searchsearch
Is Nashville Really A 10-Year Town? Walker Hayes, HARDY, Lainey Wilson & More Country Hitmakers On How The Wait Pays Off
Lainey Wilson performs at Live In The Vineyard Goes Country in Napa, California in 2021.

Photo: Steve Jennings/WireImage

list

Is Nashville Really A 10-Year Town? Walker Hayes, HARDY, Lainey Wilson & More Country Hitmakers On How The Wait Pays Off

Eight of country music's rising stars, from Hailey Whitters to ERNEST, detail how their long-awaited dreams came true — and why Nashville success stories rarely come overnight.

GRAMMYs/Jun 22, 2022 - 03:18 pm

Nashville may be known as Music City to most, but to those in the music industry, it's the "10-Year Town." While overnight successes can happen, for most creatives, it's a slow and steady climb — and in Nashville specifically, the story often goes that it takes a decade before catching that big break.

Acts like reigning ACM and CMA Female Vocalist of the Year Carly Pearce and CMA New Artist of the Year (and 2022 Best New Artist GRAMMY nominee) Jimmie Allen — who moved to Nashville in 2009 and 2007, respectively —  are a testament to this adage. So is rising star Hailey Whitters, who even wrote a song titled "Ten Year Town" in 2017; she proclaims in the final verse, "This next song could turn it all around."   

The 32-year-old singer/songwriter is part of country's latest class of artists who are making waves years after their start in Music City. That class includes Walker Hayes, whose "Fancy Like" went from TikTok sensation to GRAMMY-nominated No. 1 hit last year — 17 years into his time in Nashville —  and Jameson Rodgers, who saw his first No. 1 as a singer with 2020's "Some Girls" 10 years after he moved to Music City. 

"I compare it to going to law school or medical school," Rodgers says. "It takes moving here and meeting as many people as possible. It takes being poor for a few years while you work on your craft. The early years prepare you for what's to come. It's a crazy dream to chase, but I'm really glad I did it."

Below, discover the journeys of Whitters, Hayes, Rodgers, and five more of their country cohorts, and hear their testimonials on why the Nashville grind is worth it. 

ERNEST

Hometown: Nashville, TN

Signed label deal: 2018

Big break: "Flower Shops," a duet with Morgan Wallen, broke the top 20 on Billboard's Country Airplay chart in June 2022

ERNEST has been writing songs since middle school and credits a trip to the Grand Ole Opry in the fourth grade for further igniting that fire for music. "Even as a fourth grader I was like, 'I want to do this one day,'" he recalls.

The singer saw early success co-penning No. 1 songs for Chris Lane ("Big, Big Plans"), Morgan Wallen ("More Than My Hometown") and Sam Hunt ("Breaking Up Was Easy in the 90s") but it was his Flower Shops (The Album) that set the bar even higher. "With the Flower Shops album, I've come into full form as my country artist self," he says. "I'm still going to be growing always and evolving, but this is me. This album is me, and I'm here."

Though he's a native Nashvillian, ERNEST says 2022 marks 10 years since he began pursuing music. Fittingly, he agrees that Nashville is a 10-year town. "Obviously there are people that have success super early on and get that lucky break immediately but as [hit songwriter and Big Loud Records Partner] Craig Wiseman said, 'Everybody pays their dues — you either pay them at the beginning, or pay them at the end.'"

Hailey Whitters

Hometown: Shueyville, IA

Arrived in Nashville: 2007

Signed label deal: 2020

Big break: 2020's The Dream, which Whitters self-funded and self-released

Hailey Whitters picked up the guitar at 14 and has been writing songs ever since. Whitters' earliest influences include '90s country radio titans Alan Jackson, Trisha Yearwood, the Chicks and Tim McGraw. Little did she know that decades later, she'd have her songs recorded by Jackson, Martina McBride and Little Big Town. 

"Growing up adoring country radio, I think I knew early on [I wanted to be an artist] — but I had no idea how to go about it, because no one from my town had ever tried," Whitters says. "I had a guidance counselor in elementary school tell me if I wanted to be a country music star, I had to learn how to write my own songs, so I started doing that."

Whitters' relatable storytelling on songs like the autobiographical (and fittingly titled) "Ten Year Town" eventually caught the attention of Music Row, and she signed with Big Loud Records' female-driven imprint Songs & Daughters in 2020. Her infectious breakthrough single, "Everything She Ain't," goes for adds at country radio June 27 — nearly 15 years after she relocated from her native Iowa to Nashville. 

So, what's Whitters' opinion on the 10-year town philosophy? "Everyone's experience is different," she says. "I will say in my time here, I've found that most things that last weren't the things that happened overnight."

HARDY

Hometown: Philadelphia, MS

Arrived in Nashville: 2010

Signed label deal: 2018

Big break: "One Beer" feat. Lauren Alaina and Devin Dawson hit No. 1 on Billboard and Mediabase charts in December 2020

HARDY never intended to be an artist. As a teenager, he learned about songwriters and became a fan of Rodney Clawson, Casey Beathard, Eric Church and Brad Paisley. He started writing songs at 17, and in the nearly 14 years since, he has authored 10 No. 1 songs including Blake Shelton's "God's Country," Florida Georgia Line's "Simple," Morgan Wallen's "Up Down" and Dierks Bentley's "Beers On Me." But it wasn't until producer Joey Moi reached out that his career path changed. 

"He was my favorite producer of all time," HARDY says. "He had just produced 'Up Down,' and it was climbing up the charts, and he called me and said, 'Dude, if you ever wanted to cut a record, I would love to cut a record [for] you.' A switch flipped in my head, and I said, 'Okay, let's do this.'" 

While he's managed to earn two No. 1s as an artist in his own right, HARDY feels he hasn't arrived quite yet. "I think a lot of artists never really have that moment," he says. "Part of their muse and part of what drives them and keeps them going is always looking for something more."

Jameson Rodgers

Hometown: Batesville, MS

Arrived in Nashville: 2010

Signed label deal: 2018

Big break: "Some Girls" reached No. 1 on Billboard and Mediabase in October 2020

Jameson Rodgers can't remember a time when he wasn't singing. As a kid, he'd walk around school belting Travis Tritt's "Here's a Quarter" and other '90s hits. His first musical memory is a Garth Brooks show at the Pyramid in Memphis, TN, at age 5. "He used to break his guitar on stage every night back then," Rodgers says. "Seeing him do that, as a young kid, I felt like I knew I wanted to do that someday, but I was too young to process it."

Rodgers picked up guitar in college and began writing songs. An Eric Church show during his freshman year reaffirmed the feeling that Garth had inspired: "I knew that I had to chase this dream."

He didn't know anyone when he moved to Nashville in 2010, so he went to every open-mic night he could and quickly made friends with HARDY, Hunter Phelps and Jordan Davis. He's since had two No. 1 songs as an artist with "Some Girls" and "Cold Beer Calling My Name" (a duet with Luke Combs), as well as co-written Chris Lane's No. 1 hit "I Don't Know About You" and songs for Florida Georgia Line, Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan.

Lainey Wilson

Hometown: Baskin, LA

Arrived in Nashville: 2011

Signed label deal: 2018

Big break: "Things a Man Oughta Know" hit No. 1 on Billboard and Mediabase in September 2021

Lainey Wilson's success story is practically the definition of the 10-year town sentiment: In September 2021, 10 years and one month — nearly to the day — that she moved to Nashville, her debut single, "Things a Man Oughta Know," hit No. 1 on the Billboard and Mediabase country radio charts. (Thanks to her 2022 Cole Swindell collaboration, "Never Say Never," she's already notched her second chart-topper.)

"I've been blessed with several milestone 'pinch me' moments, especially within the last year, and I feel like I'm always going to be a work in progress," Wilson suggests. "I don't know if I'll ever feel like I've fully arrived. But I will say, when my deddy [sic] called the first time he heard my song on the radio, that was a pivotal moment."

Wilson first performed in public at her kindergarten graduation. Even at just 5 years old, she knew she wanted to sing for the rest of her life.

"I wrote my first song at 9 years old and took a family vacation to Nashville," she recalls. "I remember exactly where I was on the interstate with my family when I said, 'This is home.' I knew in my heart I was going to be a part of the country music family in some way. I've never had a doubt."

Shy Carter

Hometown: Memphis, TN

Arrived in Nashville: 2011

Signed label deal: 2020

Big break: 2021's The Rest of Us EP, which has garnered more than 12 million streams on Spotify

As a songwriter, Shy Carter has co-written countless country hits like Kane Brown's "Heaven" and "Good As You," Keith Urban's "Never Coming Down" and "God Whispered Your Name," and Sugarland's "Stuck Like Glue." While he knew he wanted to be an artist from a young age, singing along to songs in his bedroom, it took years of writing hits for other artists before his artist dream came to fruition. 

In 2020, he released his spirited debut single, "Good Love" and landed on MusicRow's "Top 100 Songwriters of 2020" list. The Rest of Us EP followed in 2021, and included the raucous ode to a night out with his buddies, "Beer With My Friends," featuring Cole Swindell and David Lee Murphy. To date, he has amassed 35 million streams worldwide across all on-demand DSP platforms.

"I've had a particular vision for how I want the music to feel and how I want to bring people together from all different walks of life," Carter says of his artist career. "There have been a lot of wonderful things happening in my career, and I'm so grateful for all of it. But there's a lot more to me as an artist, and I'll be arriving live in living color very soon."

While Carter agrees that Nashville is a 10-year town, as it has taken him a decade to launch his artist career, he says there are exceptions. "I have seen some people blow up really fast, and I'm glad to see it! I'm happy to take the journey slow and steady and soak up every moment."

Tenille Townes

Hometown: Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada

Arrived in Nashville: 2014

Signed label deal: 2018

Big break: "Somebody's Daughter" reached the Top 30 on Billboard's Country Airplay chart in May 2019

When Tenille Townes was 9, Shania Twain pulled her up on stage to sing. "That lit a fire in me and made me believe anything was possible," she remembers. 

By 14, Townes was traveling back and forth to Nashville. Ten years later, in 2018, she signed with Columbia Nashville and caught attention with her thoughtful songwriting and powerful story songs "Somebody's Daughter" and "Jersey On the Wall (I'm Just Asking)." 

Both tracks topped the Canadian Country Airplay charts while "Somebody's Daughter" peaked at No. 26 on Billboard's Country Airplay chart. Named the 2020 ACM New Female Artist of the Year, Townes' star has only continued to rise. By 2021 her Jay Joyce-produced debut album, The Lemonade Stand, was named Country Album of the Year at the JUNO Awards in her native Canada. A believer in the 10 year town adage, Townes says Nashville continues to embrace and inspire those who are brave enough to keep showing up.

"It's a welcoming community, and at the same time it's also hard to not bend and shift your shape to fit in," she says. "I also believe there's validity in the 10,000-hour theory, and that arriving to a solid foundation of your craft is connected to the time you put in — however many years that amounts to in any town."

Walker Hayes

Hometown: Mobile, AL

Arrived in Nashville: 2004

Signed label deal: 2017

Big break: "Fancy Like" hit No. 1 on the Billboard and Mediabase country charts in July 2021

"Nashville, to me, is a 17-year town," Walker Hayes says. "It is not a town you come and conquer overnight. There's really no such thing as an overnight success. 'Fancy Like' did pop overnight, but it took multiple jobs, a lot of heartbreaks, financial woes that I don't ever want to go back and relive."

It took nearly two decades and three record deals before Hayes achieved a No. 1 single with "Fancy Like." Hayes (who had moderate success with 2017's "You Broke Up With Me" which peaked at No. 10 on Billboard's Country Airplay chart), admits his story isn't the norm, as he didn't play his first show until he was 23 at local Mobile bar the Yacht Club — a night he says "changed my life." 

When he and his wife came back from their honeymoon, the couple drove their U-Haul to Nashville. Two weeks later, Hayes found himself at Nashville's preeminent listening room, the Bluebird Café, where he was introduced to the magic of songwriting. He walked out of the venue having written his first song and hasn't stopped since.

"I wouldn't change my journey for the world," Hayes says. "To me, the adventure is what's priceless. That's what shapes us. I'm so grateful for how the journey has unfolded."

Living Legends: Kenny Loggins On Self-Acceptance, The Art Of Collaboration & New Memoir 'Still Alright'

TLC, Chicago, Kelly Rowland & More Announced As Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Performers

TLC 

Photo: Alison Buck/Getty Images

news

TLC, Chicago, Kelly Rowland & More Announced As Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Performers

The 93rd annual Thanksgiving celebration will make its way through Manhattan, with musicians, astronauts, Broadway stars—plus a gigantic Snoopy and Spongebob—helping spread the holiday cheer

GRAMMYs/Nov 1, 2019 - 11:47 pm

Today, Nov. 1, Macy's announced details for their forthcoming 93rd annual Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. The performers slated to bring festive cheer to the colorful parade floats include GRAMMY winners TLC, Kelly Rowland, Chicago, Ciara and Black Eyed Peas.

Read: Meeting The Black Eyed Peas Halfway In Honor Of 'The E.N.D.''s 10th Anniversary

Current Latin GRAMMY nominee Ozuna will also be joining in on the fun, bringing his joyful reggaetón to the Sour Patch Kids float. You can find GRAMMY- and Emmy-winning "Pose" star Billy Porter looking fierce atop Coach's "Rexy in the City"—a fancy T-Rex and the first-ever luxury brand-sponsored float in the historic parade. Rexy will join the ranks of the huge Snoopy and Spongebob, as well as a new smiling sun float from world-renown artist Yayoi Kusama, featuring her ever-present polka dots.

Broadway—including "Wicked" and "Rent"—star Idina Menzel is also set to appear—you likely know her as the voice of Elsa in Frozen and the Disney film's ubiquitous "Let It Go." Singer and former "Glee" lead Lea Michelle, rising Nashville-based, Canada-born country artist Tenille Townes, and 12-year-old Houston-born, Atlanta-based rapper That Girl Lay Lay will also perform.

Other special guests include "Unwritten" singer Natasha Bedingfield, K-pop group NCT 127, the cast and Muppets of "Sesame Street" and former NASA astronauts Kay Hire and Janet Kavandi.

The event takes place the morning of Thanksgiving, Thurs., Nov. 28. It will air on NBC from 9 a.m. to noon during all time zones. More info can be found on Macy's site.

Nirvana Manager Danny Goldberg Talks 25 Years of 'MTV Unplugged In New York'

2021 In Review: 8 Trends That Defined Country Music

Kacey Musgraves

Photo: John Shearer/MTV VMAs 2021/Getty Images for MTV/ViacomCBS

news

2021 In Review: 8 Trends That Defined Country Music

Powerful narratives fueled country music in 2021, between vulnerable heartbreak-driven albums, Nashville veterans getting their spotlight, and Black voices finally being heard

GRAMMYs/Dec 23, 2021 - 07:10 pm

The genre known for three chords and the truth reached new heights of authenticity and storytelling in 2021. After a year of doubt, confusion and isolation in 2020, many country artists returned to the road and their careers with rejuvenated passion, releasing some of their most ambitious projects to date.

Grassroots ways of finding success emerged, with several artists — both established and up-and-coming — unlocking whole new fan bases thanks to social media. The result? Some unlikely hits made it up to the very top of the country radio charts, artists were able to release more music than ever before, and unprecedented cross-genre collaborations came out of quarantine connections.

Read on to learn more about some of the trends, both musical and cultural, that dominated country music in 2021.

Double and Triple Albums

During their pandemic-induced time off the road, many artists found that the one thing they could still do was write songs. By 2021, the plethora of music created in those sessions was recorded and ready for release, resulting in longer track lists and beefier projects.

One such trendsetter was Eric Church, who released a massive, 24-track Heart & Soul album spread out over three discs. Morgan Wallen dropped his 30-track — or 33-track, if you're counting the Target-exclusive and bonus editions — Dangerous: The Double Album in January. The latter made history, becoming the first country album to spend its first 10 weeks at No. 1 on the all-genre Billboard 200; it also spent 43 weeks in the chart's top 10, more than any other album in 2021. (Amid the album’s success, Wallen sparked major controversy when a video surfaced of the singer using a racial slur. He issued an apology and claimed to make donations to Black-led groups, but was promptly shut out from country radio and streaming services, as well as several events and awards shows.)

Thomas Rhett and Jason Aldean also created multiple albums worth of music in 2021. Rhett released Country Again: Side A in April, announcing in November that Side B will arrive in fall 2022 following another album, titled Where We Started, which the star revealed will be out in "early 2022." Aldean had a similar release strategy, dropping Macon, the first half of his double album Macon, Georgia, in November and setting Georgia for April 22, 2022.

Success Stories Years in the Making

Longtime B-Listers finally got their country radio propers in 2021, due to ever-increasing opportunities for artists to create grassroots hits on social media. Walker Hayes' ubiquitous "Fancy Like" went viral on TikTok (particularly thanks to a family-friendly dance craze) and became a No. 1 hit on both Billboard's Country Airplay and Hot Country Songs charts. The song gave the singer — who moved to Nashville in 2005 — his first crossover hit, getting airplay on pop radio and climbing all the way to No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Parmalee also took country radio by surprise this year. The band hadn't had a No. 1 since 2013, and their two most recent singles fizzled without ever cracking the charts. But "Just the Way," an unlikely team-up with "The Git Up" star Blanco Brown, saw them cruising back into the top spot.

One more success story came from Lainey Wilson, another Nashville veteran who got her big break with the insightful hit "Things a Man Oughta Know." The song became her first No. 1 on country radio after nearly 10 years of releasing music. Her latest single, a collaboration with resident chart-topper Cole Swindell titled "Never Say Never," is currently climbing the charts.

Classic Hits Found New Life on TikTok

While TikTok was instrumental in creating new hits such as "Fancy Like" in 2021, it was also responsible for revitalizing a few old ones. Reba McEntire's 2001 hit, "I'm a Survivor" went viral thanks to a TikTok spoof trend, with users setting the song to video footage of themselves melodramatically doing everyday chores. McEntire herself got in on the fun, posting a clip of her attempt to feed a pair of ungrateful donkeys.

Shania Twain also reached brand-new audiences with her TikTok presence. She posts snippets of iconic selections from her discography, as well as her hilarious commentary on French fries, sneak peeks at her Las Vegas residency, and the occasional trend trade-off with Taylor Swift.

Career-Defining Divorce Albums

Breakups aren't exactly a new topic for country, but some country artists have gone through very public heartbreaks over the past couple of years. Carly Pearce split from fellow artist Michael Ray after just eight months of marriage, and Kacey Musgraves called it quits with her husband of two years, singer/songwriter Ruston Kelly.

But rather than go through these difficult times privately, both Pearce and Musgraves spun their heartache into gold, with each singer putting out her most revealing, personal and intricately-crafted record to date. Pearce leaned heavily into her country roots to make 29: Written in Stone, while Musgraves expertly defied genre boundaries to release star-crossed, a project so vulnerable that she performed one of its songs on Saturday Night Live wearing nothing but a strategically placed acoustic guitar.

Black Country Stars Broke Through

After the country world said goodbye to the legendary Charley Pride in December 2020, his trailblazing legacy lived on in 2021. Black country stars made waves in several ways this year, from winning awards, to launching business ventures, to making statements on stage and in song.

Hitmakers Kane Brown and Jimmie Allen — the latter of whom is the only country artist up for Best New Artist at the 2022 GRAMMYS — made history with their wins at the ACM Awards (Brown was the first Black artist to win Video of the Year; Allen was the first Black solo artist to win the New Male Artist of the Year). Both of them started their own businesses in 2021 as well: Brown started his own label, 1021 Entertainment (in partnership with his home label, Sony Music Nashville), and Allen launched both a publishing company, Bettie James Music Publishing, and a full-service management and production company, JAB Entertainment.

Mickey Guyton, who first caught attention outside of the genre for her GRAMMY-nominated single "Black Like Me" last year, continued making an impact with her powerful album, Remember Her Name. The album features several vignettes of her experience as a Black woman, including a bouncy anthem "Different" and a poignant ballad "Love My Hair." She delivered a moving performance of the latter track at the 2021 CMA Awards alongside rising stars Brittney Spencer and Madeline Edwards, two of the many promising Black voices in the genre, which also includes Yola, Breland, Willie Jones, and Shy Carter, among others.

Artists Lived Their Truth

Amid the challenges country music faced this year, there were also moments of personal authenticity and joy. Brothers Osborne's TJ Osborne came out as gay in a Time feature, and the sibling duo subsequently released "Younger Me," a compassionate, timely ode to the obstacles they overcame to become who they are today.

Osborne was one of two country acts signed to a major label to come out as gay: The other was Brooke Eden, who came out in January, and later in the year got engaged to her partner Hilary Hoover. She put out the first new songs she’d released in years, and in a Grand Ole Opry performance, she and Trisha Yearwood duetted on Yearwood's classic "She's in Love With the Boy," changing the lyrics to "She’s in love with the girl."

Eden and Osborne are two of a very small — but growing — list of publicly gay country music major players, also including hit songwriter Shane McAnally and Americana star Brandi Carlile.

Dolly Parton Retained Her Reign as Country Queen

Dolly Parton was a major bright spot in the dark year that was 2020. Not only did she lift spirits by releasing her third Christmas album, A Holly Dolly Christmas, but she also made a $1 million donation to fund the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

It’s hard to top that, but this year, Parton continued to trend for her uplifting acts of kindness and legendary musical feats. She sent social media into a frenzy when she celebrated "hot girl summer" — and the birthday of her husband of 57 years, Carl Dean — by recreating the iconic outfit she wore for her Playboy cover shoot back in 1978. She also duetted with Reba McEntire for the first time, landed on the list of Forbes' richest self-made women, and capped off 2021 by setting two brand-new Guinness World Records (and breaking a third record that she already held) for her long-standing chart accomplishments.

Full-Length Collaborations Albums

What’s better than one duet? An album full of them, apparently. Collaborations were hot in country music in 2021, but lots of artists took that one step further, putting out full-length projects featuring a cast of duet partners.

The Hardy-curated Hixtape Vol. 2 dug deep into country lifestyle and party songs, courtesy of some of the biggest names from every corner of the genre. Brantley Gilbert, Brothers Osborne, Jon Pardi, Dierks Bentley and Jake Owen are just a few of the acts who lent their voices to the track list, which features a total of 33 guest artists across 14 songs.

While the Hixtape went ultra-country, other duets albums were genre-spanning. Rapper Nelly put out his Heartland project, featuring Darius Rucker, Breland and Florida Georgia Line. Jimmie Allen went even broader for his Bettie James Gold Edition, which featured everyone from rapper Pitbull to R&B/soul singer Monica and pop star Noah Cyrus.

2021 In Review: 8 Trends That Defined Rock

Miranda Lambert Reveals Fall Tour With Maren Morris, Elle King, More

Miranda Lambert

Photo: Kevin Winter/ACMA2019/Getty Images

news

Miranda Lambert Reveals Fall Tour With Maren Morris, Elle King, More

The GRAMMY winner has recruited an impressive crew of country performers to support her upcoming fall tour

GRAMMYs/Apr 6, 2019 - 02:20 am

GRAMMY-winning country artist Miranda Lambert has announced The Roadside Bars & Pink Guitars Tour 2019, featuring a star-studded, all-female support cast, including GRAMMY winner Maren Morris and GRAMMY nominee Elle King.

The tour will also feature GRAMMY nominee Ashley McBryde, rising country stars Caylee Hammack and Tenille Townes, along with Lambert's country supergroup, Pistol Annies, which is made up of Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley. The support crew will alternate across regions. The jaunt kicks off in Uncasville, Conn. on Sept. 13, with dates in other small towns—and some big ones, like New Orleans on Oct. 4—and wraps up on Nov. 23 in Greensboro, N.C.

Along with the announcement, Lambert tweeted, "The #RoadsideBarsandPinkGuitars Tour is back! I'm so excited and honored to be on a tour with some of my favorite artists who each inspire me in a different way."

Related: Miranda Lambert Named Country Music HOF And Museum's Artist-In-Residence

Lambert's tourmates shared in her excitement, with Hammack tweeting, "I wish I could go back in time and tell the little girl singing along to 'Kerosene' on the radio that this would happen. But she probably wouldn't believe it." Morris added, "Texas just got bigger because I'm joining Miranda Lambert out on the road this Fall!"

Tickets goes on sale April 12, with pre-sales beginning April 9; more info here.

Maren Morris & Brandi Carlile Talk Empowering Women In Music & Collaborating Together