When you look back at the year of 2020, you realize how close-knit the music community is. In a year of uncertainty, there has been a stronger bond between the song, songwriter, and listener. Here is a little recap of the many highlights of this year in review with Kentucky country music.
Music Keeps Playing
Despite shutdowns, musicians learn to adapt to keep the music alive. Many performers used the simplicity of their phone to broadcast their music to the world. Independent artists strengthened their connection with fans through stories and songs with their online livestreaming. Several have released new albums, as well as new merchandise to help us with a new wardrobe of band shirts.
Save Our Stages
Many fans, venue owners, and musicians worked together for solutions to save our music stages. Venues, such as The Burl, hosted outside concerts. Others hosted livestream concerts to help bring a feeling of a concert to your living room. Even the Grand Ole Opry never missed a beat as they hosted acoustic performances each weekend at the Grand Ole Opry House. The circle remains unbroken, even 95 years since the longest running radio show first aired.
One of the biggest surprises was how Sturgill Simpson utilized his voice and creativity to make a major impact statement in music. Sturgill proved that his creative mind can explore a multitude of musical styles. Not only that, Sturgill taught us all on how we should honor our Veterans. He also teaches that we should honor our elders in music and utilize those musicians when it comes to making and producing music. In case you have not noticed, Sturgill Simpson released two bluegrass albums, performed on stage of the Ryman Auditorium, and raised money for the Special Forces Foundation, the Equity Alliance, and MusiCares.
Redesigning the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame
Nestled in the foothills of Appalachia in Renfro Valley is the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame and Museum. During the shutdown, staff were able to catalogue and perform some major exhibit updates in the museum. One update is a special exhibit of wall displays of Kentucky’s songwriters and bright stars of tomorrow. So far, Darrell Scott, Marty Brown, and J.D. Shelburne are featured, with several more to be added. Furthermore, the Hall of Fame has hosted a variety of musical guests as well as the premiere showcase for the “Mountain Minor” soundtrack. Be sure to add it to your list of travels.
Remembering Those We Lost
I do not recall any year where we lost so many musicians, songwriters, and friends as we have in 2020. If anything, we realize how each one of them have made an impact on how we listen to music. John Prine genuinely loved showcasing Kentucky musicians such as Kelsey Waldon and Sturgill Simpson. Joe Diffie made mullets fun as the music he sang – and let us know that Billy Bob loved Charlene in John Deere green. Hal Ketchum captured our small-town Saturday night memories. K.T. Oslin showed that anyone can have success in music, even in your 40s. Her sassy vocals SANG the songs that real women needed to hear! Kenny Rogers must have known when to hold them and when to fold them. He could take any song and wrap it around his finger with his performances. Songwriters Ed Setser (Corbin, KY) and Ray Pennington (Manchester, KY) gave us the beauty of “Seven Spanish Angels” and “I’m a Ramblin’ Man” respectively. Speaking of rambling men, if it wasn’t for Billy Joe Shaver, we may not have had one of Waylon Jennings’ best albums, “Honky Tonk Heroes.” Legendary Grand Ole Opry star, Jan Howard was known for her songs that provided a fiery spunk from a female perspective. Speaking of fire – you can hear Jan Howard sing background vocals on Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.”
Three country music legends that made a huge impact this year in different ways, also passed away in 2020. Charlie Daniels was a patriot. He showed each one of us on how to be an American and a Christian, as well as how we should treat others. His impact is still felt to this day. Charley Pride taught us to not judge someone based on how they look. Charley showed how hard work and determination can break barriers in country music. Finally, Pete Stamper had a knack of telling a story and performing a song. His presence is deeply felt in the Renfro Valley area, which was the place he called home while on the road managing Dolly Parton and performing shows each Saturday night.
New Beginnings into 2021
What will 2021 bring to music? May we hear new music being perform up on stage at a concert? Will independent artists continue to increase listeners thanks to social media? Who will become the next big artist to rise out of Kentucky?
One thing I do know – we need to continue to support our music professionals. They help create the music that shape our lives and get it to the world.
Stay tune as we will reveal Kentucky Music Acts to Watch in 2021 on January 1st.
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.