My 2023 Year-End Country Music Awards: The Nominees

Charles Wesley Godwin Sierra Ferrell country music
David McClister/Bobbi Rich

Another amazing year of country music is in the books as 2023 comes to a close.

This means that the time of year is upon us in which everyone with the platform to do so is sharing their end of year lists. While I personally enjoy seeing everyone’s end of year thoughts, I know this may get redundant for a lot of people, seeing many of the same artists and albums raved out about this time of year by people who, while completely entitled to their own opinions, never seem to capture the populist musical preferences of the reader.

But that’s exactly what I’m about to do anyway.

In my second annual attempt to reflect on another great year of country music gone by, I aim to capture as much of the best music released in 2023 as I can through the guise of an arbitrary awards list of sorts. The goal here is to recognize the best, and often underrepresented or somewhat ignored music of the year, and not the music that has had the most commercial success as the industry tends to honor in their big awards shows.

These opinions are completely my own, though, and admittedly biased to my personal music taste, so as a result, I’m sure many of your favorite artists have been left out and just about everyone will disagree vehemently with my takes. Oh well…

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, six, or seven worthy 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.

Generally speaking, aside from a few categories, I tried not to include any artists who had been nominated for major awards at official awards shows throughout the year. So, for everyone who is going to be upset that Zach Bryan isn’t Entertainer of the Year, or that there is no mention of Megan Moroney, Jelly Roll, or Cody Johnson, among others, get over it. They are all about as big as it gets now, and while they may have been snubbed from winning some of the real awards, they had true superstar level years that received tons of recognition and praise, and generally excludes them from my “awards” below, for example. Additionally, for most of these categories, I only included artists who released new music in 2023 in some capacity, but this criteria was not as relevant for a few of them.

So, 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 2023 end of the year awards. Many are self explanatory, but I have provided some extra color where necessary. Check the award categories and accompanying nominees out below, and be on the lookout for the winners to be announced soon.

Breakthrough Artist of the Year

A lot of artists had huge breakthroughs this year. For the purposes of these awards, 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.

Colby Acuff
Drayton Farley
Flatland Cavalry
Tanner Usrey
Treaty Oak Revival
The Red Clay Strays

Comeback Artist of the Year

These bands and artists have all made comebacks in some capacity in 2023. Whether that be announcing their return from an indefinite hiatus, getting the touring band back together, recording the first album in a long time, or whatever else it may be, and I’m glad to have them back.

Kolton Moore & the Clever Few
Lost Dog Street Band
Sundy Best
Turnpike Troubadours
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 or EPs this year, or began releasing music on official streaming platforms for the first time this year.

Ella Langley
Logan Halstead
Nolan Taylor
Tommy Prine
Wyatt Flores
Zach Top

Concert of the Year

I didn’t necessarily attend 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.

Doc Watson’s 100th Anniversary Celebration (Billy Strings w/ Molly Tuttle, Bryan Sutton, and more) – LJVM Coliseum – Winston-Salem, NC – 3/3/2023-3/4/2023
Healing Appalachia (Tyler Childers, Jason Isbell, Charles Wesley Godwin, and more) – West Virginia State Fairgrounds – Lewisburg, WV – 9/20/23-9/23/23
Shane Smith & the Saints Red Rocks Debut (Shane Smith & the Saints, Charles Wesley Godwin, Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway, Midnight River Choir) – Red Rocks Amphitheatre – Morrison, CO – 5/9/2023
Turnpike Sells Out BOK Center (Turnpike Troubadours, Old Crow Medicine Show, Muscadine Bloodline) – BOK Center – Tulsa, OK – 4/1/2023
Willie Nelson 90 (Various Artists) – The Hollywood Bowl – Los Angeles, California – 4/29/2023-4/30/2023

Group of the Year

Flatland Cavalry
Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway
The Red Clay Strays
The Steel Woods
Treaty Oak Revival
Turnpike Troubadours

Bluegrass Artist/Group of the Year

Bluegrass is obviously a subgenre of country music, but it is one of my favorites, and it seems to be experiencing a renaissance of sorts as artists like Billy Strings and Molly Tuttle trailblaze a new, modern bluegrass scene and sell tons of tickets to their shows along the way. As a result, I felt it necessary to break this into its own category.

Billy Strings
Greensky Bluegrass
Molly Tutle & Golden Highway
Steep Canyon Rangers
The Last Revel
The Mountain Grass Unit

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 a few 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
Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen
Sundy Best

EP of the Year

I honestly don’t know what constitutes an album versus an EP these days, but each of these projects below is listed as an EP on streaming platforms.

Before the Record – Mae Estes
Hold My Beer, Vol. 3 – Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen
I’m in Love – Hailey Whitters
Kudzu Wild – Drayton Farley
Life & Love – Nolan Taylor
Million Eyes – Sam Barber

Live Album of the Year

Live From Chattanooga – Nicholas Jamerson & the Morning Jays
Live From the Baker Hotel – William Clark Green
Live From the Devil’s Backbone – Mike & the Moonpies
Live From the Ryman – Charley Crockett
Long Story Short: Willie Nelson 90 (Live From the Hollywood Bowl) – Various Artists
My Kind of Country Live at the Catalyst – Jesse Daniel

Live Single/EP of the Year

“Counted the Stars – Live From Colorado” – Jonathan & Abigail Peyton
“Meet Me at the Creek / Pyramid Country / Must Be Seven / Meet Me at the Creek” – Billy Strings
Kaitlin Butts | OurVinyl Sessions EP – Kaitlin Butts
The Mountain Grass Unit on Audiotree Live EP – The Mountain Grass Unit
The Red Clay Strays Live AF Session (Live AF Version) – The Red Clay Strays

Tribute Album of the Year

A Tribute to Flatts & Scruggs EP – The Infamous Stringdusters
A Tribute to The Judds – Various Artists
Day of the Doug: The Songs of Doug Sahm – Son Volt
More Than A Whisper: Celebrating the Music of Nanci Griffith – Various Artists
One Night in Texas: The Next Waltz’s Tribute to Willie Nelson – Various Artists
Stoned Cold Country: A 60th Anniversary Tribute to The Rolling Stones – Various Artists

Album of the Year

A Cat in the Rain – Turnpike Troubadours
Family Ties – Charles Wesley Godwin
North Georgia Rounder – Pony Bradshaw
Southern Star – Brent Cobb
Teenage Dixie – Muscadine Bloodline
This Far South – Tommy Prine
Weathervanes – Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit

Feature 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.”

“California Sober” – Billy Strings ft. Willie Nelson
“Last Goodbye” – Tanner Usrey ft. Graycie York – Crossing Lines
“Mornings With You” – Flatland Cavalry ft. Kaitlin Butts – Wandering Star
“Peace Mountain” – Nicholas Jamerson ft. Charles Wesley Godwin – Peace Mountain
“That’s Why We Fight” – Ella Langley ft. Koe Wetzel – Excuse the Mess
“The Moon” – Meg McRee ft. Hillary Lindsey & Lori McKenna – History of Heartbreak EP

Crossover 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.

“Dawns” – Zach Bryan ft. Maggie Rogers
“Evergreen” – Moon Taxi ft. Molly Tuttle
“Just Say I’m Sorry” – P!nk ft. Chris Stapleton
“Use Me (Brutal Hearts)” – Diplo ft. Sturgill Simpson, Dove Cameron
“Wasted” – Diplo ft. Koe Wetzel, Kodak Black

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, for example, but I like to think I know good music when I hear it. And a good performer that really adds to their band’s stage presence, too. 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.

Bronwyn Keith-Hynes of Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway (Fiddle)
Luke Black of The Mountain Grass Unit (Guitar)
John Hall of The Red Clay Strays (Drums)
Muskrat Jones of Colter Wall, Summer Dean (Pedal Steel)
Omar Oyoque of Mike & the Moonpies (Bass)
Tim Hall of 49 Winchester (Keys)

Producer of the Year

Similarly to the aforementioned Musician of the Year category, I don’t know too much about what makes one producer better than another, but all of these producers below played a large role in multiple of my favorite albums of the year and deserve recognition for their contributions to the music released in 2023.

Dave Cobb (Chris Stapleton, War & Treaty, and more)
Eddie Spear (Southall, Colby Acuff, Nolan Taylor, and more)
Sadler Vaden (Drayton Farley, Morgan Wade, Jonathan Peyton, and more)
Shooter Jennings (Turnpike Troubadours, Kyle Nix & the 38s, Tanya Tucker, and more)
Sturgill Simpson (Brit Taylor, Miles Miller, and more)

Music Video of the Year

Blood Feud – “Knife to a Gunfight” and “Shootout in Saraland” – Muscadine Bloodline
“Cue Country Roads” – Charles Wesley Godwin
“Everlasting Lover” – 49 Winchester
“King of Oklahoma” – Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit
“That’s Why We Fight” – Ella Langley ft. Koe Wetzel

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.

“Adam’s Song” – Muscadine Bloodline (Blink-182)
“Black Sky” – Turnpike Troubadours (Ozark Mountain Daredevils)
“Clay Pigeons” – Luke Grimes (Blaze Foley)
“Coat of Many Colors” – Sierra Ferrell (Dolly Parton)
“Devil Wears a Suit and Tie” – Joshua Quimby (Colter Wall)
“The Jealous Kind” – Charles Wesley Godwin (Chris Knight)

Single of the Year

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

“68” – Nolan Taylor
“Adeline” – Shane Smith & the Saints
“Break My Bones” – Wyatt Flores
“Fox Hunt” – Sierra Ferrell
“Frostbite” – Jake Kohn

Song of the Year

“Basic Channels” – Josiah & the Bonnevilles (Endurance)
“By the Way” – Tommy Prine (This Far South)
“Cast Iron Skillet” – Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit (Weathervanes)
“Family Ties” – Charles Wesley Godwin (Family Ties)
“Mean Old Sun” – Turnpike Troubadours (A Cat in the Rain)
“When Country Came Back to Town” – Brent Cobb (Southern Star)

Songwriter of the Year

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

Adam Hood
Gabe Lee
John Baumann
Nicholas Jamerson
Pony Bradshaw
Tommy Prine
Vincent Neil Emerson

Female Artist of the Year

Bella White
Brit Taylor
Ella Langley
Lori McKenna
Morgan Wade
Sierra Ferrell

Male Artist of the Year

Billy Strings
Brent Cobb
Charles Wesley Godwin
Colter Wall
Tyler Childers
Wyatt Flores

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.

There will be separate winners for each the Male, Female, and Entertainer of the Year awards, but the Entertainer of the year nominees are all nominated for the Male or Female awards as well.

Billy Strings
Brent Cobb
Charles Wesley Godwin
Morgan Wade
Sierra Ferrell
Tyler Childers

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock