It truly is mind boggling that 2015 was a whopping seven years ago.
For me, I was just a senior in high school trying to figure out what in the hell I was gonna do with my life, and also in the midst of discovering the likes of Tyler Childers, Turnpike Troubadours, Sturgill Simpson, and more, after getting fed up with the overproduced, poorly written bullshit that was plaguing the radio of my tiny two door ’98 Toyota Tacoma.
Needless to say, at that point of my country music fandom, I wasn’t looking forward to the CMA Awards, because I knew it would be filled with a bunch of Brett Youngs, Dan + Shays, and Old Dominions, but there was one performer in particular that convinced me to tune in…
Make no mistake, Chris Stapleton was well-known in the country music community. Writing songs for artists like Kenny Chesney, Miranda Lambert, George Strait, Tim McGraw, Luke Bryan, and more, everybody in Nashville knew Chris Stapleton was the real deal. Dierks Bentley even called him “probably the best singer in the world,” all the way back in 2010.
But… he was still relatively unknown to the general public (unless you were a fan of The Steeldrivers or the Jompson Brothers). That all changed in 2015.
Chris released his stunning debut solo album Traveller in May of 2015, and while it did generate some good buzz, it fell off the Billboard 200 albums chart by September.
But it was enough to earn Chris a trip to the CMA Awards, where he was nominated for Album of the Year, New Artist of the Year, and Male Vocalist of the Year. He won all three.
I was nearly let down when I found out that Stapleton would be performing alongside pop star (and Tennessee native) Justin Timberlake. The CMAs LOVE to throw pop stars on the bill in the hopes that people who don’t like country music will tune in. They don’t, country music fans hate it, and nobody really wins… except this time.
The performance turned into something incredible, as Stapleton, his wife Morganne, and Timberlake put together one of the greatest duets I’d ever heard for “Tennessee Whiskey.”
Written by the great Dean Dillon and Linda Hargrove, “Tennessee Whiskey” was originally recorded by David Allan Coe and included as the title track to his 1981 album.
It peaked at just #77 on the U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles chart in 1981, though George Jones’ 1983 cover peaked at #2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles chart the year of its release.
But Chris gave it new life.
Traveller’s sales shot up over 6,000% and Chris has been on a rocket to the moon ever since. In fact, to this day, you can still find Traveller in the Top 10 on any country album sales chart at any given time. Even right now it sits at #8 on the iTunes country album charts, #10 on Billboard Country Albums, right there behind Zach Bryan, Luke Combs, Carrie Underwood and Tyler Childers… who all released their latest projects this year.
But more importantly, while we were neck deep in the pits of bro-country garbage, it set off a chain reaction that ultimately started to swing the pendulum back towards traditional country music.
Now here we are some seven years later, and we not only have the emergence of neo-traditional artists like Luke Combs, Jon Pardi, Ashley McBryde and Cody Johnson in the mainstream, but they’re having a ton of success.
And then outside of the mainstream, artists like Zach Bryan, Tyler Childers, Whiskey Myers, Cody Jinks and more are having the kind of success that some artists with #1 singles wish they could have.
And turning point was right here… at the CMA Awards of all places.