My 2022 Year-End Country Music Awards: Winners

Zach Bryan Billy Strings country music

Things are definitely looking up for country music.

There were some deserving artists who won big time awards this year, some non-mainstream songs have infiltrated country radio, and artists like Zach Bryan continue to prove that you don’t need the mainstream behind you to succeed.

Nevertheless, I still found it necessary to do my own end of year awards, in an effort to recognize and promote the best music of the year that, for the most part, went unrecognized by the official award shows and corporate Nashville. You all saw the categories in consideration and the accompanying nominations, so without further ado, here are my end of year awards and final standings for 2022.

Breakthrough Artist of the Year

Winner: Charles Wesley Godwin

Kolby Cooper
49 Winchester
Morgan Wade
Randall King

Charles Wesley Godwin released his most recent album How the Mighty Fall, Whiskey Riff’s top album, towards the end of 2021. And now, at the end of 2022, it is obvious that he reaped the benefits of the spectacular album in 2022. His music has taken off this year, and his tour with Zach Bryan was certainly a catalyst.

Not to say CWG didn’t have a solid fanbase of his own prior to 2022, because that could not be further from the truth, but with the exposure from Zach’s tour and How the Mighty Fall, he has kicked his budding stardom into a new gear.

One of the best all around artists in the game, Charles Wesley Godwin had quite the breakthrough in 2022, and I look forward to seeing how he capitalizes on it in 2023.

Comeback Artist of the Year

Winner: Turnpike Troubadours

Tyler Childers
Sundy Best
Uncle Lucius
John Fullbright

The greatest band to ever play country music announced on May 31, 2019 that they would be going on an indefinite hiatus. During the hiatus, several band members sought help for substance abuse issues and found sobriety, including frontman Evan Felker. Both Kyle Nix and RC Edwards played shows and released albums with their own bands. Ryan Engleman toured as a guitarist for Reckless Kelly. No one heard from the Turnpike Troubadours for two and a half years as the hiatus dragged on and fans grew increasingly concerned the band may never play together again.

Then, towards the end of 2021, the Turnpike Troubadours broke the internet as they began posting on social media again, renovating their website, and eventually announcing a few comeback shows in 2023. On April 8, nearly three years after their hiatus was announced, the Turnpike Troubadours took the stage at Cain’s Ballroom and have not looked back. While they haven’t officially released any new music yet, the band has headlined high profile festivals and sold out just about every venue they have played, often several days at a time, including shows at Red Rocks, The Ryman, and several other arenas, amphitheaters, and iconic venues.

And to think that just over a year ago many of us thought that this would never happen. The Turnpike Troubadours have made quite the comeback in 2023.

New Artist of the Year

Winner: Red Clay Strays

Calder Allen
Palmer Anthony
Tommy Prine
Logan Halstead

The five-piece band out of Mobile, Alabama is one of the best up and coming acts in all of music, let alone the country music scene, and they are one of the latest additions to the long list of spectacular music to come out of the state of Alabama. Drawing influence from an amalgamation of genres including soul, gospel, rock, and country the Strays have much in common with the diverse music that was made to the north in Muscle Shoals and put Alabama on the map, musically, in the 1960s. Nevertheless, the Red Clay Strays have forged their own unique Gulf Shore southern rock sound, reminiscent of the southern greats of yesteryear, yet distinctly innovative, modern, and their own.

This is evident in their 2022 debut record Moment of Truth, a 12-track journey through time that showcases their eclectically unique sound and sonic prowess. One of the best debut albums I’ve heard in a while. The Red Clay Strays are said to put on a high-energy live show to match, and need to be on everyone’s watchlist in 2023. If their “New Artist of the Year” 2022 is any indication, you’ll be glad you did.

Concert of the Year

Winner: Turnpike Troubadours Break Hiatus (Turnpike Troubadours, Vandoliers) – Cain’s Ballroom – Tulsa, OK – 4/8/22-4/9/22

Robert Earl Keen’s final three show run (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
Zach Bryan’s snow show (Zach Bryan, Charles Wesley Godwin, Jonathan & Abigail Peyton) Red Rocks Amphitheater – Morrison, CO – 11/3/22)
Kentucky Rising (Chris Stapleton, Dwight Yoakam, Tyler Childers raising money for Eastern Kentucky flood relief and recovery) – Rupp Arena – Lexington, KY – 10/11/22
Away from the Shire (Billy Strings) – Arena – Asheville, NC – 10/29/22-10/31/22

These two Turnpike Troubadours shows with the Vandoliers at Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa, OK back in April took the cake for the best concert of the year, largely due to the circumstances surrounding them. As explained in the “Comeback of the Year” category, the Turnpike Troubadours’ return to the stage following a nearly three year hiatus was something special for tons of country music fans across the world, and the lucky ones that were able to be in attendance at the perfect venue for the event witnessed something truly special.

Adding to the lore surrounding these shows, it’s almost as if bassist RC Edwards had predicted the whole thing over a decade earlier when he wrote “Easton & Main.”

Group of the Year

Winner: 49 Winchester

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

Well, anyone who knows me could have seen this coming.

One of the hottest bands in country music, the Appalachian soul outfit from Castlewood, Virginia 49 Winchester has been gaining momentum for years, and everything seems to be coming to fruition as of late. That is in large part thanks to their fourth album and New West Records debut, Fortune Favors the Bold. With the release of this breakthrough album, 49 Winchester has catapulted themselves into the forefront of the non-mainstream country music scene.

With a year that saw a nationwide tour with Whiskey Myers, several shows with the Turnpike Troubadours, their Grand Ole Opry debut, several high profile festivals, and tons of packed out headliners, anyone who has seen them play live has had no choice but to become a 49 Winchester fan. And it’s showing.

One of the best live acts you’ll see, 49 Winchester has had a spectacular year, and they are poised to make 2023 even better.

Duo of the Year

Winner: Muscadine Bloodline

Sundy Best

The Mobile, Alabama duo of Charlie Muncaster and Gary Stanton got off to a scorching hot start in 2022, releasing their sophomore full-length record Dispatch to 16th Ave. at the beginning of February. And they never looked back.

The duo released their first song back in 2016, and while they made some incredible music in the ensuing years, they didn’t seem to begin really finding their original, authentic sound until their 2020 album Burn it at Both Ends. Now, two years later, it seems as if Muscadine Bloodline has officially found and embraced their sound in 2022. With Dispatch to 16th Ave., a timely and well warranted jab at mainstream country music and Nashville’s corporate music machine, Muscadine Bloodline keeps it real and stays true to their authentically southern sound that has evolved over the years into something special.

Since the album’s release, though, Muscadine Bloodline has kept their foot on the gas, writing new music prolifically and releasing several more singles to streaming platforms and teasing tons of others on social media. They have released a number of great music videos this year as well, and their live shows continue to be a high-energy, boot stompin’ party that every country music fan needs to witness.

These guys have had a year.


EP of the Year

Winner: Raging in the Dark – J.R. Carroll

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

J.R. Carroll has something special going on, and I think he’s on the verge of a huge 2023. His second EP Raging in the Dark is proof.

The five-track project showcases Carroll’s deft songwriting ability and smooth, soulful vocals to match, a powerful combo few have been able to master as well as he has. His first project with a full backing band behind him, it also shows the potential Carroll has to grow as he continues to build his solo career.

On top of the EP this year, Carroll has spent 2022 touring with Zach Bryan as part of his backing band and contributing his talents to Zach’s American Heartbreak, so it’s safe to say he’s had a good year.

Live Album of the Year

Winner: All My Homies Hate Ticketmaster (Live From Red Rocks) – Zach Bryan

Live at Budokan – Willie Nelson
Cody Johnson & the Rockin’ CJB Live – Cody Johnson
Live at Brookly Bowl Nashville – Randall King
Live From an Undisclosed Location in Hays Kansas – Ward Davis

Merry Christmas, everyone!

While it was no secret that Zach Bryan planned to record a live album at his November Red Rocks Amphitheatre show in Morrison, CO, the timing of its release was unknown, I believe. But Zach dropped the live record on Christmas Day, giving country music fans everywhere quite the Christmas gift.

With the clever and timely title of All My Homies Hate Ticketmaster (Live From Red Rocks), a direct response to recent criticism Ticketmaster has received over their concert ticket monopoly and price-gouging, this live album comes from a special show. Zach played Red Rocks debut in front of a sold out crowd despite freezing temperatures and snow. While Charles Wesley Godwin and Jonathan & Abbey Peyton were not able to play their opening slots as a result of the inclement weather, they still performed with Zach at various points throughout the show.

There are few things out there better than hearing a crowd singing at a concert without the artist’s help, and there is plenty of that on this album, too. The energy in this live record is palpable as Zach Bryan and the boys captured lightning in a bottle with this one.

Tribute Album of the Year

Winner: Something Borrowed, Something New: A Tribute to John Anderson – Various Artists

Live Forever: A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver – Various Artists
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

A staple in the country music scene for over three decades, John Anderson has experienced significant mainstream success throughout his career, but still has always remained in it for the sake of the song. A legend of the genre and underappreciated songwriter, Anderson’s deep catalog contains a careers-worth of radio hits and hidden gems that have greatly influenced countless artists who have followed in his footsteps. And there is no better way to celebrate such an iconic artist than with a spectacular tribute album that features some of the best artists in country music, both old and new.

Incredible artists honoring one of their greatest influences and collaborators, you just can’t beat it.

Artists included on the album: John Prine, Sierra Ferrell, Brent Cobb, Nathaniel Rateliff, Eric Church, Gillian Welch, David Rawlings, Tyler Childers, Luke Combs, Sturgill Simpson, Brothers Osborne, Del McCoury, Sierra Hull, Ashley McBryde, Jamey Johnson.

Album of the Year

Winner: Fortune Favors the Bold – 49 Winchester

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

There were tons of great albums this year, and while my top two albums are the same as Whiskey Riff’s recent rankings, I have them in a different order. Zach Bryan’s army won’t be happy with me, but the longer these two albums have been out, the more I’ve come to love Fortune Favors the Bold.

The album’s 10 song tracklist weaves gracefully between honky tonk heartbreakers and boot stomping barn burners, masterfully capturing the highs and lows of life on the road as well as life in the heart of Appalachia.

The lyrics, written entirely by frontman Isaac Gibson, paint a vivid image of these concepts in a way that beautifully juxtaposes his dynamic vocals with the heavy content of the music. And it’s a powerful thing.

Featured Collaboration of the Year

Winner: “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)
“Parallel” – Flatland Cavalry ft. Ashley Monroe (Songs To Keep You Warm)
“Middle of America” Hailey Whitters ft. American Aquarium (Raised)

Two up-and-comers that every country music fan needs to know, Tanner Usrey and Graycie York absolutely killed this live-recorded duet of “Beautiful Lies.”

Originally released by Usrey on his 2019 EP Medicine Man, adding York to the track improved the already spectacular song drastically, bringing out more emotion in the song and making it the best feature song, or musical event, of the year.

Crossover Collaboration of the Year

Winner: “I Was Born to Love You” – Ray LaMontagne ft. Sierra Ferrell

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

It can be fun to see artists from different genres team up to make some great music together. Now, I’ll admit, Ray LaMontagne’s folk/pop singer-songwriter type music isn’t drastically different from a lot of the “country” music we listen to, but I still think it is different enough to consider a crossover song.

LaMontagne originally released “I Was Born to Love You” in 2020 on his Monovision album, but brought in up-and-coming Appalachian artist Sierra Ferrell to collaborate on a new version this year. Check it out below:

Musician of the Year

Winner: Zach Moulton of Mike and the Moonpies (Steel Guitar)

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

I’ll admit that I don’t know enough about music to actually know who the most talented musicians are, but Zach Moulton of Mike and the Moonpies blew me away when I saw them live this year. The honky-tonkin’ Austin TX band’s steel guitar player, Moulton had a calm yet powerful stage presence as he consistently shredded away on one of the most underappreciated instruments in country music, and capitalized on several solo opportunities to bring the house down.

Moreover, Moulton took the rein’s Mike and the Moonpies’ iconic cover of Gary Stewart’s “Smooth Shot of Whiskey,” showing off his unassumingly spectacular vocals and continuing to prove his steel guitar playlist. A prominent instrument in the Moonpies’ live set and many of their recordings, Zach Moultain’s steel guitar contributions make him the band’s unsung MVP and my favorite musician of 2022.

There aren’t too many high quality videos of Moulton playing like he did when I saw him live out there, but he still gets a good bit of action in the video below.

Music Video of the Year

Winner: Baker Hotel Trilogy (“Baker Hotel,” “All You Got,” “Best Friends”) – William Clark Green

“Wait in the Truck” Hardy ft. Lainey Wilson
“Angel band (Jubilee Version” – Tyler Childers
“John Wayne” – Whiskey Myers
“If I was a Cowboy” – Miranda Lambert

Few artists have consistently released great country music as well as William Clark Green has over the last fifteen years, and his 2022 album Baker Hotel contains some of his best work yet. His sixth studio album, Baker Hotel spans 13 tracks of clever songwriting, catchy melodies, and even some experimenting in regards to Green’s sound, but perhaps the coolest thing about this album is that Green is able to tell a story through the music, as every songwriter strives to do.

This is evident in the music videos he released throughout the year for the album’s tracks “Baker Hotel,” “All You Got,” and “Best Friends.” Listen to the album and check out these music videos to see the Baker Hotel story unfold for yourself.

Cover of the Year

Winner: “I’m a Ram” – Chris Stapleton (Al Green)

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

Originally recorded in 1971 for his third studio album Al Green Gets Next To You, soul legend Al Green co-wrote “I’m a Ram” alongside his guitarist and frequent collaborator Mabon “Teenie” Hodges.

A cover that very few country music artists could tackle as soulfully as Chris Stapleton does, his version of “I’m a Ram” appeared in plenty of Ram truck commercials in 2021, but he finally released it to streaming platforms in November as his only release of 2022.

Single of the Year

Winner: “Hummingbird” – Shane Smith & the Saints

“Wait in the Truck” – Hardy ft. Lainey Wilson
“Me On You” – Muscadine Bloodline
“Bleed for You” – Kat Hasty
“Burn, Burn, Burn” – Zach Bryan

Shane Smith & the Saints have consistently been one of the best bands in country music for a decade now, and they continue to gain momentum by growing their fanbase and honing their craft each year. Aside from their 2021 live record Live from the Desert, which didn’t feature any music, the two singles the band has released in 2022 are their first new releases since their 2019 record Hail Mary, and perhaps more importantly, since their appearance on Yellowstone last season catapulted their music to the top of the country music scene. Highly anticipated and well received, their two singles “Fire in the Ocean” and “Hummingbird” are both must-listens, but the latter takes the cake for me as 2022’s “Single of the Year.”

Released back in June, “Hummingbird” is a cleverly penned love song that fits perfectly within Smith’s deep, raspy vocals and the band’s fiddle-heavy instrumentation.

“Hummingbird, don’t fly so far away
I think the answers you seek are right underneath your wings
If you’d only slow down enough
To breathe my girl, let go of the ways of this world
I got the love that you need…”

Song of the Year

Winner: “Something in the Orange” – Zach Bryan (American Heartbreak)

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

There were probably a hundred songs that could have been nominated for this award this year, but no other song proved to be as important in the evolving landscape of country music as Zach Bryan’s 2022 hit “Something in the Orange.”

The somber yet somehow helplessly hopeful tune chock full of songwriting imagery that evokes emotion in a way that Zach has mastered, and the sonically-irresistible sing-a-long has experienced an unprecedented rise in popularity. Released initially as a single in April and then included on American Heartbreak a month later, “Something in the Orange” has amassed nearly 220 million listens on Spotify in eight months, all without the help of mainstream country radio or Nashville’s corporate music machine.

While there are still a lot of issues with mainstream country music at the moment, the overall landscape of the genre is in a much better place than it was just a few years ago, and the success Zach Bryan and “Something in the Orange” have experienced this year are a perfect example.

I also love the fan-submission music video idea Zach pulled out for this one.

Songwriter of the Year

Winner: Benjamin Tod (Lost Dog Street Band)

Arlo McKinley
BJ Barham (American Aquarium)
Ian Noe
Courtney Patton

Authenticity is often the driving factor in good music. Especially good country music. And no one embraces authenticity in their songwriting more than Muhlenberg County, KY artist Benjamin Tod.

Long one of country music’s best and most underappreciated songwriters, Tod’s massive 2022 has only further solidified his place in songwriting lore. With two albums this year in Lost Dog Street Band’s Glory and his solo Songs I Swore I’d Never Seen, Tod has pushed out 20 songs that all continue to prove his songwriting expertise.

A master lyricist with a knack for storytelling and a penchant for authenticity, Benjamin Tod is the 2022 “Songwriter of the Year.”

“Well, men like me probably die alone
With some broken dream on a dusty road
And it may be sad but so is everything that’s true
Well if life’s a gamble, then I bet the table on a pair of twos

And the sun’s probably shining in Wyoming
And the moon, she’s casting diamonds on a low-lying stream
And when my soul is finally set free
You can burn my body in a prairie breeze..”

Female Artist of the Year

Winner: Kaitlin Butts

Hailey Whitters
Kelsey Waldon
Morgan Wade
Caroline Spence

Kaitlin Butt’s breakout has been long overdue, and her first album in seven years was just what she needed to take that next step in her career. One of the best albums of 2022, What Else Can She Do is a succinct seven-track masterpiece that puts on display the powerful combination of Butts’ songwriting prowess and dynamical vocal abilities. Through six originals and a cover, Butts’ addresses an array of topics in a painstakingly honest manner that country music needs more of.

If that wasn’t enough, she followed the album up with “How Long,” a feature alongside her husband’s Flatland Cavalry on their Songs to Keep You Warm EP, and then closed out the year with her own EP Sad Yeehaw Sessions. The Sad Yeehaw Sessions featured iconic covers of Miley Cyrus’ “Angles Like You” and Brad Paisley and Allison Kraus’ “Whiskey Lullaby”, among others, as well as a breathtaking stripped-down version of “Blood.”

On top of all of these spectacular releases, Butts’ has found herself the topic of discussion in several high-profile music publications and has played some massive shows at iconic venues throughout the country.

With a year this amazing, it’d be hard not to make Kaitlin Butts 2022’s “Female Artist of the Year.”

Male Artist of the Year

Winner: Billy Strings

Zach Bryan
Charley Crockett
Tyler Childers
Marcus King

Not that bluegrass ever really went anywhere, but Billy Strings seems to be leading a resurgence of sorts for the genre, winning over new fans and bringing it back to the forefront of country music’s most popular subgenres. One of the fastest growing acts in all of music, and one of the most talented guitarists in the world, Billy Strings released his 14-track record Me / And / Dad in 2022 with his father Terry Barber and has appeared on songs with Molly tuttle, Dierks Bentley, and Cory Wong, among others this year.

He has also had quite the touring year, selling out shows all across the world at venues ranging from small theaters to massive arenas, further establishing himself as one of the best live acts in music. His three-night Halloween run in Asheville seemed to be some of the best concerts of the year, and all of his jam band sit ins with Trey Anastasio, Goose, and more at iconic venues throughout the country made headlines all year long.

Billy continues to revolutionize the bluegrass sound as we know it, all while paying homage and honoring his predecessors in the process. He brings the worlds of country music and jam bands together in a way that no one has done before, and I am sure he will continue to dominate the music industry for years to come. 2022 has been Billy’s year.

Entertainer of the Year

Winner: Zach Bryan

Billy Strings
Kaitlin Butts
Charley Crockett
Hailey Whitters

This choice was an obvious one.

Zach Bryan has had a trailblazing, record-setting, and industry shaking 2022 unlike anything we have ever seen before. Going against the grain by releasing a 34-track album in American Heartbreak, a nine song EP with Summertime Blues, the 24 song live record All My Homies Hate Ticketmaster (Live at Red Rocks), and several other singles throughout the year, Zach has released over 75 songs this year and still managed to avoid oversaturating the market.

He has done all of this his own way, unlike anyone before him as really done, and he’s done so largely without the help of corporate America or the backing of the mainstream country music machine. Much to the exuberance of his fanbase, Zach embarked on a national tour, selling out headlining gigs at large venues across the country and headlining several high profile music festivals, making for one of the most impressive debut tours I’ve ever heard of.

He’s amassed a fervently enthusiastic following and has used his superstardom to promote other great artists like Charles Wesley Godwin and Noah Kahan, as well as to lead the fight against Ticketmaster’s ticket gouging that has become so extreme this year. And with all of the well-deserved recognition he has received this year, Zach seems to have remained humble, thankful, and hungry.

What a year Zach Bryan has had. I’m thankful to have witnessed it.

There is still room to improve on the country music landscape as a whole, but all things considered, I am happy with where everything stands following this year. All of the artists I have mentioned and highlighted through these awards have contributed significantly to this great year in country music, and many, many more that weren’t mentioned have left their positive imprint on music this year as well.

We saw a lot in 2022, and we got a crazy amount of amazing music out of it as a result. If there is one thing I know for sure, it’s that 2023 has some big shoes to fill.

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock