Welcome to the 2017 Country Music Armadillo Awards announcement week! Today we kick off five straight days of nominee announcements leading up to Friday when then voting opens!
Today we announce the Up and Comers!
This award was kind of a nightmare in all honesty, and that is purely my fault. The nearly non-existent criteria for this award made it a mess right out of the gate. Again, totally my fault. When we do these awards again in 2018 I promise this one will be better executed.
The first thing you need to know about this list is that it has been expanded. Many of the nominee lists have, but this one has seen the most growth. There are 15 nominees on this list. The reason for that being, the whole point of this list is to recognize names in this corner of country music that people may not know. The more names we add to that list, the more names we’re potentially exposing to new fans. So this list leads the way in nominations at 15.
The other thing about this list is it means that some artists just aren’t nominated this year. Which is ok. Part of the reason the Artist of the Year nominees were announced early was because it cleared up who qualified for this award and who didn’t. That’s going to cause some to ask “Well why aren’t names like Whitey Morgan and Justin Wells nominated here?”
My answer to that is that those guys being nominated for this award would really be kind of disrespectful to them. They aren’t Up and Comers. The are here. They’ve been here. To pat them on the back as an Up and Comer would be wrong. It also means that their presence on the list would take away spots and attention from what this list is supposed to be about: the artists poised to break into the next level and join those in the discussion for awards like Artist of the Year.
I am judging for this award based off of two factors: Present impact, and future potential to keep growing both as an artist, and in terms of helping country music continue the renaissance taking place right now.
So with that said, let’s take a look at our 15 2017 Country Music Armadillo Up and Comer nominees!
One of the most genuine feel good stories of 2017, the rise of Austin Lee has been nothing short of spectacular. A tested by fire Nashville performer, he saw some incredible moments of his career in 2017. He was a pinball at Tumbleweed. Everywhere you looked he was there. He played on the stage with Mickey Lamantia, he played the light night stages, the early morning stages, the noon stages, the free stage, the pay stage, the right stage the left stage… He was everywhere. He spent the year working on getting his debut release ready to roll out, and at the time of his nomination he says it is coming in early 2018.
Better Than Nothin’
Better Than Nothin is a band that has been around since 2016. The rowdy group from Missouri released their debut EP “Let the Wolf Out” this year, and fans were immediately impressed. They employ a deep sound with flavors of southern rock, honky tonk, with a deep country flavor into an excellent package. Better Than Nothin’ is a group you’ll be hearing a lot more of sooner than later.
David Vaughn Lindsey
Big Dave. 2017 brought us a big dose of big Dave. He was the subject of the aptly titled “Me and Big Dave” that appeared on Colter Wall’s debut album. Shortly after he appeared at Tumbleweed with Colter and the Speedy Creek Band, performing his song “Rain Don’t Taste The Same”. The release of his long-awaited EP “Next” was a breath of fresh air. Dave gave us a look into his deep soul, and then showed us how strong it was. One of the better releases of the year, Next has left fans waiting anxiously to see and hear more of Big Dave.
Dustin James Clark
Another artist keeping Missouri well represented on this list, Dustin James Clark has had a great 2017. Dustin has been playing for some time, and even once appeared on The Voice some years back, but 2017 has been the best exposure for his target audience. The Tumbleweed festival ran weeks of fan nominations and voting to determine who got a spot on the Late Night Stage and Dustin surged to the front of those polls in the late going for the chance to play the stage. It exposed him to a great audience eager to hear what he could do, and the word has quickly spread making him one to watch moving forward.
I sincerely hope you didn’t let Jaime Wyatt’s album Felony Blues miss your ears this year. If you did, however, I urge you to go back and fix that. She’s not afraid to sing a gritty song, and she sings them with a style that gives you no choice but to hang on to, and believe every word she throws at you. Set your sights a little higher on this one, she’s the real deal.
Jake Flint has been on a steady burn in 2017. His 2016 debut album “I Am NOT Ok” has slowly been garnering more and more attention all year, and his name is one that is slowly but surely catching on with fans right now. He released a new single in 2017, “Cowtown” that only helped fan those flames surrounding him. The Oklahoma native is doing it all right, and building himself into a name that people are becoming more and more familiar with all the time.
James Scott Bullard
James Scott Bullard is another artist on this list who has seen a big gain in momentum during 2017 thanks to fans spreading the word of an artist via social media. He’s not new on the scene in any sense, but 2017 has definitely brought him to the attention of a lot of people he wasn’t known to prior. Another one of the artists who kept pace late into the Tumbleweed Late Night Stage competition, Bullard still had an exceptional year despite falling short in that process. He’s already well into the process of releasing his next album, and when that happens the momentum should only continue to build for him.
Jesse Kramer is an interesting name to see on this list. To call him purely a country artist would be wrong. But on the same token, you can’t say he isn’t. I don’t shy away from keeping the umbrella of what is promoted here wide. Telling you all about Americana and Folk that you should be listening to is something I don’t hesitate to do. And Kramer fits in there somewhere. The reason for that is the soul that he can wring into and out of a song. He can make you feel exactly what he wants you to feel, what you’re supposed to feel from his song. Kramer defies genre with a unique talent and heart. If you like music in general you should like Jesse Kramer.
Mickey Lamantia missed some other nominations for awards by about a month. His EP Outlaw Life released in December 2016 making it unable to be nominated for Album of the Year, and Song of the Year. (“23rd Psalm” would have made that list.) Still, however, Mickey had a great year. His EP was well accepted by fans, he played a show in support of the great Mickey Gilley, and he was featured on the Tumbleweed main stage. He’s seen some radio play for his song “23rd Psalm” (I wasn’t just blowing smoke when I told you it was good) around the country as well. Mickey maintains one of the best social media presences in the business, and he totes around some damn fine whiskey, too. (No, really. I had a nip or two at Tumbleweed, and it was excellent.) Lamantia is here to stay, and the excitement surrounding him isn’t going away any time soon.
Maybe a slightly controversial name on this list for the same reason that I didn’t nominate those mentioned in the early portion of this article. Nikki Lane isn’t fresh on the scene. She has been around for some time. But her excellent album Highway Queen has done a lot to introduce her to legions of new fans this year. It’s given her a ton of momentum, and in a climate where the representation of women is a recurring topic she has stepped up and shown that she can hold her own and make music as well as anyone of any gender. I can’t wait to see what’s next for Lane. She’s one of the artists I’ll be paying the most attention to in 2018.
Cole and Kendra Porter, like others on this list, aren’t new around here. What brings them to this list is the fact that they’ve combined their efforts and teamed up as a husband and wife to further their careers. They released an excellent debut album this year, and also had a strong showing in the Tumbleweed fan voting contests. They played the Campground Stage to open the festival on Friday afternoon of the event. They have played and toured with Cody Jinks and Ward Davis as well as headlining their own shows throughout the year, and it’s hard to deny that they have a lot of good things ahead of them.
The Reeves Brothers
The Reeves Brothers have been playing music in their lives almost from the first moment they were capable. Their 2016 release Home Sweet Honky Tonk was a throwback to the golden era of Outlaw Country. Songs of hard times and hard living created a sense of excitement around the group, and they didn’t hesitate to take advantage of that by releasing another album in October of 2017 entitled King of Country Music. It helped further establish the Nevada natives to new fans, and a group that has the talent to become major players in this corner of country music.
The Rhyolite Sound
Another band of Nevada natives, the Rhyolite Sound brought their brand of “Desert Honky Tonk” to fans all over this year with the release of their debut album of the same name. Similar to the Reeves Brothers, the Rhyolite Sound bring a rowdy and raucous sound with plenty of songs about living too hard, and drinking even harder. In the midst of this Honky Tonk renaissance the Rhyolite Sound, just like the Reeves Brothers, are poised to make waves for the foreseeable future. And what a bright and exciting future that is…
The Steel Woods
The Steel Woods bust onto the scene in 2017 with their debut album Straw in the Wind and hit the ground running. Their fanfare immediately swelled and they were one of the hottest acts in this corner of country music. They bring a very broad sound to the table much the same way Blackberry Smoke does. Like Jesse Kramer, stopping at calling them a country band would be a disservice to The Steel Woods. They bring a robust blend of rock, roots, folk, and even some tones of bluegrass to their music. They have spent the year playing shows in support of several great acts, as well as selling out many of their own headlining shows. They arrived with a bang, and 2018 should only continue to be up, up, and away for the group.
When you think about Brooklyn, New York country music isn’t the first thing to come to mind. Zephiniah OHora is out to change that notion, however. OHora looks the part of a country star from years gone by, but make no mistake: it’s not just a look. He packs the accompanying sound as well. He released his debut album This Highway back in June to high praise. He brings a clean and beautiful country sound from days gone by, coupled with deep and meaningful songwriting to present a style that isn’t a tribute to, or a recreation of the music from that era, but a continuation of it. A preservation of it. As more and more people turn on to his music he’s poised to really make a splash in 2018.
So there you have it. Your 2017 Country Music Armadillo Up and Comer Nominees. The voting will open THIS FRIDAY right here on the website, and run through Christmas night! Tomorrow we announce our nominees for Album of the Year, so stay tuned to the Country Music Armadillo for the rest of the week as we’re going to have nomination announcements every day this week leading up to the time voting begins!