My 2022 Year-End Country Music Awards: Nominees

Bonnaroo Lineup country music

CMAs, ACMs… these country music awards just don’t do it for me.

Sure, they can be entertaining to watch at times, and every once in a while someone deserving will get an award, but they never actually capture much, if any, of the year’s best music. I could go on and on about the problems I have with these big awards shows and the way they represent country music, but that’s a conversation for another time.

In an effort to recognize the best music of the year, and not just the music that has had the most commercial success, I’ve decided to do my own 2022 end of year awards. I’m not creative enough to come up with a good name for these, so unless anyone comes up with some good suggestions, we’re rocking without an official name for these unofficial yet important awards.

These opinions are completely my own and admittedly biased to my personal music taste, so as a result, I’m sure many of your favorite artists have been left out. There are plenty of artists who won’t be mentioned that are deserving of recognition, but I did my best to narrow each category down to five nominations. Many of the award categories I’ve included are presented at the major awards shows, and several others are new categories that I felt were necessary to include.

For most of these categories, I only included artists who released new music in 2022, but this criteria was not as relevant for a few of them. I also excluded anything and anyone that was nominated for a particular award in one of the bigger commercial awards shows, so Lainey Wilson and Ashley McBryde will not be included as nominees for Female Artist of the Year, for example.

Without further ado, now that all of the criteria is on the table and disclaimers are out of the way, here are the categories and accompanying nominations for my 2022 end of the year awards.

Many are self explanatory, but I have provided some extra color where necessary.

Check the award categories and nominees below:

Breakthrough Artist

A lot of artists had huge breakthroughs this year. Among others, Zach Bryan has become a household name and Parker McCollum has had several songs on the radio, but both artists had relatively large and established followings coming into 2022. For the purposes of these awards, though, the “Breakthrough Artist of the Year” award goes to the artist who may not have been known by too many outside of their region or the specific space within the country music that they occupied, yet have taken major strides in terms of advancing their career and growing their fanbase this year.

That’s not to say that the nominees below didn’t have passionate fan bases a year ago, because that couldn’t be further from the truth, but they have broken through to new levels this year that the casual fan of good country music may not have seen coming. Many of these artists have gone from a perennial opening act to selling out headlining gigs across the country.

49 Winchester
Charles Wesley Godwin
Kolby Cooper
Morgan Wade
Randall King

Comeback Artist

These bands and artists have all made comebacks in some capacity in 2022. Whether that be returning from an indefinite hiatus, getting the band back together, recording the first album in a long time, or whatever else it may be, I’m glad to have them back.

John Fullbright
Sundy Best
Turnpike Troubadours
Tyler Childers
Uncle Lucius

New Artist of the Year

To qualify for this category, I limited it to artists or bands who either released their debut albums this year, or began releasing music on official streaming platforms for the first time this year.

Calder Allen
Logan Halstead
Palmer Anthony
Red Clay Strays
Tommy Prine

Concert of the Year

I didn’t attend any of these shows, but looking back on the year, these are the concerts that seemed to have had something particularly special about them. Whether that be the circumstances surrounding the show, the atmosphere, their impact on the country music scene, or something else, all of these shows were special.

Away from the Shire (Billy Strings’ three night Halloween run) – Arena – Asheville, NC – 10/29/22-10/31/22
Kentucky Rising (Chris Stapleton, Dwight Yoakam, Tyler Childers raising money for Eastern Kentucky flood relief and recovery) – Rupp Arena – Lexington, KY – 10/11/22
Robert Earl Keen’s Final Shows (Robert Earl Keen, Eric Church, James McMurtry, David Beck’s Tejano Weekend, and many, many more special guests) – Floore’s Country Store – Helotes, TX – 9/3/22-9/4/22
Turnpike Troubadours Return (Turnpike Troubadours, Vandoliers) – Cain’s Ballroom – Tulsa, OK – 4/8/22-4/9/22
Zach Bryan’s Snow Show (Zach Bryan, Charles Wesley Godwin, Jonathan & Abigail Peyton) Red Rocks Amphitheater – Morrison, CO – 11/3/22)

Group of the Year

49 Winchester
American Aquarium
Giovannie & the Hired Guns
Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway
Whiskey Myers

Duo of the Year

There aren’t as many options for best duo of the year as there were for most other categories, but this top-heavy category was still necessary to include. In my opinion, there are two clear cut leaders in this category, and the only other ones worth including were nominated for this award on some of the bigger awards shows, so we’re going with quality over quantity here.

Muscadine Bloodline
Sundy Best

EP of the Year

Raging in the Dark – J.R. Carroll
Songs I’ll Never Play Again – Caleb Lee Hutchinson
Songs To Keep You Warm – Flatland Cavalry
Walk Home – EP – Drayton Farley
West Texas is the Best Texas – The Panhandlers

Live Album of the Year

All My Homies Hate Ticketmaster (Live From Red Rocks) – Zach Bryan
Cody Johnson & the Rockin’ CJB Live – Cody Johnson
Live at Brookly Bowl Nashville – Randall King
Live at Budokan – Willie Nelson
Live From an Undisclosed Location in Hays Kansas – Ward Davis

Tribute Album of the Year

Dirt Does Dylan – Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
JERRY JEFF – Steve Earle
Kenny Rogers: All in for the Gambler – All Star Concert Celebration (Live) – Various Artists
Live Forever: A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver – Various Artists
Something Borrowed, Something New: A Tribute to John Anderson – Various Artists

Album of the Year

American Heartbreak – Zach Bryan
Crooked Tree – Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway
Fortune Favors the Bold – 49 Winchester
This Mess We’re In – Arlo McKinley
What Else Can She Do – Kaitlin Butts

Featured Collaboration of the Year

In the CMA’s, they call this “Musical Event” of the year, but since it is pretty much just the best song that features two artists who generally perform and record separate from each other, we’re just going to call it “Feature of the Year.”

“Beautiful Lies (Live at the Panhandle House)” – Tanner Usrey ft. Graycie York
“Dooley’s Farm” – Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway ft. Billy Strings (Crooked Tree)
“Jamie” – Zach Bryan ft. Charles Wesley Godwin (Summertime Blues)
“Middle of America” Hailey Whitters ft. American Aquarium (Raised)
“Parallel” – Flatland Cavalry ft. Ashley Monroe (Songs To Keep You Warm)

Crossover Collaboration of the Year

This category is for songs in which a country artist has teamed up with an artist known for their work in other genres to make a song together.

“Gunsmoke Blues” – Buddy Guy ft. Jason Isbell (The Blues Don’t Lie)
“I Was Born to Love You” – Ray LaMontagne ft. Sierra Ferrell
“Ramon Ayala” – Giovanie & the Hired Guns ft. Bo Bundy
“Road Trip” – Cory Wong ft. Billy Strings (Power Station)
“The Last One” – Dropkick Murphys ft. Evan Felker (This Machine Still Kills Fascists)

Musician of the Year

I don’t know enough about the ins and outs of music to know what makes one fiddler better than the other, but I like to think I know good music when I hear it. With that being said, this category is really just some of the musicians who are not frontmen or women for their band but have blown me away when I have seen them live this year.

Bennett Brown of Shane Smith & the Saints (Fiddle)
Chloe Edmonstone of John R. Miller & the Engine Lights (Fiddle)
Kyle Nix of Turnpike Troubadours (Fiddle)
Tim Hall of 49 Winchester (Piano, Organ, Keys)
Zachary Moultain of Mike and the Moonpies (Steel Guitar)

Music Video of the Year

“Angel Band (Jubilee Version)” – Tyler Childers
Baker Hotel Trilogy (“Baker Hotel,” “All You Got,” “Best Friends”) – William Clark Green
If I was a Cowboy” – Miranda Lambert
“John Wayne” – Whiskey Myers
“Wait in the Truck” Hardy ft. Lainey Wilson

Cover of the Year

In an effort to narrow down the options, this category excludes covers that were simply posted to YouTube or social media. All of these covers were recorded and released to streaming platforms as singles or as part of a larger project.

“Angels Like You” – Kaitlin Butts (Miley Cyrus)
“Cowboys Don’t Cry” – Robert Earl Keen (Oliver Tree)
“I’m A Ram” – Chris Stapleton (Al Green)
“Maybe It Was Memphis” – Rob Baird (Pam Tillis)
“Suspicious Minds” – Morgan Wade (Elvis Presley)

Single of the Year

We’re gonna take a different approach with this. For the purposes of these awards, “Single of the Year” goes to the best song released as a single that has not since been included on an album, EP, or any sort of larger project. I’m sure some of these will be included on albums at some point, but as of now, they are out as singles

“Bleed For You” – Kat Hasty
“Burn, Burn, Burn” – Zach Bryan
“Hummingbird” – Shane Smith & the Saints
“Me On You” – Muscadine Bloodline
“Wait in the Truck” – Hardy ft. Lainey Wilson

Song of the Year

“Creeps” – Koe Wetzel (Hell Paso)
“Heart You’ve Been Tendin’ (Hallelujah Version)” – Tyler Childers (Can I Take My Hounds To Heaven?)
“Run” – Morgan Wade ( Reckless (Deluxe Edition) )
“Russell County Line” – 49 Winchester (Fortune Favors the Bold)
“Something in the Orange” – Zach Bryan (American Heartbreak)

Songwriter of the Year

This award goes to the artists whose lyrics I enjoy the most. Their music may not have the most commercial appeal, but they put the music first and write for the sake of the song.

Arlo McKinley
Benjamin Tod (Lost Dog Street Band)
BJ Barham (American Aquarium)
Courtney Patton
Ian Noe

Female Artist of the Year

Caroline Spence
Hailey Whitters
Kaitlin Butts
Kelsey Waldon
Morgan Wade

Male Artist of the Year

Billy Strings
Charley Crockett
Marcus King
Tyler Childers
Zach Bryan

Entertainer of the Year

This one goes out to the best overall individual artist of the year, male or female. Since “Band of the Year” is a separate category, any bands are excluded from consideration for the Entertainer and Male and Female Artists of the Year awards. There’s definitely a gray area here since everyone has a backing band, whether they tour and record under their solo name or not. To make things simple, these are all artists who tour and record under their solo name.

Billy Strings
Charley Crockett
Hailey Whitters
Kaitlin Butts
Zach Bryan

Stay tuned over the next few days, my winners for each category will be announced soon!

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock