Chances are if you like country music you're a fan of a Kentucky artist or two (or three). With artists like Chris Stapleton, The Judds, Sturgill Simpson, Carly Pearce, Keith Whitley, Loretta Lynn, Tyler Childers and others calling the Commonwealth home, some of the best country musicians past and present hail from the Bluegrass State.
However, the state's creative talent isn't just limited to country music. Rock bands like My Morning Jacket, Cage the Elephant, bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe and rappers Jack Harlow and Nappy Roots all come from here as well. From Ashland in the Appalachian Mountain in the east end of the state to Monkey's Eyebrow at the foothills of the midwestern heartland in the west, every corner of the state is rich in musical talent.
As a means of uncovering the next crop of Kentucky's musical stars I've gathered my top 10 up-and-coming Kentucky bred acts that you need to start listening to now including Cole Chaney, Phoebe White and Sydney Adams, among others.
Fresh off the release of her five song A Lot Like You EP, Corbin, Ky. 's Sydney Adams is a force to be reckoned with. With fierce lyrics to go along with a fiery voice reminiscent of Shania Twain and other badass women who dominated '90s country, Adams new EP mixes confessionals like "A Lot Like You" and "Sad Song" with raging country rock numbers like "It Never Was" and a honky tonky reinterpretation of Lorde's hit song "Royals." Just like mainstream country stars like Maren Morris and Kacey Musgraves, Adams covers a lot of ground with both her songwriting and pop sensibility, no doubt also aided by a powerhouse voice that no doubt deserves a shot on some of Nashville's (and elsewhere's) biggest stages.
Led by Northern Kentucky born brothers Wesley (guitar, keys, vocals) and Aaron Smith (fiddle, vocals), the now Lexington based Brother Smith are one of the state's most versatile groups on the rise, covering everything from country to rock, pop and soul. Just as flexible is the band's lineup, which at times features only the two brothers as an intimate, harmony driven duo and others a full-fledged rock'n soul band equipped with drums, horns, additional harmonies from Amberly Caddell, making every Brother Smith show fresh and different than the last. This dichotomy is exemplified perfectly in their latest single "Spencer Co. Wine," which showcases Wesley's songwriting prowess stripped back with only an acoustic guitar, a far cry from action-packed fan favorite songs like "Happy Tune."
Often compared to fellow Eastern Kentucky natives Tyler Childers and Sturgill Simpson, Ashland-born artist Cole Chaney burst onto the scene in 2021 with his album Mercy, which has accumulated over 3,000,000 Spotify streams and sprouted countless opportunities for the artist to perform, leaving his old job as a traveling welder behind. At just 22 years old, the artist has already received support from some of the region's most respected musicians like Michael Cleveland — a fiddle virtuoso who played on Chaney's debut album — and Wolfpen Branch — a bluegrass supergroup that has helped to promote Chaney and even act as his band for several shows, further reinforcing his position as one of Kentucky's top rising acts.
A little bit Carly Pearce and a little bit Loretta Lynn, Abby Hamilton is a captivating southern belle with a warble as elegant as they come. Fresh off appearing at Luck Reunion and playing shows with Ruston Kelly and The Judds, Hamilton has a new album recorded and on the back burner that she plans to unveil over the coming months, further cementing her as one of the state's premiere vocal and songwriting talents.
From Muhlenberg County in Western Kentucky but now calling Nashville home, Grayson Jenkins is as earnest and vivid a storyteller as they come. His songwriting is revered so much locally that it often draws comparisons to John Prine, who put Jenkins' home county on the map with his iconic song "Paradise." When Jenkins isn't crafting his own songs around wisdom bestowed on him by a homeless man or that glamorize his home state, he's often paying tribute to pioneers before him like Prine, Kris Kristofferson and fellow Kentuckian Greg Austin. With influences like these, it's easy to see why Jenkins songwriting is so prolific and authentic.
Cody Lee Meece
The South Central Kentucky creative hub of Somerset is home to Cody Lee Meece, a country fried rock'n roller who incorporates the sounds of Waylon Jennings, Jimi Hendrix and Merle Haggard into one. After heading to Nashville at the ripe age of 18 to chase his dream—ultimately failing and living on the streets for a short time—the humbled Meece taps into an insatiable grit and perseverance with his music that will pull at your heartstrings one moment and have you one your feet dancing with joy the next. His newly released Death Before Pop Country EP upholds this notion with fuzzed out rock anthems like "Big Bad Luv" next to tear in your beer tunes like "Fall In The Fire."
A former contestant on season 12 of NBC's The Voice who hails from Bath County less than an hour east of Lexington, Branden Martin possesses one of the biggest and most soulful voices you'll find anywhere in the state. Drawing comparisons to Chris Stapleton both with his vocal style and range and knack for songwriting about everyday life in his home state, Martin is a star in the making. Known for his easy going personality, "Martin Music Monday" livestreams and coined phrase "shoot yeah," Martin is just here to play music and have a good time, something you're sure to do as well whenever you hear him perform.
From the Northern Kentucky enclave of Kenton County, Nat Myers music sends listeners on a journey back to the early days of country blues with his down to Earth storytelling and exquisite resonator guitar pickin'. After making an impression earlier this year at his Merlefest debut and opening for the likes of Langhorne Slim, Vincent Neil Emerson and The Record Company, Myers is set to take his quick wit and old-timey riffs to Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion and AmericanaFest later this year, where he's sure to continue his momentum by intoxicating new fans with his sounds of yesteryear.
The Local Honeys
Winners of the Chris Young Songwriting Competition at Merlefest in 2017, The Local Honeys have been trailblazing from Kentucky and beyond with an empowering blend of old-time music that pays homage to the past while also looking ahead to how we can do better for our future. Led by Linda Jean Stokley (guitar, fiddle, vocals) and Montana Hobbs (banjo, vocals), the group has slowly transitioned from being a duo to having more of an electric, full band sound on their forthcoming self-titled album out July 15. Wielding tight harmonies and even tighter arrangements with the backing help of Tyler Childers' band on the record, the group continues to evolve while also staying ahead of the curve every step of the way.
A 12-year-old yodeling Queen from London, Phoebe White is a country darlin' who will make your jaw drop to the floor with her incredible vocal gymnastics, at least that's what happened in March when she shared the stage of Woodsongs Old-Time Radio Hour in Lexington with members of The Black Opry. Deeply rooted in the tradition of country and old-time music from artists like Roy and Dale, Patsy Cline, Jimmie Rogers, White's youthful charm and indelible yodeling are unmatched and sure to carry her on to a prosperous career.
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