Zach Bryan, Flatland Cavalry, & More… Here’s Some Of Best Concerts I Saw In 2021

Zach Bryan country music
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Nothing beats live music.

After going through most of 2020 and the beginning of 2021 without concerts, live music is officially back and better than ever. And hopefully here to stay…

2020 was such a tough year for touring musicians, having to cancel and reschedule shows multiple times, releasing new music and not being able to tour on it, and in some cases, enduring financial struggles in the absence of touring income. While I’m sure the artists are glad to be back on the road, I know the fans are happy to be able to go to live shows and support their favorite artists.

In the wake of concerts returning this year, I have had a hard time turning down concerts whenever I come across them, and as a result, ended up hitting over 20 concerts over the course of the year. While my wallet isn’t thanking me, it has been an incredible year and I have gotten to see quite a few of my favorite bands for the first time, and in some cases, multiple times.

One of the highlights of this year was going to the Austin City Limits festival for the first time this fall, seeing rock band Greta Van Fleet, among other bands, put on an absolutely electrifying performance. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to catch Charley Crockett, George Strait, or any of the other country acts at the festival, but I was able to get my fair share of live country music this year otherwise.

I got to see bucket list shows like Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit playing at Appalachian State’s Kidd-Brewer Stadium and Caitlyn Smith, Eric Church, and George Strait playing at the Mercedes-Benz stadium in Atlanta, and they were incredible.

But as fun as the stadium and large amphitheater shows are, there’s nothing like catching an intimate show in a smaller venue, where you can actually see the people you came to hear.

With that being said, here are eight of the best bands and artists I saw live this year, all of whom should be at the top of everyone’s concert list for 2022. If you’re not familiar with their music, check them out.

Either way, everyone should make a point to see these live shows in the near future.

49 Winchester

49 Winchester has quickly become one of my favorite live bands, and I’m glad to have gotten to see them twice in 2021. The band based out of small town Castlewood, Virginia has been quietly growing their fan base across Appalachia and throughout the rest of the country, perfecting their craft as they go. The high energy, soulful performance the band puts on is one of the best in the business, and their beautifully genre-less sound is even better live than it is on Spotify.

Their shows are intimate, and in my experience the band has always stuck around when they can to meet their fans after the shows. They also have had very talented openers, with Nicholas Jamerson opening the first time I saw them and Wayne Graham playing the second show.

Led by frontman Isaac Gibson, 49 Winchester is a must see in 2022 as I’m sure they will be hitting as many venues as they can to spread their incredible music and add to their dedicated fan base. They’ve already got quite a few shows listed on their website, and are playing a run of shows with Cole Chaney supporting them at the beginning of the year that I am looking forward to.

Here they are opening up for Whiskey Myers in Denver not too long ago.

American Aquarium

I don’t know how it took me until the beginning of December to see American Aquarium for the first time, but better late than never.

Everybody knows frontman BJ Barham is one of the best songwriters in the business, but the North Carolina-based American Aquarium is one of the best live bands out there too. I already can’t wait to see them again.

Despite many of their songs being slow and sad, they put on a full blown rock and roll show that any music fan will appreciate. BJ was very appreciative of the fans that came out and saw him, and stayed to take pictures and sign autographs after the show. Hearing opener Tommy Prine sing some originals and his late father’s classic “Paradise” was a highlight of the show as well.

With all the anticipation of their upcoming 9th studio album Chicamacomico, I’m sure these road warriors will be coming to a venue near you, so you ought to have them at the top of your concert bucket list for 2022. While they haven’t announced too many 2022 shows yet, AA’s 7th annual “Roadtrip to Raleigh” is taking place February 3-5 at Raleigh’s Lincoln Theater, and as always, the lineup is killer.

On the first night they are joined by the Old 97’s, play with Aaron Lee Tasjan the next day, and finish things off with a sold out show accompanied by Zach Bryan. Hopefully I’ll be able to make the road trip one of these years.

Here’s a throwback of them playing one of my favorites, “Burn. Flicker. Die.” at the Lincoln Theater nine years ago.

Charles Wesley Godwin

I got to see Charles Wesley Godwin play back in July, a few months before he released one of the best albums of 2021 with How The Mighty Fall. Following a great performance from his opener Taylor Alexander, CWG’s band set the tone early with a rowdy entrance to Ray Wiley Hubbard’s “Snake Farm.” They went on to rock when the song allowed for it, but slowed down for stripped down performances of songs like “Seneca Creek.”

One of Appalachia’s next superstar’s in the making, following in the footsteps of greats like Tyler Childers and Sturgill Simpson, CWG’s appealingly gravelly voice, fascinating storytelling ability, and top-tier lyricism make his music hard to beat. When paired with a great band and a captivating stage presence, it makes for one of the best shows in country music.

Coming off of a stint supporting Zach Bryan, CWG has a number of headlining shows scheduled for January, and I’m sure more 2022 shows are to come. Make seeing him a priority this year, he won’t disappoint.

“Lyin’ Low” is one of the best songs off of his new album, and although there isn’t a full band video of it out there to really do his shows justice, here’s a video of him playing it live.

Flatland Cavalry

Flatland Cavalry really shouldn’t need an introduction anymore. These guys are on their way to superstardom as one of the fastest growing country bands out there, and as one would expect, they put on a great show too. I saw them for the second time this fall on their Welcome to Countryland Tour, and they were even better than the first time I had seen them.

Hearing that they had been playing a “Long Hot Summer Day” cover at a lot of their shows, I may have gotten a little obnoxious yelling for it by the end of the show, but everyone understood when they broke out into an incredible performance of the Turnpike Troubadours hit. That was just the icing on the cake, though, following an incredible set of originals by one of one of the best bands in the business.

I love it when artists tell the stories about the band, their favorite artists, or of how songs came to be, and frontman Cleto Cordero does a great job of this throughout his shows. More so than just about anyone else I have seen, Cleto has a way of connecting with his fans that few others possess. Everybody knows how talented of a songwriter and singer Cleto is, but the other members of the band are always spectacular and fiddle player Wesley Hall is always one of the best part of their live shows.

Here they are delivering an amazing performance of “Come Back Down.”

They have quite a few shows already announced for 2022 that will take them all across the country and all the way to Europe, but hopefully they announce some more shows. Everyone needs to see them play this year.

Mike and the Moonpies

I knew I liked some of Mike and the Moonpies’ more popular songs, but hadn’t considered myself to be a true fan until I saw them live and realized I had to dive deeper into their music. I saw them play a free show in Hendersonville, North Carolina, where they blocked off a portion of Main Street for the Hendersonville Rhythm and Brews Concert Series, and I didn’t know what to expect seeing them in a small town far from their home state.

The Kenny George Band kicked it off for them and there was also a surprise appearance from Jonathan Terrell as he came on stage for a couple of songs with the band. As is the case most times, I was pleasantly surprised to see a great turn out and a lot of Mike & the Moonpies fans who actually knew their music and weren’t just there for all of the great local beers being served. Nevertheless, the Moonpies definitely won over a good amount of new fans that night.

Led by Mike Harmeier, Mike and the Moonpies is an Austin, Texas, based band who, by all means should be bigger than they are. With a whiskey-soaked sound that seems like it could permeate cigarette smoke, the Moonpies are the epitome of a honky tonk band and will take you back in time with their music and style. If you haven’t already, check out their newest album One To Grow On, another one of the best albums of 2021, and make it a priority to catch them live in 2022. I know I will, I’m just waiting for them to announce some more shows in the U.S.

Shane Smith & The Saints

Following my discovery of bands like Turnpike Troubadours and Whiskey Myers when I was a freshman in high school, one of the first bands I really got into from the Texas/Red Dirt music scenes were Shane Smith & the Saints.

Getting to see them over six years later this past November, at one of my favorite venues in The Grey Eagle in Asheville, North Carolina, was a long time coming. They blew the roof off the place on Tuesday night, and it was one of my favorite concerts of the year. Following an awesome opening set from Jonathan Terrell, Shane Smith & the Saints came out in unique fashion, jamming to what I believe was a Scottish battle song. And it was awesome.

They played all their hits, a couple new songs that will be on an upcoming album, and announced that their song “All I See Is You” would make an appearance on the next Yellowstone episode, which was great to see. Towards the end of an amazing performance, they too played Turnpike’s “Long Hot Summer Day” before their set was done.

The whole band was spectacular, but Shane Smith proved to be one of the greatest frontmen in all of music, and Bennett Brown one of the best fiddle players I have seen in his iconic Carhartt overalls.

They don’t have too many shows announced yet for 2022, but keep an eye out, and make sure to catch a Shane Smith & the Saints show this year.

The Vegabonds

Based out of Nashville, Tennessee, The Vegabonds are a genre-bending band that combines elements of country, blues, and rock into an act reminiscent of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. They formed at Auburn University and have been perfecting their music and live shows for over a decade now, and it has paid off. I saw them twice this year, and they absolutely killed it both times.

The first time I saw them they were joined by Womz (Daniel Womack of Futurebirds), who was great too. The second time they were joined by a newer rock band formed at Auburn, The Stews, who may just be the next big rock band to come out of the college scene.

The Vegabonds, though, led by Daniel Allen, have a deep catalog of southern rock songs ranging from sad slow downs to air guitar-warranting jams. But mostly, their songs just make you want to sing along and have a good time, which makes for a great concert atmosphere. Touring on their 2021 album Sinners and Saints, the band has a decent amount of shows planned for the beginning of 2022, and more show announcements are bound to be coming out soon. Be on the lookout.

Here they are playing my favorite, “Colorado Evergreen” for Jam in the Van last month.

Zach Bryan

I saw Zach Bryan play with Carolina Panthers star running back on the piano as part of McCaffrey’s 22 and Troops Benefit Concert at The Fillmore Charlotte. At the time, Zach Bryan had played very few concerts, and if I remember correctly this may have even been his first show with a full band behind him. This historic performance blew my expectations away, and ended up being the best concert I’ve ever attended, so hopefully he returns to the Carolinas in 2022.

Given that it was one of Zach’s first concerts, in a city with no particular allegiance to him, I didn’t completely know what type of turn out to expect. I knew Zach was a rising superstar who deserved to be recognized as one of the best in the game, but I honestly expected most people to be there for McCaffrey or to maybe know a couple of Zach’s more popular songs. I could not have been more wrong.

We got to the venue 45 minutes before doors opened thinking that would be plenty early for us to get a spot in the front, but instead we probably walked close to a quarter mile before we got to the end of the line. I have never been to a concert where the fans were so excited about the artist and into their music. Everyone in attendance knew every word to every song, not just the popular ones, and Zach could not have been more appreciative of the support. It was a beautiful thing.

Zach was still active duty in the Navy at the time too, so it made perfect sense for him to be playing this military tribute. Behind him on stage was a slideshow with pictures of fallen soldiers, the crowd broke out into multiple “USA” chants, and Zach performed a live cover of Jason Isbell’s “Dress Blues,” which made for an incredibly patriotic concert just days before the July 4th holiday. Having one of the best NFL players in the league on the piano, hitting a killer solo during the final song “Revival,” just made it all the more special.

As Zach hopefully begins to play more shows in 2022, I highly recommend seeing him now while he plays smaller venues. In a year or two, you may only be able to afford the nosebleeds.

Here he is playing “Heading South” from that incredible night in Charlotte back in July.

What a year it has been for concerts. If you get the opportunity, don’t miss out on a chance to see any of these acts.

I’ll be trying to see all these again, and have already secured tickets for Read Southall Band, 49 Winchester with Cole Chaney, Parker McCollum, and Josh Abbott Band for 2022, and can’t wait to see what other shows I’ll be able to make. Hoping to find a Morgan Wade show nearby, too.

And of course, can’t wait for Turnpike at Red Rocks. Talk about a bucket list show. May 14th can’t come soon enough…

At least, for some of us…

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