Point: Americana’s All-Stars Are 2017’s Artist(s) of the Year
Music fans who don't listen to much country still likely heard a thing or two this year about some of the genre's big names: Jason. Sam. Carrie. Chris. Blake ... Margo. Sturgill. Jason.
In 2017, Americana artists were some of the most talked-about stars, not just among country music fans but in the music community as a whole. Throughout this year, a few of the genre's all-stars continued bridging the gap between mainstream country and the artists who sit more left of center -- even if sometimes that meant taking a jab at the Music Row establishment at the same time.
The Americana infiltration of 2017 began early in the year, with a major awards win for Sturgill Simpson: Best Country Album at the 2017 Grammy Awards. The Grammys have separate categories for country and Americana (and roots and bluegrass and folk), but Simpson found his a-little-bit-rock, a-little-bit-Americana, a-little-bit-blues A Sailor's Guide to Earth nominated alongside mainstream country albums from Keith Urban, Maren Morris and more ... and he won it. Although his trophy presentation was relegated to the pre-telecast ceremony, Simpson performed during the live show later that evening, one of only a few country / Americana / bluegrass / etc. artists to take the stage on Music's Biggest Night.
In 2017, Americana artists continued bridging the gap between mainstream country and those who sit more left of center -- even if sometimes that meant taking a jab at the Music Row establishment at the same time.
But his Grammy Awards victory wasn't Simpson's only big move of 2017: Shortly before the Grammys ceremony, he performed on Saturday Night Live -- the only artist from country music and its adjacent genres to appear on SNL this year, save for Jason Aldean's last-minute, unannounced, show-opening Tom Petty cover days after the Route 91 Harvest Festival shooting in October. In August, Simpson opened three shows for Guns N' Roses. And November found him taking a stand and making a statement outside of the 2017 CMA Awards, becoming one of the night's most talked-about artists without even being at the show itself.
To credit Simpson alone with Americana's big year would be unfair, however, and would mean ignoring a number of other major moments, including another surprise awards nomination. In November, while Simpson was busking outside of Bridgestone Arena, Jason Isbell was vying for CMA Album of the Year inside. The trophy went to Chris Stapleton (an artist who's earned love from both mainstream country and Americana circles), but Isbell's nomination was still a big deal: a sign that those within mainstream country music recognize and appreciate a talent like Isbell, even if country radio doesn't play him, and a bit of hope that trends are shifting within the genre.
At the 2017 CMA Awards, another Americana act -- Isbell's wife, singer-songwriter Amanda Shires -- made a statement of her own. Isbell was unable to attend the awards ceremony because he was touring overseas, so Shires went with a friend. Instead of sporting red carpet-ready gowns, the two wore black skirts and pink tank tops with the phrase "Mama wants to change that Nashville sound" on them; the words are a lyric in Isbell's song "White Man's World," which appears on The Nashville Sound, the album for which he was nominated. (The shirts happen to be part of Shires' merch offerings.)
Whether via their music, in interviews or through their actions, in 2017, Americana's all-stars continued to speak out about what they believe.
Outside of the confines of country music, too, Americana artists earned their fair share of the spotlight this year: Margo Price's sophomore album, All American Made, earned copious amounts of critical acclaim upon its release this fall, and landed on all-genre year-end Best of 2017 lists put together by outlets from Rolling Stone to The Ringer. She's only one example, though; you'll also find Isbell and Valerie June on the aforementioned lists, and that's just from two outlets.
In recent years, Americana music has steadily been earning more notice, so why is it that, in 2017 specifically, the aforementioned artists and their fellow Americana acts became such an important part of the year? Perhaps it's because, whether via their music, in interviews or through their actions, they continued to share what they believe in. Doing so inherently makes for better art, but it was especially important in a year full of politically charged and socially important moments.
The Boot and Taste of Country’s collaborative Point / Counterpoint series features staff members from the two sites debating topics of interest within country music once per month. Check back on Jan. 22 for another installment.
2017's Most Unforgettable Country Music Moments