Nothing beats live music. And luckily, I was able to see a lot of it this year.
For the first several months of 2021, live music was still hard to come by as venues and artists tried to navigate their way out of the pandemic and back onto the stage. 2022 has been the first full year of live music since 2019, and it seems as if music fans, and artists, are not taking that for granted anymore.
I know I’m not, at least. By the end of this year, I will have caught over 45 shows, and every single one was well worth it.
As 2023 approaches and this year is coming to an end, I’ve thought back through each concert I’ve attended this year and composed a list of my top 20 shows of 2022. While the music at every show I went to this year was incredible, several other factors played into these rankings – venue, atmosphere, circumstance, among other factors, all contribute to making a concert great.
The bottom line is, though, that live music is fun for everyone and getting out and catching a show is one of the best ways to support your favorite artists and venues.
I recommend you make seeing your favorite artists a priority in 2023, and if any of the acts I’ve listed below are coming to a venue near you, go check them out!
Without further ado, here are the best concerts I saw in 2022…
20. James McMurtry, Jesse Dayton (The Continental Club – Austin, TX)
The son of Larry McMurtry, a legendary Western novelist known for the Lonesome Dove books, James McMurtry has paved his own way throughout his career yet still managed to carry on his family’s writing tradition.
\McMurtry played a well-received set, mostly off of his must-listen 2021 album The Horses and the Hounds, to a packed house at one of Austin’s most legendary venues.
19. Courtney Patton, Taylor Hunnicutt (The Evening Muse – Charlotte, NC)
Taylor Hunnicutt and Courtney Patton showed off their songwriting chops in two laid back, intimate, acoustic sets that featured conversations with the crowd and taking requests. This made for a cool show experience that you won’t get in many other venues than The Evening Muse.
18. John R. Miller, Taylor Kingman (Neighborhood Theatre – Charlotte, NC)
Taylor Kingman, frontman of TK & the Holy Know-Nothings, played an intimate acoustic set before John R. Miller and his band burned the stage down with a fiddle-heavy Appalachian country music attack for the ages.
17. Koe Wetzel, Bones Owens, Justin Champagne (Charlotte Metro Credit Union Amphitheatre – Charlotte, NC)
If you haven’t seen Koe yet, you need to change that. The shows keep getting wilder, and he implemented pyrotechnics into his show on this tour. I saw him the night of his Hell Paso album release, so that made the anticipation of the show even better.
16. American Aquarium, Time Sawyer, Sam Foster & the Obsolete (The Ramkat – Winston-Salem, NC)
An all NC lineup that did the Tar Heel State proud in one of our state’s great newer venues. I caught this show just a few weeks before AA released Chicamacomico, one of my favorite albums of the year, so hearing some of those unreleased tracks was pretty sweet.
15. Zach Bryan, Charles Wesley Godwin (Virginia Credit Union Live! At Richmond Raceway – Richmond, VA)
This one probably would have found itself higher in the rankings if it weren’t for weather delays shortening CWG’s set to 3 songs and Zach’s by several songs as well. Despite these less than ideal circumstances, though, both acts brought the house down and were able to make the most of the show.
Zach wrote “Motorcycle Drive By” on his way to this show and performed it in front of a crowd for the first time about a month before the song landed on his Summertime Blues album.
“Reading poetry under shade trees That woman, she’s my baby I will be in Richmond by tonight With so much shame inside me I just want to hide me But they want to hear me sing my songs under lights…”
I wrote motorcycle drive by in Ashland, Kentucky behind an RV right before Richmond!
14. Lost Dog Street Band, Willi Carlisle (Neighborhood Theatre – Charlotte, NC)
Man, am I glad I was able to catch Benjamin Tod and his Lost Dog Street band before they began their current hiatus from touring. A spectacular storyteller and songwriter who has lived through quite a life, you can feel Tod’s authenticity when you see him perform live and the three-piece Lost Dog Street Band plays perfectly together.
Willi Carlisle opened the show a week before the release of his Peculiar, Missouri album, and that guy can entertain.
13. Read Southall Band (The Grey Eagle – Asheville, NC)
Due to a weeknight slot on the heels of a western North Carolina snow storm, the Read Southall Band probably didn’t get the turnout they had hoped for this night at The Grey Eagle. Nevertheless, they killed their set, and being in a smaller crowd made for a cool fan experience.
These guys had been on my bucket list for quite some time now, and their live performance was even better than I expected. They were nice to talk to fans after the show, too, despite the disappointing turnout. They recently announced their return to The Grey Eagle, so hopefully they’ll get a packed out room this time. They deserve it!
12. Giovannie and the Hired Guns, Blame My Youth (Amos’ Southend – Charlotte, NC)
When Giovannie and the Hired Guns came out teasing Pantera’s “Cowboy from Hell” you knew you were in for a show. They rocked through their set that included covers of Hinder’s “Lips of an Angel,” Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks,” and Ramon Ayala, the namesake of their hit song.
Hearing a preview of their since-released Tejano Punk Boyz album was awesome, and they are the only band I’ve seen bring a tuba out on stage. Giovannie Yanez is one of the most entertaining frontmen I’ve ever seen.
My first experience in what has become one of my favorite venues, I was further convinced after this show that Cole Chaney is one of the most underrated artists in country music. And 49 Winchester absolutely killed it, but what’s new?
10. American Aquarium, Margo Cilker (River Road Ice House – New Braunfels, TX)
This venue was awesome, highly recommend checking it out if you find yourselves in the awesome city of New Braunfels, TX. Of course, it doesn’t hurt when you have Margo Cilker and the great American Aquarium gracing your stage.
If I recall correctly, frontman BJ Barham said on stage that the last time he played the River Road Ice House was opening for Turnpike, so that was cool.
9. Greenville Country Music Fest (CCNB Amphitheatre at Heritage Park – Simpsonville, SC)
Generally, I prefer a small venue over a big music festival, but I had an amazing experience at Greenville Country Music Fest. With one of the best festival lineups of the year, GCMF was a well-run event and should be on everyone’s festival bucket list next year.
Acts I saw: Carter Faith, Charles Wesley Godwin, Stoney LaRue, Ernest, Zach Bryan, The Dirty Roses, 49 Winchester, James Tucker, Larry Fleet, Flatland Cavalry, Marshall Tucker Band, Turnpike Troubadours.
8. Mike and the Moonpies, Vandoliers (Amos’ Southend – Charlotte, NC)
The Vandoliers throw on one of the wildest and most entertaining shows out there, easily validating their self-proclaimed title as “your favorite punk band’s favorite country band.” I was pumped to see them for the first time, and they didn’t disappoint.
Mike and the Moonpies continued to prove themselves as a steel soaked honky tonk force to be reckoned with, but the highlight of the show came when Jason Eady made a surprise appearance on stage to sing Randy Travis’ “Diggin’ Up Bones” with the Moonpies.
7. Willie Nelson (with Lukas Nelson), Nathaniel Rateliff & the Nightsweats, Billy Strings, Charley Crockett, Larkin Poe, Particle Kid (PNC Amphitheatre – Charlotte, NC)
I had to jump on the opportunity to see Willie Nelson while I can, and it was well worth it. This lineup was hard to beat, too. Billy Strings was great as always, and I was able to check Charley Crockett and Nathan Rateliff off the bucket list as well. Willie’s son Lukas Nelson joined him on stage to sing a setlist full of his classic country songs, and it’s pretty amazing Shotgun Willie is still performing for his fans.
49 Winchester has been the hottest band in country music this year, in my opinion. The Appalachian soul outfit toured heavily in 2022 promoting their fourth album Fortune Favors the Bold, adding to their passionate fanbase and playing bigger and bigger shows as the year went on. I was able to catch these guys several times this year, and twice at the Neighborhood Theatre, one of my favorite venues out there.
When I saw 49 play this venue for the first time back in February, all six members packed onto the Neighborhood Theatre’s smaller side-room stage and played in front of a relatively crowded room of fans old and new, all excited to be witnessing a great show. But when I saw them play again nine months later, they packed the mainstage of the theater out with probably 4x as many fans and the buzz was palpable – everyone knew they were taking part in something special.
Drayton Farley has been on my bucket list for a long time, too, and he was incredible live. It’s not easy for an artist to command a room that big with just their voice and an acoustic guitar, but Farley did it, no problem.
5. Whiskey Myers, Shane Smith & the Saints, 49 Winchester (Charlotte Metro Credit Union Amphitheatre – Charlotte, NC)
In my opinion, this was the best touring lineup of the summer. 49 Winchester opened up the show and Shane Smith & the Saints followed them. The only time I was able to see Shane Smith & the Saints this year, they built on the energy 49 Winchester started with and set the stage perfectly with their high energy show for a spectacular Whiskey Myers set.
Just a few weeks before the release of their sixth album Tornillo, the East Texas country rockers played a setlist that transitioned seamlessly between their hits, some deep cuts, and a few new and unreleased Tornillo tracks. Jack of all trades band member Tony Kent surprised the audience with a “Wonderwall” cover, and then they closed out the show with an iconic cover of Tom Petty’s 1980 classic “Refugee” in the pouring rain.
4. Cody Canada & the Departed, Them Dirty Roses (The Grey Eagle – Asheville, NC)
Cross Canadian Ragweed is my second favorite band of all time, only behind the band that took the top spot on this list. While I will probably never get to see them live, seeing Cody Canada & the Departed, and Jeremy Plato who played bass in Ragweed as well, play a Ragweed heavy setlist is about as good as it gets.
Them Dirty Roses rocked their set, as always, and each member made individual appearances with The Departed throughout the show until both bands took the stage for a jam on Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” to close out the show. The Grey Eagle is another one of my favorite venues out there, too.
3. Robert Earl Keen, John R. Miller (The Ramkat – Winston-Salem, NC)
To be honest, I wasn’t too familiar with most of Robert Earl Keen’s music before I bought tickets to catch him halfway through his legendary 40+ show “I’m Comin’ Home” farewell tour. I knew and liked several of his more popular songs, but it was the fact that tons of my favorite artists cite REK as a major influence on their songwriting that made me figure I needed to catch him while I had the chance. And I am so glad I did.
REK brought the house down with a long set of classic originals, a few well chosen covers, and the spectacular storytelling that Keen has mastered in his 41 years on the road. All in all, it was an all time performance by one of the all time greats and his band, and was by far one of my favorite concerts of the year.
Didn’t hurt that he had John R. Miller opening things up, either.
2. Billy Strings (Red Rocks Amphitheatre – Morrison, CO)
My first Billy Strings show and my first time at Red Rocks did not disappoint. Perhaps the perfect place to see a Billy Strings show, the venue, views, and people blew my high expectations out of the water. The best guitarist I’ve ever seen live, Billy Strings shredded two sets as the sun set over Denver in my second favorite concert of 2022.
I only ended up there by chance, too. I already had tickets to Red Rocks the night after this show when it was announced, so it was easy to make this one work. Looking forward to catching a couple more Billy shows in March, one of the best concerts you can catch.
When I said the music, the venue, and the circumstances surrounding the show, among others, are the most important factors in differentiating between shows, this one is the perfect example.
If y’all remember, this was the first show Turnpike announced as they returned from their hiatus. My favorite band making their long-awaited comeback at the coolest venue I’ve been to? Easy decision for my favorite concert of the year.
It’s not quite over yet, though. I’ll be ending 2022 strong making my Ryman Auditorium debut (as a fan, of course) in Nashville for Old Crow Medicine Show and Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway on New Year’s Eve, but that’ll have to be in next year’s rankings.
Shows may be slowing down as artists head home to spend the holidays with their families, but there are still plenty of opportunities for live music over the next few weeks. Go out there and see your favorite bands and explore some new venues. If you can’t find any opportunities before 2022 ends, most artists have already announced tours for 2023, so there are plenty of opportunities to come.