meta-script12 Must-See Acts At Stagecoach 2023: Nate Smith, Morgan Wade, Jackson Dean & More | GRAMMY.com
Jackson Dean performing in 2022
Jackson Dean performs at Faster Horses Festival in 2022.

Photo: Erika Goldring/WireImage

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12 Must-See Acts At Stagecoach 2023: Nate Smith, Morgan Wade, Jackson Dean & More

Before the famed country music festival takes place on April 28-30, take a look at some of the rising stars to check out whether you'll be at Stagecoach or tuning in from home.

GRAMMYs/Apr 26, 2023 - 10:04 pm

Now that the Coachella dust has settled at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, Calif., it's time for country music to take over.

Since 2007, the Stagecoach Festival has been bringing some of the biggest names in country music to the desert. This year is no different, with the festival featuring headliners Luke Bryan, Kane Brown and Chris Stapleton, along with some of country's newer hitmakers, including Bailey Zimmerman, Parker McCollum, Gabby Barrett, Lainey Wilson and Tyler Childers

In addition to the always exciting headliners and stars, Stagecoach continues to be a showcase for up-and-coming talent. Several budding country and folk artists are on this year's roster, from a genre-bending New Jersey native to a bluegrass songstress with a powerful voice.

For fans who can't make the trip to catch the action in person, Stagecoach will be live streaming all weekend on Amazon Prime. No matter how you're enjoying the festival, get to know 12 acts to catch at Stagecoach 2023. 

Nate Smith

The weekend will be a big one for Nate Smith all around: Not only will the California-born singer make his Stagecoach debut, but he will be releasing his self-titled debut album on the same day, Friday April 28.

It's been a long road to success for Smith, who first moved to Nashville in his early 20s. After things didn't take off, he returned home to Paradise, Calif.; in 2018, he lost everything he owned in the massive wildfire that ripped through his hometown.  

But through it all, he found hope through music, and returned to Nashville to try again. Now, he has a No. 1 song — the gritty breakup romp "Whiskey On You" peaked in January — and a rejuvenated soul that is clearly resonating.

Tiera Kennedy

Tiera Kennedy's smooth voice and southern charm first caught the attention of Nashville in 2019, when she was signed as the flagship artist on Songs & Daughters, a publishing company founded by songwriter Nicolle Galyon. In 2020, she released her first single "Found It In You" to critical acclaim.

Since then, Kennedy has independently released a self titled EP, giving fans a more full sense of who she is as an artist and songwriter. The release also led to a record deal with Big Machine Records in 2021.  

Kennedy's bright personality has resonated just as much as her music, as the singer hosts her own show on Apple Music Country. Titled The Tiera Show, the program sees Kennedy sharing her take on what's on the rise in country music with a very personal touch.

Jackson Dean

Another artist making his Stagecoach debut this year, Jackson Dean has been winning over country music fans with his outlaw style and unique, gritty voice. He's already scored a top 5 hit with his debut single, "Don't Come Lookin,'" which reached No. 3 on Billboard's Country Airplay chart.

Dean's success has not been limited to just the charts, either: "Don't Come Lookin'" was featured on the TV show 'Yellowstone,' and he's been included on a number of artists to watch lists including Spotify's Hot Country Artists to Watch in 2023, Amazon Music's 2023 Breakthrough Artists to Watch: Country Class, and CMT's Listen Up class of 2023.

After selling out his headlining debut in Nashville in January, Dean will spend the majority of the year headlining sold-out shows and supporting the likes of Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Parker McCullum, Lainey Wilson, and Jon Pardi.

Mackenzie Carpenter

After first seeing success as a co-writer on Lily Rose's breakthrough song, "Villain," Mackenzie Carpenter has since made a name for herself as an artist in her own right. The Georgia-born singer's down-home personality shines through in her fun country-pop tunes including the catchy cautionary tale "Don't Mess With Exes" and the heartbreaking ballad "Jesus, I'm Jealous" — all of which ultimately prove that she isn't afraid to be herself.

In less than a year since signing with Big Machine imprint Valory Music Co., Carpenter has enjoyed many career milestones, including a Grand Ole Opry debut and an invitation to CMT's Next Women of Country class of 2023. And just weeks before taking the Stagecoach stage, Carpenter released her debut self-titled EP. 

Breland

Since the release of his debut single "My Truck" in 2019, Breland has been making waves in the industry by stretching the boundaries of country music. The New Jersey native's sound is derived from a mix of hip-hop, R&B and gospel, while still remaining recognizably country — he even titled his debut album Cross Country.

Breland's feel-good, diverse sound has already helped him land collaborations with country superstars, including Sam Hunt, Keith Urban and Dierks Bentley. His single with the latter, "Beers On Me" (also featuring HARDY), scored Breland his first No. 1 on the Country Airplay chart, but he's proving to make an impact in his own right with more than 1 billion streams to date.

This year marks Breland's second year in a row on the Stagecoach stage, as he performed at the Late Night at Palomino after-party in 2022.

Bella White

Bella White brings a fresh perspective to an old-time sound. The Canadian artist serves audiences traditional bluegrass sounds with a clear, powerful voice.

White's voice, however, is not her only strength. She's also a skilled instrumentalist, as she was raised in a musical household and was drawn to the mandolin and banjo early on in her life. 

Following the success of her debut album Just Like Leaving, White signed to Rounder Records in 2021. Just ahead of her Stagecoach performance, White released her second album, Among Other Things, on which she explores heartbreak and a wider breadth of sounds, weaving drums and electric guitars into her traditional-sounding strings.

Kameron Marlowe

After a short stint on 'The Voice' in 2018, Kameron Marlowe began paving his own way in Nashville. The singer has made a name for himself with his signature smoky voice, while making sure his music is a true reflection of who he is.

Marlowe gained traction with his first independent release, 2019's "Giving You Up," which helped him land a record deal with Sony Music Nashville in 2020. He's since released his debut album, 2022's We Were Cowboys, and has sold out shows across the country — including his hometown of Charlotte, N.C.

Marlowe nods to his home state in his latest release, "Take Me Home," in which he grapples with the changes that come along with success: "I hate feeling like I'm someone / That I've never been before / Take me home to Carolina / I don't wanna be here anymore," he sings.

Morgan Wade

A trailblazing country singer with an edge, Morgan Wade has captivated audiences with the striking vulnerability of her music. Wade takes her experiences with heartbreak, mental health and addiction and crafts them into songs that stick with listeners.

Wade's voice borders on the edge of country and rock, which makes her moving lyrics all the more affecting. That is particularly true on her breakout track, "Wilder Days," which takes listeners through the raw emotion of finding the right person at the wrong time.

Since the 2021 release of Wade's album Reckless, she has been touring nonstop, both in the U.S. and overseas. Wade's Stagecoach performance is one of over 65 tour dates for 2023, giving fans across the country and around the world a chance to experience her powerful music live. 

Tre Burt

Folk artist Tre Burt uses his storytelling prowess to tell the stories of the moment, amplified by his rootsy sound. Burt engages audiences with tracks like "Under the Devil's Knee," a protest song written during the upheaval of 2020, a year during which he found musical inspiration in the chaos surrounding him.

Since hitting the scene, Burt has performed with artists including Nathanial Ratecliff and Margo Price, and has become a staple at folk festivals around the country. Burt expanded on his deeply affecting sound with his second album, You, Yeah, You, which arrived in 2021; with his powerful delivery on stage and on record, he's been labeled a "storyteller and musical philosopher," and a "troubadour" blazing his own path.

Jaime Wyatt

Jaime Wyatt's success has been long and hard-earned. The singer/songwriter entered the music business when she was just a teen, and the now 37-year-old has kept her nose to the grindstone ever since. Her years have been colored with late nights in honky tonks, addiction, and recovery, and she details it all in her traditional country music.

Wyatt's 2020 release, Neon Cross, challenged the genre, as the singer examined her identity as a queer woman, and positioned herself as a true outlaw in the landscape of the industry. In 2021, she released a merch line with a portion of the proceeds benefiting G.L.I.T.S, an organization that addresses systematic discrimination of LGBTQIA+ individuals. In being true to herself, Wyatt has provided a beacon of hope for queer artists and fans alike.

Kaitlin Butts

Kaitlin Butts has made a habit out of being a good listener, crafting the stories she hears into fun, innovative country songs. Like many of her Stagecoach cohorts, Butts has a versatile sound, drawing in influences from rock and 90's emo music — but the baseline is always undeniably country.

While Butts has been releasing music since 2015's Same Hell, Different Devil, this past year has been a whirlwind for the budding star. Her second album, What Else Can She Do, landed in the top 10 of Billboard's Americana Albums chart; the title track earned a spot on Rolling Stone's "100 Best Songs of 2022" list.

Within a span of six months, Butts played the Ryman Auditorium and made her Grand Ole Opry debut, and has opened for fellow Stagecoacher Morgan Wade as well as playing several other festivals.

American Aquarium

American Aquarium, led by BJ Barham, incorporates elements of country, folk and rock music into their thought-provoking music.The group's lyrics wrestle with some of life's biggest problems and tell delicate, personal stories.

The band's latest record, Chicamacomico, is a journey through the lead singer's personal losses. The album is a departure from the band's previously harder, rock-leaning sound, presenting more stripped-down tracks that lean more on Barnham's stirring vocals. Even so, Chicamacomico has been hailed as their best album yet. 

Over the span of a 20-year career, American Aquarium has cycled through many members; Barnham being a mainstay on lead vocals. The band has proven their staying power in the industry, and their presence at Stagecoach proves that the festival is a celebration of country music in all its forms.

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(L-R) Orville Peck, Allison Russell, Lily Rose, Adeem the Artist, Jaime Wyatt

Photos (L-R): Jeff Hahne/Getty Images, Erika Goldring/Getty Images, Erika Goldring/Getty Images, Jason Kempin/Getty Images for Americana Music Association, Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Stagecoach

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How Queer Country Artists Are Creating Space For Inclusive Stories In The Genre

As country music continues its global explosion, the genre is seeing a growing number of artists in the LGBTQIA+ community — including Adeem the Artist, Lily Rose and Jaime Wyatt — blaze a trail toward acceptance.

GRAMMYs/Jun 18, 2024 - 04:36 pm

When country singer/songwriter Jaime Wyatt announced she was queer with the release of her second album, 2020's Neon Cross, she was convinced doing so would destroy her career. Instead, something shifted — not only was she more free to be herself and to date women openly, but many fans reacted positively, too.

"Several times on the road I've had fans come up to me with their same sex partner, and they're like, 'Hey, we feel safe here. It's so awesome because we both love country music, and we're not out of the closet, and we're not out to our families, but we can be here,'" Wyatt says.

Modern country music is generally perceived as a conservative genre, and deep-rooted cultural and industry biases have long excluded LGBTQIA+ (and BIPOC) artists and stories from the genre. For example, in 2010, when successful mainstream country artist Chely Wright came out, her career stalled and record sales halved. Kacey Musgraves was criticized for lyrics supporting same-sex love in her beloved anthem, "Follow Your Arrow." More recently, even, Wyatt walked out of a recording session after the owner of the space asked if she was singing "'some gay s—.'"

But Wyatt is also one of a growing number of country artists who, in recent years, have blazed a trail through country music and toward acceptance. Among them, Adeem the Artist, Mya Byrne, Brandi Carlile, Brandy Clark, Mary Gauthier, Lizzy No, Orville Peck, Lily Rose, and Allison Russell. Together, they're celebrating queerness alongside their love for the genre, and pushing it into diversity with patience, tenacity, and darn good country music.

"If you listen to popular music, or if you listen to hip-hop music, it feels like there's a broader diversity to a lot of subcultures as far as what you're able to access," nonbinary country singer/songwriter Adeem the Artist says. "Whereas with country music, it's very linear, it's very myopic, and singular in its expression."

By way of broadening country's storytelling, Adeem plays a honky-tonk blend of classic and '90s country music that's sonically aligned with the deep musical traditions in Tennessee, where they now live. Lyrically, though, their propensity for gorgeous, frankly worded songs complicate stereotypical southern narratives in rare and provocative ways. On White Trash Revelry, their 2022 studio album, they grapple with racism, economic entrapment, gun violence, and family heritage. And their latest, Anniversary, released in May, includes songs about mental health, the poignance of parenthood, and the pain and fear of being a queer person in a world that threatens their existence.

Indeed, some of the places in the U.S. with the strongest ties to country music remain the least hospitable to queer people. Just last year, Tennessee, home of Nashville, the country music capital of the world, passed a total of 10 bills aimed at LGBTQIA+ people, while Texas, perhaps country music's second-best known state, passed 20 percent of all anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation in the U.S. What's more, LGBTQIA+ people and culture have been targeted by numerous attacks around the world — including the Pulse nightclub and Club Q shootings stateside — in the last few years alone.

For many, the consequences of not coming out, of not sharing their full selves with the world, are risky, too. Growing up, Wyatt had no role model to show her it was okay to be queer. She struggled for years with mental health and substance abuse and was convicted of robbing her heroin dealer as a young adult. "I needed to see someone who looked like me when I was a young child," Wyatt says. "And maybe I wouldn't have been a dope fiend in jail."

But while straight white men comprise most of country music's standard slate of forebearers, women and people in the BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ communities have contributed to the genre since its beginning. Notably, it was Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a queer Black woman, who in the 1950s introduced reverb to gospel and rhythm and blues music — and in doing so, she forever changed guitar playing, and inspired some of country music's biggest trailblazers, from Elvis to Johnny Cash.

In 1973 — four years after the Stonewall uprising kickstarted a widespread gay liberation movement — Patrick Haggerty and his band Lavender Country released what is generally considered the first gay country album. But after it sold out its first pressing of 1000 copies, the album was mostly forgotten until 1999, when the Journal of Country Music published an article hailing Haggerty as "the lost pioneer of out gay country music." Haggerty began performing again and in 2014, indie label Paradise of Bachelors reissued the Lavender Country album, securing Haggerty status as a grandfather figure to queer country.

Haggerty's reissue landed in a different world than the album's original run. In the interim, a handful of artists released more queer country music, including Jeff Miller, aka "John Deere Diva," known for his George Strait parody, "Not Really Strait," as well as Doug Stevens and the Outband's When Love Is Right and Sid Spencer's Out-N-About Again, which put lyrically gay songs to country music.

In 2011, shortly before the Lavender Country reissue, queer country singer/songwriter and music scholar Karen Pittleman convened the first Gay Ole Opry in Brooklyn's now defunct Public Assembly performance space, launching more than a decade of queer country events, tours and a far-reaching network of performers and supporters. And in 2015, gay marriage became legal nationwide.

As progress has accelerated culturally in the near decade since, it has in country music, too. In 2018, Paisley Fields' debut album Glitter and Sawdust merged cowboy grit with queer raunch. In 2019, Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road" provoked country music to re-consider the nature and identity of country music. In 2021, T.J. Osborne of the Brothers Osborne became the first openly gay male artist signed to a major record label; a year later, the duo's song "Younger Me" — which was written in response to T.J.'s coming out — became the first country song with an LGBTQIA+ theme to win a GRAMMY. And this Pride Month, longtime LGBTQIA+ supporter (and GLAAD's 2023 Excellence in Media Award recipient) Maren Morris declared on Instagram, "happy to be the B in LGBTQ+."

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"We as queer fans deserve to have songs that speaks specifically to us," says Rachel Cholst, a queer writer and educator. "And if that means putting in same gender pronouns, then we deserve that too. And if that makes a straight person uncomfortable, I don't know what to tell you. I've grown up my entire life having to internally change the pronouns to the love songs that really moved me."

Cholst started writing about music when she realized she couldn't be the only queer country fan out there. Her work aims to make queer country music accessible, and she has run the Adobe and Teardrops blog for more than a decade. In 2022, Cholst launched Rainbow Rodeo, a zine about queer country music, which appears bi-annually in print and regularly online.

"Everyone just assumed that country music is this one thing, and it never occurred to them to go look for it. That tells you a lot about how country music wants to present itself as an industry," Cholst says. "If we erase anyone who's not straight, anyone who's not white, then what you're saying is, you want those people to be erased from the conversation, from the culture."

Beyond using she/her pronouns in love songs (which she didn't get to do on her first album, Felony Blues), Wyatt's powerful, steely queer country music complicates social consciousness. Incisive and elegant in her delivery, she's equally compelling chronicling her conviction and jail time on Felony Blues, confronting demons and figuring out who she is on her Shooter Jennings-produced second album, Neon Cross, and outlining her hopes and frustrations for the world on her third album, 2023's sultry, groovy, Feel Good.

Wyatt's knack for catchy and advocacy-laced country bangers is clearest in "Rattlesnake Girl," one of her most popular songs. In it, she offers an anthemic celebration of joy unfettered: "I see my sweet friends out on the weekend/ They all look happy and gay," and a barbed warning to anyone who might impinge on that happiness: "Thank you kindly, don't walk behind me/ I've seen people slip that way/ And if you try me, boot heels beside me/ I might have to make your day."

Queer country music means something a little different to each artist. For many, it's about much more than simply being a queer person performing country music. Adeem the Artist considers queer country its own genre, complete with specific rules — many of which have nothing to do with sexual or gender orientation.

"It is explicitly political in nature. It is often kind of raunchy," they assert. "There's an element to queer country that is confrontational, that is willing to create discomfort for the sake of a relief that leans towards some greater social awareness."

To some degree, raising awareness and representation — which is essential for inclusion and acceptance — requires a bit of self-tokenization, Adeem says. "The very, very basic act of referring to me as a person who is queer, who is trans, who is nonbinary, who is whatever, those labels only do good as much as they illuminate the differences between us and the fact that I am more difficult for some people to relate with."

Adeem and Wyatt both operate within the alt-country scene, which has been marginally more inclusive than mainstream country over the years. Recently, though, rising country musician Lily Rose cracked through with her viral breakup single, 2020's "Villain." On her latest EP, Runnin' Outta Time (which she released in May), she sings a high-octane pop/country mix about her values and relationships. It's a well-worn country music landscape that has been almost exclusively dominated by heterosexual white men.

"To be one of the first to literally [and] figuratively, carry the flag... it makes me really proud. And it has its heavy moments for sure," Rose says. "Night after night, when I get to meet fans and see comments on social media that they feel seen for the first time in the genre, it's really special and it makes every single second of hard work to get here worth it."

The day after Runnin' Out of Time dropped, Rose made her Grand Ole Opry debut with two songs from the album, "Back Pew" and "Two Flowers"; Adeem and Wyatt also played the Opry for the first time in the last year as well. The Opry, one of country music's oldest and most lauded tastemakers, has welcomed a number of queer artists in the last few years, signaling a subtle shift toward a more inclusive country music institution. (In addition, all three artists recently scored high-profile touring spots: Rose with Shania Twain and Sam Hunt, Adeem with Tyler Childers and Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit; and Wyatt wrapped up her first headlining tour.)

For Pittleman, an essential part of making music is ensuring space for anyone who wants to make music to do so, regardless of how they look or identify. "Most people who like country music, they just want to hear country music," Pittleman says. "I want to have a good time, too. But you have to ask at a certain point, 'Who is invited to the good time?'"

As she insists, there's a long way to go. In a digital world, radio play doesn't offer a complete picture, but it remains a dominant force in country music. For decades, women have been played sparingly on country radio and artists of color and queer musicians featured far less, a shortcoming which SongData's principal investigator, Jada Watson, spent years studying. Her research concludes that women country artists are played roughly 29 percent of the time, Black artists 5 percent, and other artists of color 7 percent. Queer artists, Watson estimates, make up less than 1 percent of radio play.

"The real problem is who's making those decisions; who has the power and as a result, who has the power and the resources to record their music, to distribute their music, to get it out on a broader scale," Pittleman suggests. "We have to make sure that everyone who's called to make the music has the resources and the power to make it and bring it into the world."

And in spite of multitude setbacks and naysayers, queer artists are creating country music. As Pittleman wrote in a 2020 essay in the Journal of Popular Music Studies titled "You're My Country Music," one of the joys of singing queer country music is making country music, plain and simple. "The point is to mark the deepest moments of human connection, our truest hopes and heartbreaks, and turn them into a sound that gives us joy and strength," she says.

"Because sometimes you love a culture that doesn't love you back," Pittleman continues on the Gay Ole Opry's about page. "We do it because we love the music and want to build a community to support queer country musicians. We do it because everybody needs a honky-tonk angel to hold them tight. We do it because we believe in country music for all."

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(L-R): Zach Top, Randall King, Jenna Paulette, Emily Nenni, Dylan Gossett

Photos (L-R): Citizen Kane Wayne, Frank Hoensch/Redferns, Santiago Felipe/Getty Images, David A. Smith/Getty Images, William Basnett

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8 Artists Bringing Traditional Country Music Back: Zach Top, Randall King, Emily Nenni & More On Why "What's Old Becomes Beloved Again"

While the traditional country sound has never been fully lost, pop production and folk stylings have been at the genre’s forefront in recent years. But rising stars like Jenna Paulette and Jackson Dean are ensuring that old-school sounds never die.

GRAMMYs/Jan 26, 2024 - 03:44 pm

Between chart domination and stadium tours, there's no denying that country music has been on a hot streak lately. As the likes of Luke Combs, Lainey Wilson and Morgan Wallen help the genre achieve mainstream success, a renewed popularity in the country's traditional stylings has been front and center — and there's a new wave of rising stars continuing the trend. 

Of course, country's twangy soundscapes — augmented by everything from blistering banjos to meandering mandolin, fiery fiddle and some of the most earnest songwriting around — have been persistent for decades. Plenty of stars, including Chris Stapleton, Cody Johnson, Miranda Lambert and Ashley McBryde, have taken cues from genre trailblazers like George Strait and Dolly Parton. But more than a decade after the bro-country explosion and the pop-country takeover, country music may be going back to its roots more than it has in years.

Among the new generation of country traditionalists is Randall King, who kicks off 2024's slate of traditional releases with his second studio album, Into The Neon, on Jan. 26. When it comes to the invigorated allure of country music's roots, the Texan has his theories.

"Traditional country music is more about the song, people writing from the heart and telling great stories rather than pandering to a commercial audience," he tells GRAMMY.com. 

Below, King and seven others in the new crop of traditional country artists reflect on their musical roots and the subgenre's resurgence.

Jackson Dean

Hometown: Odenton, MD
Signed label/publishing deal: 2021
Listen to: "Don't Come Lookin'," which peaked at No. 3 on Billboard's Country Airplay chart in February 2022

Since releasing his debut album, Greenbroke, in March 2022, Jackson Dean has continued to prove he's a star in the making. Greenbroke's lead single, "Don't Come Lookin,'" made him the youngest solo male country artist to top the Country Aircheck charts with their debut, landing at No. 3 on Billboard's Country Airplay chart as well. The Maryland-born, Nashville-based singer is on his way to similar success with his follow-up single, "Fearless (The Echo)," which resides at No. 18 on the Country Airplay chart as of press time.

With a vocal presence that conjures up the gritty mystique of Johnny Cash's "Man In Black" and liveliness of Luke Combs, Dean says he appreciates the full spectrum of country sounds, no matter where or how it's formed. As for the current traditional boom, Dean credits the internet for the current traditional boom.

"[With] social media and memes, people are able to pull things out of the archives and share them to a new audience,"speculates Dean. "There is also a love of nostalgia these days and a bit of a trend of romanticizing things of the past. What's old becomes beloved again."

Dylan Gossett

Hometown: Austin, TX
Signed label/publishing deal: 2023
Listen to: "Coal," which has amassed over 75 million streams

Inspired as much by crossover stars like Zach Bryan as he is by traditionalists like Alan Jackson, Dylan Gossett began making waves this past spring with his covers of the Lumineers' "Ophelia" and Flatland Cavalry's "A Life Where We Work Out" posted online. But soon his originals really put him on the map.

The lifelong Texan went viral in July with his second-ever single, "Coal," a humble and stripped-back song of struggle. "Coal" closes out Gossett's six-song debut EP, No Better Time, which taps into the traditional sound with a simple instrumental that doesn't overpower, but instead compliments deeply vulnerable and metaphorical lyrics like "They say pressure makes diamonds/ How the hell am I still coal?" 

Gossett became the first artist to sign with Big Loud Texas (an offshoot of Big Loud Records co-founded by Miranda Lambert and Jon Randall) in November. Less than a month later, he announced his first headlining tour, which sold out in less than a week.

So, why does Gossett think traditional country music is on the rebound? "I think people are diving back into real instrument and lyric-driven music," he says. 

Kimberly Kelly

Hometown: Lorena, TX
Signed label/publishing deal: 2021
Listen to: "Summers Like That" from 2022's "I'll Tell You What's Gonna Happen," her Show Dog Nashville debut

While growing up in Texas, Kimberly Kelly watched her mom struggle to chase musical dreams while simultaneously pursuing a master's degree. In 2012, Kelly's sister Kristen earned a record deal in Nashville and brought her on the road, giving her a behind-the-scenes look at the music business — ultimately inspiring her own artist journey.

Enter the aptly titled I'll Tell You What's Gonna Happen, Kelly's long-awaited 2022 debut full of classic country sass, dynamic vocals and compelling storytelling.. With songs like "Honky Tonk Town," "Blue Jean Country Queen" and a cover of Billy Joe Shaver's "Black Rose," the record honors torchbearers like Patsy Cline and Patty Loveless with a mix of easy-going ballads and hard-driving bangers. 

"I think it always comes back around because it's about real-life storytelling," Kelly says of the traditional sound. "Even I enjoy catchy bops, good grooves and songs that don't make me have to think too much, but every now and then you need to hear something that really tugs at your heart."

Randall King

Hometown: Hereford, TX
Signed label/publishing deal: 2019
Listen to: "You In A Honky Tonk" from 2022's Shot Glass, King's debut album for Warner Music Nashville

After building an independent following through a rigorous touring schedule, he eventually signed with Warner Music Nashville in September 2019. As his 2022 LP, Shot Glass, displays, King playfully mixes the lightheartedness of Jon Pardi with the sincerity of George Strait. Its forthcoming follow-up, the 18-track Into The Neon, will further tackle old school tropes through a modern lens, as evidenced on "Burns Like Her" and "Hang Of Hangin' On."

"I believe there's a way to blend some modernism into traditionalism," King suggests. "In this day and age you can take advantage of technology that you didn't have before and create great sounds. Sounds that are edgy yet natural while still holding to the roots and the value of traditional country music."

Emily Nenni

Hometown: Orinda, CA
Signed label/publishing deal: 2022
Listen to: "Can Chaser" from 2022's On The Ranch, her debut album for New West Records

Raised on her parents' Patsy Cline and Hank Williams cassettes, it's no surprise that Emily Nenni turned into a honky tonk queen. 

Approaching a decade in Nashville, the artist put her name on the map in 2022 with her New West Records debut On The Ranch, a collection of songs that largely came together during a stint on a Colorado ranch in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has everything traditional purists love — a blistering backbeat, plenty of pedal steel and lyrics about everything from strained relationships to baddass barrel racers. A follow-up to it is expected to come later this year.

"Traditional country music has such charm. It's honest, it's playful, it's sad, it's rowdy," Nenni says. "Some people love it because they want to go dancing all night at the honky tonks. Others are listening for the lyricism. Even some folks who just like it for the cowboy boots! There are all kinds of reasons and all kinds of people, and that makes me happy."

Jenna Paulette

Hometown: Lewisville, TX
Signed label/publishing deal: 2021
Listen to: "You Ain't No Cowboy" from 2023's The Girl I Was

Some of Jenna Paulette's earliest memories involve helping tend to her family's ranch and singing along to songs from the Chicks, Shania Twain and Reba McEntire with her siblings from the back seat of their piping hot gold Suburban. Even 10 years into living in Nashville, she makes it back to West Texas to help work the land whenever she isn't on the road or writing.

That blue-collar work ethic and humility has not only paid off on the farm, but in her musical pursuits as well. In 2022, CMT named her as part of its Next Women of Country class. Then in March 2023, Apple Music named her Country Riser of the Month as she celebrated the release of her transformative debut album, The Girl I Was. On the 16-song project, she fuses the sounds of Twain and Miranda Lambert, tackling mental health with the somber "You Ain't No Cowboy" and waxing philosophical on "Country In The Girl."

Whether back at home checking cattle or on some stage singing her songs, Paulette plans to keep her boots dirty and her soul clean every step of the way.

"I think people are craving something real in a world that breeds fast food, clickbait fame and the appearance of perfection," Paulette hypothesizes. "They want homemade biscuits, depth and family. They need something to remind them of their roots. The things I hold dearest and want to exemplify with my music are the things I think so many are longing to know still exist in our culture. It's actually pretty beautiful and gives me hope for the future."

Brit Taylor

Hometown: Hindman, KY
Signed label/publishing deal: 2023
Listen to: "No Cowboys" from 2023's Kentucky Blue, which was co-produced by Dave Ferguson and Sturgill Simpson

Brit Taylor hit rock bottom after a decade in Nashville. Between 2017 and 2018, she went through a divorce, her band disbanded, she nearly lost her home and lost her publishing deal.

But in the years since, she's bounced back in stunning fashion, beginning with the release of her solo debut, 2020's Real Me. Its highly anticipated follow-up, 2023's Sturgill Simpson and Dave Ferguson co-produced Kentucky Blue, was praised for its sincere storytelling and classic country soundscapes, leading to her Grand Ole Opry and performances on bigger and bigger stages in the months that followed. 

With plans to release Kentucky Bluegrassed — an eight-track project containing five previously recorded originals done bluegrass-style along with three new tunes — on Feb. 2, Taylor will be incorporating the sounds of her Appalachian youth into her music more than ever before. Despite shifting sounds, Taylor says that today's modern studio tools can still be used to embrace the traditional, citing Kacey Musgraves as an example of someone who blends "the bells and whistles and all the styles she loves while still being her authentic self." 

"At the end of the day, traditionalist or not, I think artists should be themselves and not try to chase after the current trends or even try to chase their past selves," Taylor proclaims. "Every artist should feel free to be true to the person they are at the moment they are in."

Zach Top

Hometown: Sunnyside, WA
Signed label/publishing deal: 2021
Listen to: "Like It Ain't No Thing," which reached No. 1 on the Bluegrass Today charts in February 2022

Opposite of Taylor, Zach Top is looking to parlay an upbringing in bluegrass music into a career in country music. After reaching No. 1 on the Bluegrass Today charts with "Like It Ain't No Thing" in early 2022, Top became the first signee to independent Nashville label Leo33 in September 2023.

Since then, the Washington state transplant has released a series of singles including the Kenny Chesney-esque "Busy Doin' Nothin' and George Jones-fueled croons on "Justa Jonesin'." Each song has been twangier than the last, as Top recounts his love of the "No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems" and "White Lightning" eras of country music that shaped him — a concept he's expected to further delve into on the 12-song Cold Beer & Country Music out April 5.

"I think Nashville lost some of its soul in the last decade or two," asserts Top. "And I think that people, audiences, radio listeners, ticket buyers, whoever it is, got pretty tired of that. So they're looking for something that's got some more soul. And I think that absence of soul is why you see some of the real, raw-sounding music become very popular with people. We lost a lot of soul for a long time. People want soul."

2023 In Review: 5 Trends That Defined Country Music

Newport Folk 2023

Photo: Douglas Mason / Contributor via Getty Images

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Watch Backstage Interviews At Newport Folk 2023: Turnpike Troubadours, Nickel Creek, M. Ward, Thee Sacred Souls & More

Another Newport Folk is in the books; its 2023 iteration was one of the great ones — featuring Aimee Mann, Lana Del Rey, Jason Isbell and more. Watch backstage interviews with some of its radiant artists below.

GRAMMYs/Aug 1, 2023 - 09:50 pm

Another summer, another Newport Folk. The storied bastion of American roots music flourished once again, with three days of plucks, strums, harmonies and good cheer.

Lana Del Rey enjoyed her Newport debut, James Taylor made a surprise appearance (calling it "emergency folk music") and the Black Opry made waves — and GRAMMY.com was on the grounds for all of the excitement.

Backstage, a number of artists chatted about their experiences onstage, their love of the American roots community and more.

Watch all of the interviews below — and we'll see you at Newport Folk 2024!

Turnpike Troubadours

Nickel Creek

John Oates

Abraham Alexander

Bella White

Gregory Alan Isakov

Indigo de Souza

M. Ward

Thee Sacred Souls

Rob Grant

5 Female Artists Creating The Future Of Country Music
(Clockwise from left) Jaime Wyatt, Miko Marks, Hannah Juanita, the Local Honeys, Summer Dean

Photos:  Mickey Bernal/Getty Images; Jason Davis/Getty Images; TK, Mose Wilson, Lia Callie Photography; Scott Slusher

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5 Female Artists Creating The Future Of Country Music: Jaime Wyatt, Miko Marks & More

Country music’s view of women is often reductive, yet a new generation of female country singers are breaking the mold. They've cracked open the notoriously slow-to-change genre, nudging it toward aural, queer, gender and racial diversity.

GRAMMYs/Mar 31, 2023 - 02:21 pm

In 2015, radio consultant Keith Hill provoked outrage by saying out loud what had long been an unwritten rule for much of country music radio: Women are like the tomatoes in a lettuce salad, they should be sprinkled in sparsely. Despite Hill’s comments and the country music industry's often restrictive and prescriptive attitudes, women are essential to the genre and its growth.

Female country singers have broken the rules and fought sexist expectations since the genre's inception. Just five years after the first country music recording, the Carter Family cut their first album — often considered country music’s "Big Bang" — at the 1927 Bristol Sessions. In 1952, Kitty Wells' "It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" placed the blame for unfaithful women squarely on the shoulders of philandering men in a retort so resounding, hardly anyone remembers the song that inspired it. 

A decade later, Bobbie Gentry scored a No. 1 in 1967 and three GRAMMY Awards with a torpid ballad about apathy and suicide ("Ode to Billie Joe"). Loretta Lynn routinely took a defiantly feminist stance (although she rejected the label) in her music and had her song "The Pill,"about how birth control pills liberated women, banned from most radio play. Throughout her career, Dolly Parton's hit songs have dealt with gender-neutral gut-wrenching poverty and pretty much every aspect of womanhood.

Contemporary acts continue the work of their forebearers, pushing the genre toward inclusivity and demanding respect in the male-dominated genre. Stars like Shania Twain and Faith Hill followed by Margo Price, Kacey Musgraves, Micky Guyton and Maren Morris have deftly charted their own stories, rejecting the genre's rigid stereotypes. Allison Russell, Rhiannon Giddens, Brennen Leigh and Sierra Ferrell (and many other artists) have shifted country music sonically, bringing bluegrass, Western swing, blues, and traditional folk-inspired tunes back into broad circulation.

Together, they represent a new generation of female country singers who have cracked open the notoriously slow-to-change genre, nudging it toward aural, queer, gender and racial diversity. These musicians aren’t waiting for radio DJs to slot them in between male stars; they’re leveraging social media, YouTube and Spotify to reach an audience tired of hearing the same old sad and exploitive songs. Avoiding stereotypes and the neat niches country music carved for them, these women sing about motherhood, wifehood, womanhood, sex, hard work, struggle and loss and yes, love and heartbreak too — but on their terms.

While it’s by no means a comprehensive list, here are five women essential to the future of country music who you may not have heard of, but should know. 

Summer Dean

On her 43rd birthday, the Ameripolitan Music Awards named Summer Dean 2023’s "Honky Tonk Female."The best-known twangy, danceable honky tonk-style tracks go to men, but Dean flips their signature bravado on its head with brash songs about a single woman’s empowerment. 

Since her debut EP Unladylike, Dean’s drawn power and inspiration from her own experience, singing about both the joy and sadness in not following social expectations of womanhood. "I’m all alone / Just a woman on her own / Writing songs with no baby and no vow," she sings, neatly skewering country music’s preconceived ideals of a woman’s path in life on "Picket Fence," which opens her 2021 album Bad Romantic.

Dean, a seventh-generation Texan, started her country music career in her late 30s after years of teaching elementary school. Making up for lost time, she’s collected accolades fast: A wildly successful duet with Canadian Western music heavyweight Colter Wall; opening gigs for Nikki Lane, Marty Stuart, and Charley Crockett; and her own co-headlining tour this spring. This summer, Dean will release her second full-length album, The Biggest Life. 

Jaime Wyatt

Sometimes Jaime Wyatt’s backstory sounds like any number of gritty, sad country songs — she served most a year in L.A. County jail for robbing her heroin dealer, struggled with addiction, and lost a best friend to drug overdose. Although her experiences feed her music, Wyatt uses them to illuminate relatable, meaningful stories that are anything but cliché.

Wyatt's 2017 debut EP, Felony Blues, draws heavily from her experiences with addiction and jail. Moving beyond those early experiences, she unpacks them, her sexuality and outlook on life in her Shooter Jennings-produced Neon Cross, released in 2020. Thriving on Wyatt’s smoky, intoxicating voice, the album’s title track ruminates on the hazy purgatory of nights lost in dim, alcohol-soaked bars; "Rattlesnake Girl" simultaneously celebrates gay joy and puts anyone who might mess with Wyatt on notice; and Wyatt owns her power as a woman in "Just a Woman," a duet with Jessi Colter, Jennings’ mother, whose own outlaw country career was often overshadowed by her husband, Waylon Jennings.

Wyatt recently performed at Willie Nelson’s famous Luck Reunion, and this summer will hit other big stages, including the Stagecoach Music Festival and Red Rocks Amphitheater. 

Miko Marks

Musicians of color, especially Black women, have been systematically sidelined by country music in spite of their foundational contributions to the genre. Fifteen years after her first run at country music success, Miko Marks is back and flourishing with a series of songs rooted both in her own experience and the genre’s history.  

With a heady mixture of country, blues and gospel influences, Marks highlights Black contributions to country music. On 2021’s Our Country, her first album after returning to music, she reclaimed the genre; 2022's Feels Like Home hinted at a broader, inclusive future for the genre. In between, Marks reimagined a slice of country music history with her 2021 EP, Race Records, a compilation of some of country’s best-known songs, for which she borrowed the name given to music marketed to Black listeners by the companies that started branding country music for white people in the 1920s.

Marks performed with the Black Opry, a collective of artists designed to lift up and highlight roots musicians of color. Last year, Marks made her Grand Ole Opry debut and was part of CMT’s Next Women of Country Class of 2022. On March 24, she released a single with Rissi Palmer, "Still Here."

The Local Honeys

In pop culture and politics, Kentucky evokes strong associations for almost everyone — a fact of which country and folk duo The Local Honeys are acutely aware. With nuanced, closely-worded songs, they critique and dignify the complicated stories and history of their beloved Appalachia.

Their first album, 2017's Little Girls Acting Like Men, kicks off with "Cigarette Trees," an anthemic takedown of the coal industry whose fiery message is accompanied by banjo and fiddle. The track planted Linda Jean Stokley and Montana Hobbs squarely in a long tradition of folk music that blends activism with oral history. Like their first album, the Honeys’ subsequent recordings, 2019’s This Gospel and The Local Honeys, released last year, feature a mixture of traditionally-inspired ballads and new folk songs that subvert and complicate typical Appalachian narratives.

The Honeys’ catchy songs and achingly-human, tragic and sometimes funny vignettes earned them tours with Colter Wall and Tyler Childers, a documentary about coal’s devastating effects and the region’s resilience for Patagonia and Pop-Up Magazine’s Working Knowledge series, and a record deal with La Honda Records. 

Hannah Juanita

So often in country music, men get to do all the leavin'. Declaring themselves unable to resist the siren call of adventure, they’re gone in a cloud of dust and three chords and the truth. Women in country music rarely hit the road and when they do, they often aren’t the ones who get to tell the story. But Hannah Juanita wrote a whole album about leaving — and then did.

Feeling stuck in a life that didn’t turn out the way she hoped, Juanita penned the songs for her debut album Hardliner as solace from a failing relationship and then moved to Nashville to sell it. Snappy and straightforward, with traditional country steel guitars, western swing and bluegrass’ sway, and a dash of conjunto, the album’s catchy sing-along lyrics sound like miles flying by on the road with one hand tapping a beat on the steering wheel.

Now a mainstay of the local Nashville scene, Juanita released her new single "Memory of You," on March 31.

Country & Western's New Generation Is Defiantly Of The Moment: Meet Charley Crockett, Colter Wall, Sierra Ferrell, Bella White & Others