of performing under their belt—including opening for staunch advocates such as Tyler Childers and Colter Wall—they are where other artists praised for their authenticity go to reset their compass to what is truly the “real deal.”
You don’t passively enjoy this album as much as you survive it. The death of people, horses, dogs, as well as drug addiction, destitution, at the husks of once vibrant communities left derelict by industry is what you will encounter on this harrowing, yet enriching exploration of authentic Kentucky.
With a voice that feels fragile, young, and distinctly feminine on the surface—with a subtle rural accent and a simple yodel instilling her tone with endearing little character traits—beneath this veneer is a bubbling ferocity of determinism and a steel chassis of skilled and studied musicianship underpinning her original songs steeped in tradition, yet intimately detailed to her specific narrative, and roiled with emotion.
Be charmed by her natural beauty and swoon over her songbird tone, but its the articulation of Angela Autumn’s confident digits on both ends of a stringed instrument that brings her music alive, and delivers her into an echelon of pickers whose names would include Welch and Krauss. Along with her songs and voice, it’s her playing that brings a uniqueness to the listening experience, while still being intensely steeped in tradition.