Between country troubadours, southern rockers and bluegrass wunderkinds, a wide range of artists are on the rise in 2020. Below, read Wide Open Country's roundup of artists to watch in 2020.
Candi Carpenter's expected big year follows chances in 2019 to work closely with one of the best living singer-songwriters. Brandi Carlile produced Carpenter's stripped-down, vulnerable rendition of Dolly Parton's "Little Sparrow." Its digital flipside, "The Astronaut," pairs Carpenter and Carlile to more or less break down the meaning of life. These flashes of potential greatness come from a lifer with past experience with her family's gospel singing group and as a touring member of country legend Jack Greene's band.
Beyond winning The Voice and still working closely with Team Kelly leader Kelly Clarkson, Jake Hoot's greatest advantage in his bid to become country music's next big star might be his down-home charisma. The "Better Off Without You" singer's look and personality lend him the sort of "regular guy" appeal that's helped make Luke Combs a household name. Hoot's backstory as a single dad and former college football player makes him seem all the more approachable for the average mainstream country fan.
Kentucky-born country singer Kaleb Lee still bats for Team Kelly well beyond his sixth-place finish on season 14 of The Voice. As a matter of fact, Kelly Clarkson's on board as executive producer of Lee's forthcoming debut album. He also sings with Clarkson on recent duet "I Dream in Southern," a breezy Brandy Clark, Josh Osborne and Shane McAnally co-write. Other early career singles include the radio-friendly "Nothin' on You" and summertime anthem "Cooler Weather."
Marcus King sounds more like a soul singer than the Southern rocker from the Marcus King Band when he hits those high notes on "Young Man's Dream," "Sweet Mariona" and other throwbacks from recent solo album El Dorado. The first great Americana release of 2020 positions a familiar name to share a different side of his musical personality with fans of not just the Marcus King Band but also of producer Dan Auerbach and the other roots acts he's helped along the way.
You might recognize Alabama native Tiera Leftwich from her 2018 appearance on the USA Network singing competition Real Country or her roles in the Song Suffragettes' music videos for "Times Up" and Taylor Swift's "The Man." Over the past few years, she's shared her talents online through "Love You For That," "Wake Up Call" and other tracks that sound like a cross between Reba McEntire's twangier material and the pop-friendly story-songs of Kelsea Ballerini.
For Hailey Whitters, early 2020 brings an opportunity to open for country music legend and recent multi-Grammy award-winner Tanya Tucker as part of CMT's Next Women of Country Tour. In addition, the "Janice at the Hotel Bar" singer's next album The Dream (out Feb. 28) features co-writes with Lori McKenna, Hillary Lindsey, Nicolle Galyon and Brandy Clark.
Fans of classic country music and rockabilly already know the good word on Jenny Tolman. Throughout 2019 album There Goes the Neighborhood, she dishes out the cold, hard facts of life with the same veracity as Gretchen Wilson, Miranda Lambert and others who probably would've cut "High Class White Trash" and "Used to My Cooking" if they'd thought of them first.
Billy Strings' live presence in 2019 and the critical acclaim for recent album Home helped transform him from an artist to watch within bluegrass and folk circles to a breakout star with a much broader appeal. As Strings' reputation as a virtuoso guitarist has grown, he's been invited on stage to jam with the likes of Dierks Bentley and fellow Artist to Watch Marcus King.
-- Bobbie Jean Sawyer
Before Caylee Hammack came out swinging with her irresistible debut single "Family Tree," she was honing her sound at festivals across the U.S. and beneath the neon lights of Nashville's Broadway bars. The powerhouse Georgia native knows exactly who she is and what she wants to say and her peers in the industry have already taken notice. Hammack, who's currently working on her debut album, recently wrapped up a tour with Miranda Lambert and she'll hit the road with Luke Bryan this summer.
-- Bobbie Jean Sawyer