The Saving Country Music 2021 Artist of the Year

The Saving Country Music Artist of the Year Award is not exclusively about the musical output an artist contributes in a year, or how many shows they played, or the crowds they drew, or the albums they sold. This award is about who best embodies the idea behind the phrase “saving country music” in a given year.

That includes helping to preserve the roots of the music, not just in words, but in actions. It’s about standing up against the corporate control of music, and embodying the independent spirit that puts artists back in control of their artistic expressions like the Outlaws did back in the 70s. It’s about representing country music proudly with both your music and your character, and speaking out when necessary. It’s also about making sure that country music is an art form that everyone can participate in, no matter who they are, or where they’re from.

Charley Crockett is from South Texas, and in 2021, he took of his time to tribute one of country music’s most criminally overlooked legends, and one of the most authentic voices to ever grace the music when he released the album 10 For Slim covering ten songs from Texas honky tonker James “Slim” Hand who passed away in 2020. The project proved both Crockett’s depth of knowledge of country, and the depth of his commitment to the genre.

Crockett then turned around and released his latest original studio album Music City USA, which from cover to cover revitalizes the omnivorous roots of country music. Similar to last year’s Artist of the Year Colter Wall, Charley Crokett has done what some proclaim is impossible, which is making older country sounds and modes cool again.

Charley said at the beginning of this year, “Hell, I’ve made a career out of recording music that’s widely thought to be past its sell by date. I’d argue those folks don’t have a damn clue what they’re sure talkin’ about!”

Along with being one of the most prolific artists in the studio over the last few years by releasing albums at a 2-per-year clip, Charley Crockett has also toured more tirelessly in 2021 than just about anybody. His old school mentality of outworking everyone and earning whatever success comes his way through sweat equity is inspiring beyond the music itself. He’s the hardest working man in country music at the moment.

“Folks can politic and work the scene till they’re blue in the face but if you ain’t paid your dues, sooner or later it shows through
,” Crockett says, unafraid to speak out about what he believes, and what country music should be. In 2021, Charley Crockett was also featured at the Country Music Hall of Fame as part of their American Currents exhibit, and also made his debut on Austin City Limits.

Critics will say Crockett isn’t necessarily pure country since he’ll mix in a bit of blues and vintage R&B into his sound. But his amalgam of country roots is the perfect illustration of the disparate influences that eventually intertwined to make the country music we know today. Others will chide that Charley’s garb and “aw shucks” disposition is shtick. This is probably true to some extent. But that doesn’t mean that over time, Charley hasn’t settled into his most authentic skin as he’s searched for his true voice.

He found that true voice in 2021, and along with it, emerged from the shadows of obscurity that hides many of independent music’s greatest contributors. 2021 was the year of Charley Crockett in independent country music.

Every year there is always another artist who feels like they’re sitting right on the cusp of receiving this distinction as well. This year that would be Mike and the Moonpies. Similarly to Charley Crockett, they paid tribute to a criminally-overlooked country great when they recorded Touch of You: The Lost Songs of Gary Stewart. They also helped re-instill a cool factor into true country music, and continue to be one of the best live acts in all of country, not to mention releasing a stellar record in One To Grow On.

But this is Charley Crockett’s year, and always will be. It’s the year that all that traveling, all those songs, and all those dues paid finally paid off.

© 2023 Saving Country Music