Photo: Steve Jennings/WireImage
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.
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.
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.'"
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."
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."
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.
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."
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."
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."
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."
GRAMMY SoundChecks With Gavin DeGraw
On Aug. 28 Nashville Chapter GRAMMY U members took part in GRAMMY SoundChecks with Gavin DeGraw. Approximately 30 students gathered at music venue City Hall and watched DeGraw play through some of the singles from earlier in his career along with "Cheated On Me" from his latest self-titled album.
In between songs, DeGraw conducted a question-and-answer session and inquired about the talents and goals of the students in attendance. He gave inside tips to the musicians present on how to make it in the industry and made sure that every question was answered before moving onto the next song.
Juan Gabriel named 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person Of The Year
Annual star-studded gala slated for Nov. 4 in Las Vegas during 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Week celebration
Internationally renowned singer/songwriter/performer Juan Gabriel will be celebrated as the 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year, it was announced today by The Latin Recording Academy. Juan Gabriel, chosen for his professional accomplishments as well as his commitment to philanthropic efforts, will be recognized at a star-studded concert and black tie dinner on Nov. 4 at the
The "Celebration with Juan Gabriel" gala will be one of the most prestigious events held during Latin GRAMMY week, a celebration that culminates with the 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Awards ceremony. The milestone telecast will be held at
"As we celebrate this momentous decade of the Latin GRAMMYs, The Latin Recording Academy and its Board of Trustees take great pride in recognizing Juan Gabriel as an extraordinary entertainer who never has forgotten his roots, while at the same time having a global impact," said Latin Recording Academy President Gabriel Abaroa. "His influence on the music and culture of our era has been tremendous, and we welcome this opportunity to pay a fitting tribute to a voice that strongly resonates within our community."
Over the course of his 30-year career, Juan Gabriel has sold more than 100 million albums and has performed to sold-out audiences throughout the world. He has produced more than 100 albums for more than 50 artists including Paul Anka, Lola Beltran, Rocío Dúrcal, and Lucha Villa among many others. Additionally, Juan Gabriel has written more than 1,500 songs, which have been covered by such artists as Marc Anthony, Raúl Di Blasio, Ana Gabriel, Angelica María, Lucia Mendez, Estela Nuñez, and Son Del Son. In 1986, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley declared Oct. 5 "The Day of Juan Gabriel." The '90s saw his induction into Billboard's Latin Music Hall of Fame and he joined La Opinion's Tributo Nacional Lifetime Achievement Award recipients list.
At the age of 13, Juan Gabriel was already writing his own songs and in 1971 recorded his first hit, "No Tengo Dinero," which landed him a recording contract with RCA. Over the next 14 years, he established himself as Mexico's leading singer/songwriter, composing in diverse styles such as rancheras, ballads, pop, disco, and mariachi, which resulted in an incredible list of hits ("Hasta Que Te Conocí," "Siempre En Mi Mente," "Querida," "Inocente Pobre Amigo," "Abrázame Muy Fuerte," "Amor Eterno," "El Noa Noa," and "Insensible") not only for himself but for many leading Latin artists. In 1990, Juan Gabriel became the only non-classical singer/songwriter to perform at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in
After a hiatus from recording, Juan Gabriel released such albums as Gracias Por Esperar, Juntos Otra Vez, Abrázame Muy Fuerte, Los Gabriel…Para Ti, Juan Gabriel Con La Banda…El Recodo, and El Mexico Que Se Nos Fue, which were all certified gold and/or platinum by the RIAA. In 1996, to commemorate his 25th anniversary in the music industry, BMG released a retrospective set of CDs entitled 25 Aniversario, Solos, Duetos, y Versiones Especiales, comprised appropriately of 25 discs.
In addition to his numerous accolades and career successes, Juan Gabriel has been a compassionate and generous philanthropist. He has donated all proceeds from approximately 10 performances a year to his favorite children's foster homes, and proceeds from fan photo-ops go to support Mexican orphans. In 1987, he founded Semjase, an orphanage for approximately 120 children, which also serves as a music school with music, recreation and video game rooms. Today, he continues to personally fund the school he opened more than 22 years ago.
Juan Gabriel will have the distinction of becoming the 10th Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year honoree, and joins a list of artists such as Gloria Estefan, Gilberto Gil, Juan Luis Guerra, Julio Iglesias, Ricky Martin, and Carlos Santana among others who have been recognized.
For information on purchasing tickets or tables to The Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year tribute to Juan Gabriel, please contact The Latin Recording Academy ticketing office at 310.314.8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: The Recording Academy
Set List Bonus: Bumbershoot 2013
Welcome to The Set List. Here you'll find the latest concert recaps for many of your favorite, or maybe not so favorite, artists. Our bloggers will do their best to provide you with every detail of the show, from which songs were on the set list to what the artist was wearing to which out-of-control fan made a scene. Hey, it'll be like you were there. And if you like what you read, we'll even let you know where you can catch the artist on tour. Feel free to drop us a comment and let us know your concert experience. Oh, and rock on.
By Alexa Zaske
This past Labor Day weekend meant one thing for many folks in Seattle: Bumbershoot, a three-decade-old music and arts event that consumed the area surrounding the Space Needle from Aug. 31–Sept. 2. Amid attendees wandering around dressed as zombies and participating in festival-planned flash mobs to Michael Jackson's "Thriller," this year the focus was on music from the Pacific Northwest region — from the soulful sounds of Allen Stone and legendary female rockers Heart, to the highly-awaited return of Death Cab For Cutie performing their 2003 hit album Transatlanticism in its entirety.
The festival started off on day one with performances by synth-pop group the Flavr Blue, hip-hop artist Grynch, rapper Nacho Picasso, psychedelic pop group Beat Connection, lively rapper/writer George Watsky, hip-hop group the Physics, and (my personal favorite), punk/dance band !!! (Chk Chk Chk). Also performing on day one was Seattle folk singer/songwriter Kris Orlowski, who was accompanied by the Passenger String Quartet. As always, Orlowski's songs were catchy and endearing yet brilliant and honest.
Day one came to a scorching finale with a full set from GRAMMY-nominated rock group Heart. Kicking off with their Top 20 hit "Barracuda," the set spanned three decades of songs, including "Heartless," "Magic Man" and "What About Love?" It became a gathering of Seattle rock greats when, during Heart's final song, Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready joined for 1976's "Crazy On You."
Day two got off to an early start with performances from eccentric Seattle group Kithkin and Seattle ladies Mary Lambert and Shelby Earl, who were accompanied by the band Le Wrens. My highlight of the day was the Grizzled Mighty — a duo with a bigger sound than most family sized bands. Drummer Whitney Petty, whose stage presence and skills make for an exciting performance, was balanced out by the easy listening of guitarist and lead singer Ryan Granger.
Then the long-awaited moment finally fell upon Seattle when, after wrapping a long-awaited tour with the Postal Service, singer/songwriter Ben Gibbard returned to Seattle to represent another great success of the Pacific Northwest — Death Cab For Cutie. The band celebrated the 10-year anniversary of their album Transatlanticism by performing it from front to back. While a majority of attendees opted to watch the set from an air-conditioned arena, some of us recognized the uniqueness of this experience and enjoyed the entire set lying in the grass where the entire performance was streamed.
Monday was the day for soul and folk. Local blues/R&B group Hot Bodies In Motion have been making their way through the Seattle scene with songs such as "Old Habits," "That Darkness" and "The Pulse." Their set was lively and enticing to people who have seen them multiple times or never at all.
My other highlights of the festival included the Maldives, who delivered a fun performance with the perfect amount of satirical humor and folk. They represent the increasing number of Pacific Northwest bands who consist of many members playing different sounds while still managing to stay cohesive and simple. I embraced the return of folk/pop duo Ivan & Alyosha with open arms and later closed my festival experience with local favorite Stone.
For music fans in Seattle and beyond, the annual Bumbershoot festival is a must-attend.
(Alexa Zaske is the Chapter Assistant for The Recording Academy Pacific Northwest Chapter. She's a music enthusiast and obsessed with the local Seattle scene.)
Neil Portnow and Jimmy Jam
Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty Images
Neil Portnow Addresses Diversity & Inclusion, Looks Ahead During Speech At 2019 GRAMMYs
Jimmy Jam helps celebrate the outgoing President/CEO of the Recording Academy on the 61st GRAMMY Awards
As Neil Portnow's tenure as Recording Academy President/CEO draws to its end, five-time GRAMMY winner Jimmy Jam paid tribute to his friend and walked us through a brief overview of some of the Academy's major recent achievements, including the invaluable work of MusiCares, the GRAMMY Museum, Advocacy and more.
Portnow delivered a brief speech, acknowledging the need to continue to focus on issues of diversity and inclusion in the music industry. He also seized the golden opportunity to say the words he's always wanted to say on the GRAMMY stage, saying, "I'd like to thank the Academy," showing his gratitude and respect for the staff, elected leaders and music community he's worked with during his career at the Recording Academy. "We can be so proud of what we’ve all accomplished together," Portnow added.
"As I finish out my term leading this great organization, my heart and soul are filled with gratitude, pride, for the opportunity and unequal experience," he continued. "Please know that my commitment to all the good that we do will carry on as we turn the page on the next chapter of the storied history of this phenomenal institution."