Saving Country Music’s Essential Artists to See at AmericanaFest 2016
With over 200 artists playing AmericanaFest this third week of September, it can be a little bit intimidating for the folks either looking to attend in person, or experience the gathering vicariously through various social channels and video streams. So here is a curated list of artists battle tested and approved by Saving Country Music for your AmericanaFest listening and viewing pleasure. In no way complete, this is just a starting point of discovery, while avoiding the obvious names like Wanda Jackson and Dwight Yoakam, or the Americana stalwarts such as Jim Lauderdale and Steve Earle.
Once again the awards Wednesday evening (9-21) will be streamed online, and Saving Country Music will conduct a live blog during the festivities. Keep in touch with SCM all week for updates and news from AmericanaFest.
For a complete AmericanaFest schedule and more information CLICK HERE.
What has never left Austin Lucas is the dedication and hunger that drives his music. The fact that he was able to get folks like John Moreland and Lydia Loveless to appear on his new record Between The Moon & the Midwest shows the respect he receives among his artist peers. The fact that he was signed to New West and shared a stage with Willie Nelson shows that he has the material and acumen to make it at the next level. His best days, and best material aren’t behind him, but are happening in the here and now.
“Man, what a great writer,” Dave Cobb says about his cousin Brent. “His dad gave me his CD, but a lot of my family plays so I just thought ‘Well, it’s just another CD.’ My wife made me put his CD on in the car of songs he’d been writing. We were driving back to the airport from the funeral that time, and he just knocked me out. He’s like Don Williams. So deep. Such a deep, beautiful writer. One of the first things he did was write a song for an Oak Ridge Boys record I was working on, and it sounded like a classic hymnal.”
It’s not a lack of talent that Nashville suffers from. It’s figuring out how to shuffle the best talent to the front. Like another notable songwriter, Chris Stapleton—who paid his fair share of dues writing for others when he had a voice and a message that could resonate much deeper than what was rising in the mainstream, Caitlyn Smith is a relevant and powerful voice ready and warmed up in the batter’s box, just waiting for her chance at the plate to hit it out of the park.
Sometimes the artists that are the best at tapping into those little currents of nerve tingling turns of phrases are not the ones that aspire to be the beneficiaries of mass media. For the love of God just let the songs speak out and choose their own path, and that’s what happens in her self-titled 2016 release. The sentiments are so naked and pure, and as potent to stirring the spirit as the smell of a baby’s head that it awakens more than just an appreciation for music, it awakens an appreciation for life.
If you were asked to populate a list of current country music artists that with no frills and no variations lay down country music as country music was meant to be, Jason Eady would very have to be at or near the top of your list. And if you found yourself beset on all sides by ravenous legions of flesh-eating pop country music fans whose only bane was the authentic sound of true country music being blared in their general direction, his latest record Daylight & Dark just might be your ideal go-to weapon to win your ultimate escape.
The intimate element is where John Moreland and his music thrives—live and alone, sitting on the stage in front of a microphone, bearing his soul with sheer honesty and brutality. And it’s this element that has won him so many loyal fans. People have fallen in love with John Moreland because he’s such the anti-star, and that’s one of the reasons his fans are so loyal, and so quick to defend when someone has a critical observation. But soon, if not already, he’s not just going to be an artist for those few open-minded diehard followers of heartbreaking singer-songwriters, but for anyone who’s a fan of good songs.
There is no justice in the music business. Consider a sports league where there worst teams always win, and do so because of seedy deals and backroom politics. That is music in a nutshell. But every once in a while there’s an outlier—a case where justice is served, and someone who deserves to be lifted up to the podium actually gets that opportunity. Luke Bell doesn’t come across as some aspirational go getter looking to “make it.” That’s why his particular brand of traditional country feels so authentic. And why he probably deserves to “make it” more than those participating in the hustle down on Music Row.
The Purcell, Oklahoma native has that rich, songwriting blood of the central plains we’ve seen in artists like John Moreland, John Fullbright, Evan Felker of the Turnpike Troubadours, and so many more. And growing up in an evangelical community also imparts that indelible country gospel foundation to his music. But more than anything else Parker Millsap is a blues singer, which may seem a bit of a strange label to stamp on the forehead of the bushy-haired and doe-eyed songwriter … until he opens his mouth.
Prodigies in the music world usually come in the form of instrumentalists. It is rare to find a prodigy whose passion is songwriting, and even more rare to find a young songwriter who can garner acceptance and notoriety from the established music world at such a young age. Generally speaking, younger artists just don’t have the type of bevy of experiences to pull from to enthrall the listener with compelling sentiments, and they just don’t have the cognitive capacity to understand the subtly and nuance necessary to engage an audience in true storytelling. And then there’s Sammy Brue.
Sarah Shook and the Disarmers
Sometimes it takes a bad seed to make good country music. That’s just the way it is. Just how bad Sarah Shook is probably depends on your perspective, but she was born into a good Christian home and raised in a wholesome manner that taught her to do everything in virtually the exact opposite way she eventually did it. Home schooled and only exposed to worship music at an early age, Sarah rebelled when she got the chance and her first band was named “Sarah Shook & The Devil.” Sorry mom and dad, but there was something inside Sarah that had to come out, and though this isn’t devil music by any stretch, it’s certainly not scriptures. Her recent album Sidelong touches on something welcome to the country music ear, and makes for one excellent and compelling listen.
Frankly, I’m a little intimidated about where to start raining praises on this record, but let’s begin with Tami’s voice. Like a country music genetic experiment gone good, Tami Neilson sounds like the result of Patsy Cline and Wanda Jackson having a baby. Tami Neilson is like the Adele of country music, and the remoteness of her base of operations (New Zealand) shouldn’t impinge on her music’s ability to touch and entertain country and classic pop audiences across North America and beyond.
William Clark Green
The Texas country ranks are chock full of heavy weights and legends who enjoy an inexorable amount of support from a fervent population of fans who would run through walls for their favorite artists, but as we approach almost 30 years since the formative beginnings of Texas/Red Dirt music when it first emerged from the greater Texoma region, the question of who will become the next Jason Boland or Stoney LaRue looms large.
That’s where William Clark Green comes in, as an artist and songwriter that seems to eerily embody the teachings and spirit of Texas country, yet in a young man’s heart, and with a young man’s energy and perspective that gives the type of renewed enthusiasm a scene of music needs to keep its spirit alive in a new generation.William Clark Green is the best of both worlds in many respects. He can sit in a songwriting round with wily veterans and go toe to toe with them with his curiously-aged wisdom, yet find appeal from a younger audience by bringing his own real world struggles that parallel their own to his material.
Everything about Willie Watson’s approach is so dry, you expect it to fall flat on its face as a form of entertainment. But that’s ultimately what’s so cool about it. There’s such a dedication that is behind this approach he’s chosen that it steals your attention and conveys an intimacy that alludes most music. Willie Watson can downright mesmerize, and he shouldn’t be discounted as a singer and performer just because there’s nothing flashy to his craft. He evokes some singing moments that many pop singers wish they could re-create, while the guile and sense of character in his music is spellbinding.
The typical specimen of the ones we envision helping to save country music are usually young, angry, post-punk and thick-skinned honky tonkers with a penchant to swear in their music and wax aggressively about the ill’s of today’s country with a middle finger wagging at Music Row. But what if the effort to return country music to its past glory is just as much, if not more in the hands of 30-something and middle-aged songwriting women, who on the surface may not strike one as having the fortitude for a fight, but through their words and songs can find an important way to contribute to the cause of returning country to its high water mark, not through cussing and demagoguery, but through setting an example of the type of substantive efforts that make folks proud to count themselves among the ranks of country fans again?
The Secret Sisters
Sisters Laura and Lydia Rogers were born and raised in one of the holy lands of American music: Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Fertilized with music from George Jones, Merle Haggard, and Doc Watson, and singing in a church that had no instruments, their Southern harmonies were born with such a purity that can only be found in sister siblings. When The Secret Sisters harmonize, it is the sound a pining heart makes, or the sound emitted when a crack cleaves the soul. Or it’s the salve that mends the heart and soul, depending on the theme of the story their soaring voices carry.
Other AmericanaFest Artists to Check Out:
- The Fearless Kin
- Sam Outlaw
- Michaela Anne
- Cale Tyson
- Bonnie Bishop
- Amanda Shires
- The Black Lillies
- Caleb Caudle
- Hackensaw Boys
- Jack Ingram
- The Wild Reeds
- Whitney Rose
- High Plains Jamboree
- James McMurtry
- Mayeux and Broussard
- BJ Barham
- The Bellfuries
- The Cactus Blossoms
- Robbie Fulks
September 19, 2016 @ 6:55 pm
Excellent choices… Several of these artists are already on my schedule. I would add Smooth Hound Smith to the list…they blew me away when I first caught them a few months ago.
September 20, 2016 @ 1:52 pm
They were the first openers for a portion of The Dixie Chicks recent tour and I agree they were great–really enjoyed their set and hope they find their way back around here again soon.
September 19, 2016 @ 7:14 pm
Jon latham and Aaron lee Tasjan are a couple bad ass mofos throwing down as well
September 20, 2016 @ 6:47 am
I just saw Aaron Lee Tasjan at Bristol Rhythm and Roots this past weekend and I second your recommendation. I’m looking forward to his new release at the end of October.
September 20, 2016 @ 6:49 am
I also saw The Wild Reeds and Dori Freeman from Trig’s recommendations and second those as well.
September 19, 2016 @ 7:23 pm
word of warning..despite the whole churchy rearing, Parker Milsap shows usally attract a rough crowd. might want to move your wallet to your front pocket.
September 19, 2016 @ 7:46 pm
Just like every year some critic releases “top 20 albums of the year”, when he’s only heard 100 releases, and there were 50000 releases that year. Skip Americana Fest and go see a band in your hometown that doesn’t know how to “network”, or “hussle” in order to get into such a festival. These cool festivals and music magazines all begin with good intentions, but all end up becoming the Turd that they set out to be the alternative to.
September 19, 2016 @ 8:01 pm
So we shouldn’t honor initiative, only a lack of ambition. Got it.
There is a very very specific reason this is called “SAVING COUNTRY MUSIC’S Essential Artists to See,” just as all such lists are labeled.
As it says in the article, “In no way complete, this is just a starting point of discovery…”
I am just trying to help folks find cool music. Screw me I guess.
September 19, 2016 @ 8:13 pm
Hey trigger, you are the man. But bands that don’t get to the next level don’t always suffer from lack of ambition. Don’t take that comment personally. I was taking a shot at critics and gate keepers. Not you. You and SCM do us a great service. And yes, you have helped me and many others find cool music.
September 19, 2016 @ 8:50 pm
Sorry if I came across as chippy. I agree with you that these lists can feel arbitrary. That’s why I write fewer and fewer of them each year. Honestly I was running down this roster and making a list of who I want to see, and who I would personally recommend to others, and then decided to put it into article form. I’m always looking for the folks out there that are unheralded and under-appreciated to shine a spotlight on them. BUt they also have to at least have some drive to want to go somewhere with their music. Otherwise sometimes it can result in wasting ink, while there’s another band out there, hitting the road, trying to make it, and getting overlooked. I wish I could feature every band worthy of featuring. But just like many of our favorite bands and artists, I’m dealing with my own limited resources.
September 20, 2016 @ 8:22 am
While I won’t be able to attend the concert, as a result of this list I sampled Sarah Shook on YouTube and subsequently purchased her album. Thanks for putting this stuff out there.
September 20, 2016 @ 3:11 am
Love it, Trig. Thanks, this is the just the bump I needed to refresh my curiosity.
Ignore the ankle biting.
September 19, 2016 @ 8:34 pm
What if the best band in my town (by FAR) is just a classic 70s rock cover band? And the 2nd best band is, I don’t know, flip a damn coin and hope the bar actually has live music? (Hint: they never do.) Does that make me a dick for not supporting the hometown bands that don’t exist?
I drive 2-3 hours out of my way to see the artists I want to see, many I only know about because of this site. Just like I’ll head to KC for Westport Roots Festival in May mainly to see Pat Reedy, among many others…that I heard about through this site. Does going to that festival make me dick, am I just feedin the machine?? Have I failed at life??
September 20, 2016 @ 12:59 pm
Geez dude. Can’t answer those questions for ya, maybe bring them up at your next therapy session?
September 19, 2016 @ 8:01 pm
Jason Eady and Brent Cobb would be at the top of my list.
September 19, 2016 @ 8:07 pm
Stop by the Muddy Roots Records showcase Fridat at Indo 5-8! Zander Schloss, Dylan Walshe, and the Hardin Draw.
September 19, 2016 @ 8:33 pm
William Clark Green opened 7:40-8:15 pm for Gary Allan’s Sep 20, 2016 show at Joe’s Live Rosemont, Rosemont (Chicago) IL. He sang 7 songs: Next Big Thing, Creek Don’t Rise, Sticks and Stones, She Likes The Beatles, Rose Queen, Sympathy, and Ringling Road. I thought he did a solid job.
September 19, 2016 @ 11:03 pm
Correction: The show was Sep 10. I wish this site had an Edit button!
Bigfoot is Real (lonesome, on'ry, and mean)
September 20, 2016 @ 7:30 am
This could\should also be a shopping list.
September 20, 2016 @ 8:08 am
Recently saw William Clark Green live for the first time. Always liked him on record. He killed it live.
And what more can you say about Moreland? I had tears in my eyes watching him play a live show. The guy . . . . Speechless, as was the entire room.
September 20, 2016 @ 8:53 am
So far, listened to Dori and Caitlyn. Both are outstanding.
Dori has a very beautiful and expressive voice. And I’m guessing she’s not trying to write a hit; I’m thinking she’s simply writing songs about things that matter to her; writing because she almost has to, as opposed to writing as a means to success and fame.
some beautiful steel guitar/honky tonk piano in her tune “go on loving”. it’s about as country as it gets.
Thanks, it’s great to hear new people that I would not have known of otherwise.
September 20, 2016 @ 7:40 pm
I’m glad he’s on your “other artists to check out”, but for me personally, there’s not a better artist or performer going on the scene than Caleb Caudle. That guy is for real.
Bigfoot is Real (lonesome, on'ry and mean)
September 24, 2016 @ 6:45 am
Glad to read that others are on to Caleb Caudle. The guy just amazes every time he steps on stage.
September 21, 2016 @ 2:38 am
Aaron Lee Tasjan.
September 21, 2016 @ 5:51 am
Christian Lopez is a young, local (to me) guy who I’ve seen (and subsequently met) a few times; he puts on a good show and is an all around good dude. So anyone going should check him out.
I really wanted to go to Americanafest this year; I have friends going to Pilgrimage and I just couldn’t swing it. So instead I’m ‘settling’ for Cody Jinks + Whitey Morgan!