My 2023 Year-End Country Music Awards: Winners

Charles Wesley Godwin country music
Big Loud

As 2023 comes to a close and we enter 2024, country music is in a great spot.

While there is still plenty of room for improvement, the non-mainstream country scene that we all have grown to love is reaching new audiences and receiving more recognition and attention than ever before. At this point, it’s definitely safe to say the genre is headed in the correct direction.

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 music of the year, and not necessarily the music that has had the most commercial success as the industry tends to honor in their big awards shows.

You all saw the categories in consideration and the accompanying nominations, so without further ado, here are my end of year awards.

Breakthrough Artist of the Year

Winner: The Red Clay Strays

Colby Acuff
Drayton Farley
Flatland Cavalry
Tanner Usrey
Treaty Oak Revival

There’s no up and coming band hotter than the Red Clay Strays right now. A relatively unknown band just six months ago, the trending five piece country rock outfit out of Mobile, Alabama has been blowing up lately. The Spotify streams are coming in at a rapid rate, and their social media following has seen unprecedented growth. To quantify their uncanny rise, the Strays’ Instagram page had less than 20,000 followers in August, and now just a few months later, their following has grown over 10x to nearly 220,000 followers.

There is no greater measure of an up and coming band’s momentum, though, than their ability to sell tickets and get people to their live shows. And that is something the Red Clay Strays have been doing better than most anyone over the past couple of months, selling out at least 26 of the 28 dates on their nationwide Way Too Long Tour this year, as well as all 10 of the extended dates taking place this February. Known for having one of the best live shows in the business, the demand just keeps growing, and the Strays are outgrowing venues each time they play them at this point in their career.

Now that they have broken through to this next phase of their career, the sky is truly the limit for The Red Clay Strays. And with their Dave Cobb produced sophomore record coming at some point in 2024, there is no telling the heights this band could reach in the next year alone.

Comeback Artist of the Year

Winner: Uncle Lucius

Kolton Moore & the Clever Few
Lost Dog Street Band
Sundy Best
Turnpike Troubadours
Uncle Lucius

Best known for their 2012 hit “Keep The Wolves Away,” country rock outfit Uncle Lucius initially formed in Austin, Texas in 2002 and quickly rose to prominence within the Texas music scene following their 2006 debut record Something They Ain’t. Led by frontman Kevin Galloway, Uncle Lucius went on to release three more albums over the next nine years, including their biggest record And You Are Me in 2012.

By 2017, Uncle Lucius had fully dissolved, with the members parting ways as well following a six month farewell tour that culminated with multiple sold out shows at the legendary Gruene Hall in 2018. After that, Uncle Lucius fell into relative obscurity as a legendary Texas band that called it quits shortly after reaching their peak. “Keep the Wolves Away” continued to soar, though, and bolstered by a feature in Paramount’s Yellowstone series, the song has now amounted well over 100 million Spotify streams. As a result, Uncle Lucius’ fan base seemed to grow despite their absence.

On December 5, 2022, they announced the band was getting back together after a near five year hiatus. They quickly announced a run of comeback shows and haven’t looked back since, touring the country for most of 2023 with sold out show after sold out show and releasing their first record in eight years, Like It’s the Last One Left.

New Artist of the Year

Winner: Wyatt Flores

Ella Langley
Logan Halstead
Nolan Taylor
Tommy Prine
Zach Top

Hailing from Stillwater, OK, Flores has been lauded by many as the next big thing in Red Dirt music, but with the release of his first project, it’s apparent he has his sights on being the next big thing in all of country music. And he’s well on his way.

With his open book persona on social media and relatable lyrics, Flores has a way of resonating with fans on a personal level, deeper than just the connection between music and listener. This is especially noticeable during any of his live performances, as his stellar band rocks and rolls through a lengthy set of fan favorite originals, covers, and other unreleased music, and has the crowd hanging out to every word espoused from Flores’ mouth.

Aptly titled Life Lessons, his seven track debut record covers an array of topics, ranging from semi-autobiographical songs of relationships, the struggles of life on the road as a touring musician, and feelings of insecurity and inferiority that fans everywhere will latch onto, as well as a couple of extrospective songs that dive headfirst into the throes of substance abuse and how it can affect those around the abuser.

Flores has been around for a little while now, but with his debut record Life Lessons, the sold out shows, and his unlimited potential, Flores is the best new artist of 2023.

Concert of the Year

Winner: Willie Nelson 90 (Various Artists) – The Hollywood Bowl – Los Angeles, California – 4/29/2023-4/30/2023

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

I haven’t even watched the documentary that recently came out on this show yet, but solely based on the occasion being celebrated, the venue, and the absolutely wild lineup this show featured, Willie Nelson’s 90th birthday celebration spanning two nights at The Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles had to have been the biggest, most important concert of the year. From Willie Nelson himself to Snoop Dogg, Chris Stapleton to Dave Matthews, Billy Strings to Gary Clark Jr.; the all-star lineup celebrating one of country music’s most legendary figures featured 45 artists from several different genres all paying tribute to the great Willie Nelson.

Group of the Year

Winner: Turnpike Troubadours

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

While the novelty and the hype of the Turnpike Troubadours’ return may have worn off for some after their initial shows, the magic stayed alive for the legendary Oklahoma band throughout 2023 as the venues they played continued to get larger and larger, they played in new markets for the first time since the hiatus, and rumors of new music grew until “Mean Old Sun” was released in April.

Boasting a bigger fan base than ever before, the excitement surrounding their return to the music scene may have begun last year, but culminated with the release of their first album in over 5 years, and the best of 2023, A Cat in the Rain this past August. With 10 tracks that built upon Turnpike’s spectacular existing catalog, A Cat in the Rain eerily, at times, seems to mimic Evan Felker’s personal journey within the band’s story over the last several years.

With Felker, RC Edwards, Kyle Nix, Ryan Engleman, and Gabe Pearson all making music again and touring the nation, everything seems right again in country and red dirt music. And the magnitude at which they have returned, atop the non-mainstream country scene that they had left behind, is a testament to how important they are to the genre. They proved that in 2023.

Bluegrass Artist/Group of the Year

Winner: Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway

Billy Strings
Greensky Bluegrass
Steep Canyon Rangers
The Last Revel
The Mountain Grass Unit

Led by California born frontwoman Molly Tuttle, an unreal guitar talent, Golden Highway features revered artists within the bluegrass industry on every instrument – Kyle Tuttle, of no relation to Molly, is a killer on the banjo, Dominick Leslie plays the mandolin, Shelby Means keeps everyone in line on the bass, and lent quite a bit of songwriting assistance in this record, and Bronwyn Keith-Hynes may be the most talented of the group, believe it or not, as she has gained a reputation as one of the best fiddle players in the industry.

Proving more than capable of maintaining the momentum they built in 2022 with Crooked Tree and carrying the torch of bluegrass tradition as one of the most prominent bands in the scene, Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway is a legendary band in the making, and we just get to sit back and continue enjoying the ride with this year’s record City of Gold.

Duo of the Year

Winner: Muscadine Bloodline

Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen
Sundy Best

The dynamic Alabama duo of Charlie Muncaster and Gary Stanton has been prolific in 2023, releasing one of the best albums of the year in February’s Teenage Dixie, and following it up with their spectacular Teenage Angst cover EP a few months later in June. As if that weren’t enough, they’ve already begun releasing singles for their next full length project with “Weyerhaeuser Land” and “Low Hangin’ Fruit,” and seem to have an endless supply of covers and unreleased originals to tease on their social media.

One of the most successful totally independent acts in the business, Muscadine Bloodline’s recorded music this year is more than enough to secure them the title of Duo of the Year, but their road warrior mentality and electric live show have earned them countless sellouts in massive venues as well as opening slots at even bigger venues for acts like the Turnpike Troubadours. With a fan base that is buying tickets to see their shows and consuming their music at a rate even more alarming than the duo is releasing it, Muscadine Bloodline has been an absolute force in 2023, and there is no chance they begin to let up in 2024.

EP of the Year

Winner: Life & Love – Nolan Taylor

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

The Cincinnati-area troubadour had been steadily releasing singles all year long, until the release of his debut EP Life & Love, featuring five brutally honest and hard-hitting tracks. Each song is painstakingly introspective, as Taylor continues to open up with unprecedented transparency, taking fans through his life, his relationships, and his struggles with mental health. You can hear the emotion in his soulful, gravelly voice, as he takes the listener through a five song masterclass in descriptive lyricism and authenticity.

Sonically, while still stripped-back and raw with a classic rootsy feeling, the instrumentation is a bit more intricate on this record than in his previous singles, perfectly accenting his powerful as ever vocals and top-tier songwriting with a slightly bigger sound. Taylor joined forces with producer Eddie Spear, who has been on absolute fire lately, producing music for Zach Bryan, Southall, and many other industry titans with whom Nolan Taylor’s name belongs.

Live Album of the Year

Winner: Live from the Ryman – Charley Crockett

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
Long Story Short: Willie Nelson 90 (Live From the Hollywood Bowl) – Various Artists
My Kind of Country Live at the Catalyst – Jesse Daniel

Talk about a smooth operator. Charley Crockett has become an iconic character within the country music scene, in large part due to his wild story and experiences as well as his uniquely endearing personality and style that shines through in his eclectic music that often seems as if it originated in a time long ago. But to really get the most out of Charley Crockett and his music, you need to see, or at least hear him live. Everything that makes Crockett a superstar is on full display in this live album recorded during his heavily anticipated show at The Ryman Auditorium, one of the most storied venues the genre has to offer. And as always, Crockett and his band absolutely kill it.

Live Single/EP of the Year

Winner: “Meet Me at the Creek / Pyramid Country / Must Be Seven / Meet Me at the Creek” – Billy Strings

“Counted the Stars – Live From Colorado” – Jonathan & Abigail Peyton
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

There’s a reason Billy Strings chose this stretch of the Winston-Salem show, out of his entire catalog, to be the lead release of his forthcoming live record. Most anyone who is a Billy Strings fan knows he’s one of the best guitarists in the world at the moment, and is aware of how incredible his live shows are with heavily improvised jams that are not available in his recorded music.

The Billy Strings faithful who attend as many shows as they can seem to think this was one of the best jams of the year from one of the best shows of the year, and having been in attendance to myself, I can speak to the sentiment: there was something particularly special about this show and this portion of it in particular, and while it may have been a had to be there kind of thing, the release of the live recording to streaming platforms provides everyone the opportunity to get a glimpse of how special this 38 minute stretch was.

Tribute Album of the Year

Winner: Stoned Cold Country: A 60th Anniversary Tribute to The Rolling Stones – Various Artists

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

People may not realize it, but The Rolling Stones were fascinated with country music, and at times, the country music influence can be heard in their music. This is more relevant on some albums than others, but in songs like “Honky Tonk Women,” “Wild Horses,” “Dead Flowers,” and “Sweet Virginia,” among several others, it is obvious that country music may have influenced The Rolling Stones almost as much as they influenced today’s country musicians, and as a result the genre’s sound, in return.

Featuring Eric Church, Koe Wetzel, Lainey Wilson, Ashley McBryde, Marcus King, Steve Earle, and many more, this 14 track country music tribute to The Rolling Stones is an awesome that Shines a Light, pun intended, on country music’s relationship with the great Rolling Stones.

Album of the Year

Winner: 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

Has there ever been an album more highly anticipated, or at least more essential to the ever-evolving ethos of country music, than the Turnpike Troubadours’ latest record A Cat in the Rain? It had been nearly six years since the release of their last album A Long Way from Your Heart, and after 2,134 days, that streak came to an end.

Recorded with the help of producer Shooter Jennings at the fabled F.A.M.E. Studios in Muscle Shoals, AL and wrapped up in Los Angeles, A Cat in the Rain features 10 potent tracks – eight originals and two covers – that together make a cohesive project for the ages. At surface level, A Cat in the Rain is an incredible country music record with catchy choruses and a unique sound that will have everyone humming along in no time.

If you listen to it with a bit more intent, you’ll likely catch on to the next level of lyricism and idiosyncratic instrumentation with the prominent usage of fiddle and harmonica that have become synonymous with Turnpike’s music over the years. This album has something for everybody in it, but as is with most of Evan Felker’s songwriting and Turnpike music, you’ll get the most out of it if you peel back that first layer. Full of descriptive imagery, metaphors, and allegorical storytelling, each track on this record, even the covers, take on more than one meaning and represent an array of subjects that have drawn heavy on the Turnpike Troubadours over the years. With the context considered, and of course the spectacular music contained within the album’s 10 tracks, A Cat in the Rain is the best record released this year.

Feature of the Year

Winner: “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

Billy Strings and Willie Nelson teaming up here is more than enough to warrant consideration for the Feature of the Year, but it just so happens that this dynamic duo came out with a catchy song that has been, for better or for worse, stuck in the heads of country music fans all year long. With clever lyricism, Willie Nelson’s iconic vocals lending a hand, and Billy’s impeccable guitar playing, “California Sober” is my favorite Feature of the Year.

Crossover of the Year

Winner: “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

I know I said Zach Bryan, among other artists, wouldn’t be included in these awards because of how big they have gotten. That is a good thing, not a bad thing, seeing good music be heard by the masses and the artists behind it begin to receive some of the recognition they deserve. But the purpose of this end of year review isn’t to bring attention to the most popular artists and their music, in fact, for the majority of these categories, the purpose is kind of the opposite. But, since it is really only the genre’s biggest artists that get the opportunity to crossover into separate genres and collaborate with artists who make different styles of music, the Crossover of the Year award is a bit of an exception.

And there was not a better one this year than Zach Bryan and Maggie Rogers teaming up for a duet on “Dawns.”

Musician of the Year

Winner: John Hall of The Red Clay Strays (Drums)

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

What makes The Red Clay Strays so great? Well their music, of course, but one of the things separating them from similar acts in the music scene is their action-packed, electric live show. When they take the stage together, each member of the band brings something special and indispensable to the show and their sound, and that is in large part why The Red Clay Strays have found themselves on this uncanny trajectory to superstardom. While most casual fans at a show in the country music scene probably don’t pay much attention to the drummer, it is impossible to miss The Strays’ drummer John Hall at a show.

If you’ve ever seen them live, you know that the electrifying energy in The Red Clay Strays’ show begins and is maintained by Hall, the most animated member of the band on stage who can typically be seen, slapping the skins, tossing sticks, and singing along right behind frontman Brandon Coleman. That’s not to take away from anyone else in the band’s stage presence, they all kill it, but Hall is about as energetic and electrifying as it gets, which isn’t always something you see from a drummer.

It’s difficult to capture in a video or a write-up just what The Red Clay Strays’ drummer John Hall brings to the band, it’s just an intangible aspect of their live show that you kind of need to experience yourself to grasp the magnitude of his unassuming role. So get out there and catch a concert to see what I’m talking about here.

Producer of the Year

Winner: Eddie Spear (Southall, Colby Acuff, and more)

Dave Cobb (Chris Stapleton, War & Treaty, and more)
Sadler Vaden (Drayton Farley, Morgan Wade, and more)
Shooter Jennings (Turnpike Troubadours, Tanya Tucker, and more)
Sturgill Simpson (Birt Taylor, Miles Miller, and more)

While I admittedly don’t know enough about the ins and outs of production to make a completely educated pick here, people seem to speak extremely highly of Eddie Spear and his work, as they do every producer on this list. Spear, though, seemed to have his hands in the making of more of the year’s best music than any other producer, working with Southall, Colby Acuff, Nolan Taylor, Sam Barber, Sierra Ferrell, Jake Kohn, and Zach Bryan amongst others.

Music Video of the Year

Winner: 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

En route to their coronation as my Duo of the Year, Muscadine Bloodline also released a handful of spectacular music videos alongside their album Teenage Dixie, and the Blood Feud short film, featuring connected music videos to their songs “Knife to a Gunfight” and “Shootout in Saraland” was nothing short of incredible.

I’m a sucker for a Hatfield and McCoys style family feud song, and that’s exactly what we have here. Based off of a supposedly-true story of another post-Civil War feud, this time between the Pruitt and Cochran families in South Alabama, where Stanton and Muncaster both have ties, these songs are rich in deft lyricism and brilliant storytelling, and the accompanying masterpiece of a short film brings them to life.

Cover of the Year

Winner: “The Jealous Kind” – Charles Wesley Godwin (Chris Knight)

“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)

One of the coolest covers I’ve heard in a long time, Charles Wesley Godwin took an official stab at Chris Knight’s “The Jealous Kind,” a track he had covered informally before, and alongside his band The Allegheny High, absolutely killed it. Godwin and the boys were able to put their own full band spin on the cover, showcasing their tight sound and sonic prowess while still giving one of the greatest songwriters ever and such a special song every bit of justice that he deserves.

Single of the Year

Winner: “Break My Bones” – Wyatt Flores

“68” – Nolan Taylor
“Adeline” – Shane Smith & the Saints
“Fox Hunt” – Sierra Ferrell
“Frostbite” – Jake Kohn

2023 was massive for New Artist of the Year Wyatt Flores. At the root of all of the sold out shows at bigger venues, opening slots for the industry’s best acts, and rapidly growing fan base is, of course, Flores’ knack for writing incredibly relatable and vulnerable songs with a catchy sound that are undoubtedly authentic and appeal to the masses.

Having eight tracks to show within his catalog prior to 2023, Flores kicked things up a notch when he released his first single of 2023 “Break My Bones” just two weeks into the year. Riding the momentum of this track, and a couple others from the previous year, Flores racked up the streams and grew his passionate fan base, setting the stage for superstardom in 2024.

Song of the Year

Winner: “When Country Came Back to Town” – Brent Cobb (Southern Star)

“Basic Channels” – Josiah & the Bonnevilles (Endurance)
“By the Way” – Tommy Prine (This Far South)
“Cast Iron Skillet” – Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit (Wethervanes)
“Family Ties” – Charles Wesley Godwin (Family Ties)
“Mean Old Sun” – Turnpike Troubadours (A Cat in the Rain)

There was so much good music released in 2023, perhaps more so than in any other year I can remember. Following the pop/bro country takeover of the 2010s, it seems as if each year has produced more and more authentic, real country music. The reality is, though, that the good music has always been there, it is just reaching new heights of popularity as it is available to new audiences and fans have begun to crave the authenticity music from this scene brings.

That is exactly what Brent Cobb is getting at in his track “When Country Came Back to Town” off of his 2023 record Southern Star. In this song, Cobb perfectly encapsulates the state of country music over the years through his point of view and the artists he has worked with, perhaps indirectly bashing the bro-country era that is (hopefully) behind us along the way and putting into perspective how great we really have it with the music that is coming out today.

Songwriter of the Year

Winner: Gabe Lee

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

It’s no secret that Nashville native Gabe Lee is an impeccable songwriter, that has been a fact for years. But with the release of his fourth album Drink the River earlier this year, Lee has made a statement that he is becoming one of the best songwriters in all of country music.

At this point in his career, he may not be selling out the biggest venues in your city, opening for buzziest names in the industry, or playing a late slot at one of the massive festivals, but that’s not a knock on his music. While I’m sure it would be great to achieve those feats, sometimes the most heartfelt, cleverly written music isn’t easy for the masses to latch on to when you’re an up and coming songwriter. But you can still make a career and a name for yourself when you write for the sake of the song and not for popularity, as Lee has done, playing powerfully intimate sets that showcase his deft lyricism in crowded listening rooms to fans who truly care about the music across the country.

With a ton of respect from those within the country music scene as one of the genre’s best up and coming songwriters, a songwriter’s songwriter, for lack of a better term, Gabe Lee takes you on an adventure through his words and stories as well as anyone can, and Drink the River is a masterclass in writing for the sake of the song.

Female Artist of the Year

Winner: Sierra Ferrell

Bella White
Brit Taylor
Ella Langley
Lori McKenna
Morgan Wade

Sierra Ferrell didn’t release quite as much music in 2023 as I would typically hope for from an artist of the year, but her recent and well warranted rise in popularity, the potent music that she did release, and her impact on country music lately has earned her the Female Artist of the Year award in my book.

Hailing from West Virginia, Ferrell has become the queen of Appalchian country with her unique sound and music that draws heavily on her upbringing in the region and the experiences of those around her. Keeping the region’s steeped country music tradition alive, Ferrell pays homage to her predecessors yet continues to build her evolving sound into an ever evolving sonic adventure.

Male Artist of the Year

Winner: Brent Cobb

Billy Strings
Charles Wesley Godwin
Colter Wall
Tyler Childers

A songwriter who is regarded by his peers within the scene as someone who has truly mastered his craft, Cobb proved why he is renowned as one of the industry’s best and most underrated with his 2023 campaign that featured tons of headlining dates a big venues, opening slots in stadiums for the likes of Luke Combs, and top notch album in Southern Star to show for spectacular year he had.

Heavily influenced by the soulful, southern sound of legendary Georgia artists before him, like The Allman Brothers and Otis Redding, and inspired by his own experiences as well those of the people around him, the Ellaville, Georgia native’s laid back authenticity shines through in Southern Star, a lyrical masterclass and ode to home that is a great representation of where country music is today.

Entertainer of the Year

Winner: Charles Wesley Godwin

Billy Strings
Brent Cobb
Morgan Wade
Sierra Ferrell
Tyler Childers

When Charles Wesley Godwin was my Breakthrough Artist of the Year in 2022, I may not have thought he was a shoe-in for Entertainer the following year, but it sure doesn’t surprise me that he earned it in 2023.

In 2022, following How the Mighty Fall and his massive tour in support of Zach Bryan, Godwin’s music had found the platform and the audience to truly take his career to new heights, and while the momentum was behind him, he took advantage of the opportunities as well as one possibly could. Road-dogging with his band The Allegheny High, Godwin and the boys toured hard this year, playing tons of big shows in support of Whiskey Riff’s top album of 2023, Family Ties, and his Live from the Church EP.

While writing authentic country music with a rock roll edge, Godwin’s music is full of meaningful lyricism while still maintaining a tight sound that deserves to be played in stadiums across the world, and he doesn’t seem far off from achieving that. A true entertainer, Godwin’s live shows are legendary, and as more and more people continue to take notice, the sky is the limit for the Entertainer of the Year.

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock