Jessica Blankenship is the owner and founder of Kentucky Country Music website. The Berea College graduate has been a music journalist and historian for over 20 years. She enjoys providing concert photography, reviews, historical articles, red carpet event coverage, and exclusive interviews of your favorite musicians. Jessica is proud to be a Kentucky Colonel and alumni of the FFA and 4-H Clubs. In 2018, she was named one of Laurel County’s Ten Under 40 Award Recipients. In 2019, she was a member of the Inaugural class of BRIGHT Kentucky as part of Leadership Kentucky. She has been featured on the Kentucky Music Preview podcast, Hollercast podcast, Overtones radio show, WFKY Nashville News Roundup, KET, and more. Beyond music, she enjoys traveling, helping her community, collecting gnomes, and Volkswagens.
Today, as we look back on the year that was 2015, we share some good times, as well as shed some tears of some country music legends that we lost. Overall, there was a surge in new acts onto the country music scene, as well as a sense of urgency for country music to get back to its traditional roots.
Several new acts made a huge splash upon their arrival into country music, while others took a few years before they had the song that broadened their exposure to more fans. Chris Janson made a name for himself for the summer time hit, “Buy Me a Boat.” Thomas Rhett ended the year with his fifth consecutive number one hit. Going by just one name, Cam really turned heads with her slow ballad, “Burning House.” Other acts that made their way onto the country music stage were Maddie & Tae, Rissi Palmer, Brothers Osborne, Kelsea Ballerini, and Dylan Carmichael.
One act to move on beyond country music was Taylor Swift, who went on to gain more popularity in the pop rock field of music. With a world tour, new album, and other deals, she soared above quite a few notable acts in 2015. She didn’t forget her Nashville songwriting roots as she invited several country music acts to sing on stage with her, including Miranda Lambert. The Oak Ridge Boys were invited to come over to one of her shows after they performed at a nearby theatre.
Speaking of Miranda Lambert, this was a year of heartache and moving on for the young singer. Miranda and Blake Shelton filed for divorce and she moved to Nashville to start over. While she kept several of her animals, one cannot help but wonder whatever happened to her llama? By the end of the year, both Miranda and Blake were constant streams of revenue for tabloids wondering who are they dating and what really happened in their own relationship. Needless to say, we are all looking forward to seeing what kind of songwriting comes out of this.
Quite a few country music singers decided that 2015 would be the year to hang up their hat. George Strait rode off into the sunset with his Cowboy Rides Away tour, but later announcing a few Las Vegas dates. Shania Twain did her own farewell tour throughout the United States and Canada. It is amazing how Shania made a huge impact on the sound of modern country music, only to slowly fade away with her farewell tour. Kenny Rogers also announced his retirement and that 2016 will be his final tour so that he can spend more time with family.
Two legends that will probably never give up are Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. Despite both having brief hospital stays, they continued to record and play out on the road. Their “Django and Jimmie” album hit number one on the country music charts, much to the surprise of many. Their sons, Lukas Nelson and Ben Haggard, also share a few guitar licks up on stage next to their dads. The next generation of legends looks bright seeing those two on stage.
There was a lot of change along Music Row, with the demolition of quite a few historic buildings. Historic Nashville, Inc. Facebook page has kept up to date on the latest. Even lower Broadway was not spared the wrecking ball as a few buildings were torn down to make room for progress. One building that was not torn down was Historic Studio A after the fight led by Ben Folds to preserve this historic building.
Down the road, the Ernest Tubb Record Shop, both downtown and out by Opryland, were hit hard with the digital music download craze. Fans are not buying as many physical cds as before, even though they are purchasing more vinyl records. The Ernest Tubb Midnite Jamboree was once threatened of being shut down due to financial costs of production. By the end of the year, it was back up and running thanks to fan support to help save our musical heritage.
Around the corner from the Ernest Tubb Record Shop, the new George Jones Museum opened up in the spring of 2015. The first floor contains a merchandise area, alongside a café. The second floor holds a mass collection of memorabilia showcasing the life of George Jones. Upstairs on the third floor is a bar where one can take a swig of White Lightning Moonshine, made just for the museum.
Down the road from the museum is the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. This year’s induction class included the Oak Ridge Boys, the Browns, and Grady Martin. When the inductees were announced, the Hall of Fame went ahead and presented Jim Ed Brown his medallion while he was in the hospital. He would pass away soon after that presentation.
With the Oak Ridge Boys inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, you would think they would start slowing down. That isn’t the case and Joe Bonsall has mentioned several times that as long as they are all healthy, they will continue singing and performing for the fans. Needless to say, the fans listen and provide sold out crowds, including 40 consecutive years at the Kentucky State Fair.
As 2015 comes to a close, we must remember those that have passed away. Early in 2015, the Grand Ole Opry lost one of its longest living legends when Little Jimmy Dickens passed away. A proper farewell party was held there at the Grand Ole Opry with a multitude of guests that shared their stories of the funniest man on stage. His steel guitar player, Buddy Emmons, passed away later in the year. The country music community lost the beautiful Lynn Anderson, who blessed us with her tune, “Rose Garden,” over the years. Ramona Jones, the wife of Grandpa Jones, was an accomplished fiddle player and songwriter. Colonel Jon Hensley was a close friend and manager to Shooter Jennings, as well as Wanda Jackson. He was Vice-President of Black Country Rock Records and helped influenced others to support their local musicians, especially in his home state of Kentucky. Another Kentucky native, Jean Ritchie, would make an impact in the Appalachian folk music world with her songs and dulcimer playing. We also lost Dixie Hall, the wife of Tom T. Hall, who made a name for herself by writing many bluegrass and country music tunes over the years.
Another influence into the scene of Nashville was Billy Block, who greeted new country music acts with open arms to appear on his weekly “Billy Block Show.” Quite a few music careers got their start into stardom thanks to Billy Block. Sadly, the Nashville music community lost Billy Block in March of 2015.
Several hit songwriters passed away in 2015, including Don Pfrimmer (George Jones’ “You and Me and Time,” Tammy Wynette’s “Let’s Call It a Day Today,” Ronnie Milsap’s “She Keeps the Home Fires Burning” and “My Heart,” and Diamond Rio’s “Meet in the Middle”), Don Chapel (“When the Grass Grows Over Me” sung by George Jones), Billy Sherrill (Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man”), Red Lane (Tammy Wynette “Til I Get it Right”), and Bobby Emmons (Waylon Jennings “Wurlitzer Prize” and Tanya Tucker “Love Me Like You Use To”).
One artist that could claim 2015 as the year of triumph and achievement, it would be eastern Kentucky native, Chris Stapleton. Critics and fans raved over his long awaited album, “Traveller.” His peers nominated and later awarded him with multiple CMA trophies for song of the year, album of the year, and male vocalist of the year. Chris Stapleton’s performance with Justin Timberlake escalated into being named one of the best award show performances for quite some time. Stapleton saw a surge of tour dates and more sold out shows, including 3 at the famed Ryman Auditorium. With his wife, Morgane, by his side, they easily could be named one of the best love stories intertwined with musical chords and lyrics.
It will be interesting to see what 2016 holds in the field of country music. Who will be the next big star of tomorrow?