Was 2015 the peak year for country music?
As reliable as the Atlantic Ocean’s tides, country music is always there, but there are years that create undeniable waves. Like 2015.
The annual Country 2 Country festival was thriving; Luke Bryan and Lady Antebellum (later Lady A) headlined shows in Oslo and Stockholm as well as London’s 02 arena and Dublin’s 3Arena and BBC Radio 2 broadcast live across the weekend. The two-nights would expand to three the following year and include Glasgow. It may have helped that the Nashville TV show was addictive viewing. Every artist was insanely talented – even Florida Georgia Line – and emerging and gave us huge albums that every country fan needs to own.
2015 was the year that gave us these top ten country albums:
Jekyll + Hyde – Zac Brown Band (April)
Zac and the Band, who headlined C2C in 2017 and will headline in 2023, gave us over an hour of music in Jekyll + Hyde, across 16 tracks, which is a polished blend of sunshine and reflection, including ‘Beautiful Drug’, ‘Homegrown’ and ‘Castaway’.
Traveller – Chris Stapleton (May)
Stapleton first appeared at C2C in 2016 and later headlined in 2019, largely due to this iconic album and that performance of ‘Tennessee Whiskey’. The man’s a music legend and you’re not country if you don’t stop what you’re doing as soon as you hear this soulful voice.
Pageant Material – Kacey Musgraves (June)
Every one of the 13 songs (14, if you know) on Musgraves’ second album is so perfect that it’s no surprise it was nominated for a Grammy award. The stories, co-written by Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally, take a wryly observational look at life from a dime store perspective. Go listen to this album again. Oh, and she also went from C2C support act to (controversial choice) headline in two years (2016, 2018).
Shuteye – Logan Brill (June)
Brill returned to the UK in March 2017 for C2Cs pop-up stages and wowed audiences with her relatable heartbreak and Bonnie-Raitt inspired songs. Shuteye is full of ‘hey-it’s-okay’ understanding, delivered in a hypnotic, polished album. Can you hear those bees buzzing in their trees?
Something More Than Free – Jason Isbell (July)
No stranger to UK shores, though he’s never appeared at C2C, Isbell’s fifth studio album charted a new direction in his life and the raw lyrics – delivered in those vocals – seems to crossover between who he was and who he would become; a legendary Americana artist and father and Grammy award winner.
Wild Ones – Kip Moore (August)
August, the holiday month, is usually a quiet time for album releases. Enter Kip Moore, who made his debut at C2C2015, both on and off stage, with that Oasis cover and that two AM queue. Wild Ones took a while to get used to, so very different from his previous Up All Night album. But the autobiographical songs, from title opener ‘WIld Ones’ via ‘I’m to Blame’ and the deluxe version trio, are his authentic self wrestling free. Heartland rock converging on a corner of Nashville, aching to travel.
Tangled Up – Thomas Rhett (September)
Rhett’s second album brought us ‘Die A Happy Man’, as well as the Stapleton co-write ‘South Side’. Rhett is cut-through with hard work and happiness and a core reason why people are buying C2C2023 arena tickets.
Buy Me A Boat – Chris Janson (October)
The only artist on this list as yet to tour the UK, this debut album from a songwriter who helped bring us McGraw’s ‘Truck Yeah’, hints at the energy devoted family man Janson exudes on stage, having a good time with his buddies.
Storyteller – Carrie Underwood (October)
Carrie stepped from the shadows of her American Idol roots with her 2012 Blown Away album and into the midday sun with follow-up album Storyteller. UK and European arenas are still ringing with her C2C2016 headline performance of ‘Renegade Runaway’, ‘Church Bells’ and ‘Dirty Laundry’.
Untamed – Cam (December)
With the energy of Dolly’s great niece, Cam easily won over UK audiences with her crystal-clear renditions of ‘Hungover on Heatache’ ‘May Day’ and ‘Burning Down The House’.
Yet 2015 can’t really have been the peak. We were still two years away from ‘Diane’ being released, though if you saw Cam at one of her many UK shows you’d likely heard this retelling of Jolene.
We also hadn’t heard of these lads from Maryland, Brothers Osborne. The Shires were just starting out on their successful journey and Brandy Clark was about to follow up her debut 12 Stories with Big Day In A Small Town. Clark also took the CMA Songwriters Night by surprise and ensured tickets were in-demand for 2015 and subsequent years; the upcoming three nights unofficially became four by bringing in the Thursday and a roulette of Nashville’s finest songwriters.
Luke Bryan had musically peaked with Tailgates and Tanlines, though we didn’t yet know it. Bro Country was far from over and we hadn’t begun to appreciate the diversity hidden within country music, with Kane Brown, Jimmie Allen, Breland and Brittney Spencer making their debut UK appearances post-2015. Even approaching a pandemic hundreds of country music memories were being made across the UK.
And the Long Road Festival was just an idea.
What are your 2015 memories of country music?