Perhaps not so amazingly, it took a couple of years of watching the steady rise of Americana artists and the Americana scene in general to start this shift. The artists in Americana today are just too good to ignore. The awarding, and indeed the coming out party, of Chris Stapleton as the Top New Artist, Male Vocalist of the Year and Album of the Year for "Traveller" is a clear indication that the landscape has changed. The inclusion of Kacey Musgraves and Brandy Clark at mainstream award shows with Musgraves picking up a trophy for Song of the Year ("Follow Your Arrow") at last year's CMA's showed that the desire for change was beginning to percolate. With this performance of Chris Stapleton and Justin Timberlake last night at the CMA's and the fan reaction, it's clear that this change is upon us.
But wait, that was only half of the performance. Here is the second half:
Perhaps sensing what could be happening, one had to feel a little bad for Florida Georgia Line, the act that had to follow this performance. What's telling is in the audience reaction, or rather, their almost non-reaction at the conclusion of the Florida Georgia Line performance. The crowd was simply blown away by the tandem of Stapleton and Timberlake, and whomever else followed was not going to top it. In a way, it almost wasn't fair ... almost. What it accomplished was it showed the glaring and real difference between honest and raw music versus the manufactured material that's been pushed by the major labels on Music Row for the past number of years. As I've said in this space before, people will always come back to what's real. The consumer doesn't lie: it's why artists like Jason Isbell, Alan Jackson, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, and Kacey Musgraves can all have number one selling albums. It's why artists like Sturgill Simpson and Nathaniel Rateliff are able to sell records by the boatload and fill theaters. All of these artists are doing this without the benefit of mainstream country radio.
Last night the world was introduced to an incredibly gifted talent in Chris Stapleton. As my friend Nelson Gullett of WDVX radio in Knoxville, Tennessee tweeted out last night, he's been listening to Chris Stapleton for about 30 years, both as a solo artist and in the bluegrass band The Steeldrivers. Today marks a new chapter in the career of Chris Stapleton. I'm happy that he's from the Americana family and wish him well as he enters this next phase of his career.
The beginning of the CMA awards show saw the return of an icon paired up with a superstar that has been an amazing supporter of Americana artists over the last couple of years. In an entirely appropriate performance of his latest single, I think we can safely answer the question: we are indeed, ready for the country.