The Americana Music Association is featuring some of country music’s biggest acts this year at AmericanaFest, with headliners like Lee Ann Womack and Wynonna. With 68 acts announced and more to come, there are sure to be some surprises in the mix. Here are a few of our favorites that you might not know just yet.
Sammy Brue began his music career busking at age 10 during the Sundance Film Festival. Since then, he has been mentored by some of Nashville’s finest songwriters, and t age 14, Brue released his 2015 EP, I Don’t Want You to Leave. His songwriting is incredibly sincere and beautifully crafted, while his voice conveys his old soul. Let’s be clear about one thing though—Sammy Brue is not just impressive for his age, he’s impressive, period. He just signed with New West Records and will be in the studio in June, so keep an eye out for a full-length album coming soon!
John Paul White
Some people know John Paul White better as one half of the short-lived but widely-loved act, The Civil Wars. After the duo called it quits in 2014, Joy Williams released a solo album, but John Paul White remained out of the spotlight. He moved behind the scenes, co-founding Single Lock Records and producing a handful of albums. This year he released his first solo single since The Civil Wars, “Simple Song,” as a part of the Southern Family album. White’s voice is lofty, and needs minimal instrumentation behind it to convey the raw emotion of the stories he’s singing. In August, he released his highly-anticipated solo album Beulah, so make sure you catch his brand new music during his performances at AmericanaFest.
The Black Lillies
The Black Lillies blend bluegrass, rock and blues to create a sound that is both heartfelt and danceable. They have a dedicated fan base that crowd-funded their second album, and they have performed at the Grand Ole Opry over 35 times – a record for independent artists.
Dylan LeBlanc’s sound has a dreamy sense to it, rather than the DIY, road-weary sound shared by many Americana artists. His polished sound, however, is far from generic. The son of Muscle Shoals songwriter James LeBlanc, Dylan LeBlanc expresses the struggles of a young man getting swept up in success with soul and authenticity. His latest album, Cautionary Tale, was produced by John Paul White and released on his label Single Lock Records. On it, LeBlanc blends alt-rock, singer/songwriter and country to create something truly unique.
Joe Purdy’s music is perfect for a morning on the porch with a cup of tea or in a hammock on the beach. The beauty of his songs is in the simplicity of his folk guitar and piano riffs that let you easily disappear into the music. Purdy’s songs have been featured in TV shows and movies like Grey’s Anatomy, Lost, and The Secret Life of Bees.
Penny and Sparrow
Austin duo Penny and Sparrow are known for their heartfelt and powerful folk ballads. Andy Baxter and Kyle Jaknke lean into gorgeous vocal harmonies and fill their songs with orchestral instruments that give their arrangements an ethereal feeling. Their latest record, Let A Lover Down, was released on White’s aforementioned Single Lock Records, and features lots of the trademark harmonies and emotional swells that set Penny and Sparrow apart from similar indie-folk acts.
BJ Barham is a man who lives on the road. He is the lead vocalist, guitarist and primary songwriter for American Aquarium, a rowdy alt-country band that performs around 250 shows each year. The band’s 2012 release, Burn. Flicker. Die., was intended to be a farewell album, but was so well-received that it propelled the band into a successful career after years of blood, sweat, tears and late night whiskey. Barham shares a lot of similarities to Jason Isbell (who produced Burn. Flicker. Die.) — once an out-of-control country rockstar, now sober, married and content, and a songwriter who thrives by capturing the authentic moments in life. During a trip to Europe, Barham wrote a handful of songs that felt too intimate for the band’s style, so he decided to release them as a solo project. He has been touring both with the band and on his own over the past year, and his album, Rockingham, is expected to release this year.