Was 2015 the peak year for country music?
As reliable as the tides of the Atlantic Ocean, country music is still around, but there are years that create unmistakable waves. Like 2015.
The annual Country 2 Country festival was in full swing; 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 all weekend . The two nights would grow to three the following year and include Glasgow. It may have helped that the Nashville TV show is addictive. Each artist was incredibly talented – even Florida Georgia Line – and emerging and gave us huge albums that every country fan must 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 mix of sunny and reflection, including ‘Beautiful Drug’, ‘Homegrown’ and ‘Naufragé’.
Traveler – Chris Stapleton (May)
Stapleton first appeared at C2C in 2016 and later headlined in 2019, thanks in large part to that iconic album and “Tennessee Whiskey” performance. The man is a music legend and you’re not country if you don’t stop what you’re doing as soon as you hear that soulful voice.
Pageant Material – Kacey Musgraves (June)
Every one of the 13 songs (14, if you know) on Musgraves’ sophomore album is so perfect it’s no surprise it’s been nominated for a Grammy Award. The stories, co-written by Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally, take a tongue-in-cheek observational look at life from the perspective of a dime store. Go listen to this album again. Oh, and she also went from C2C supporting act to title (controversial choice) in two years (2016, 2018).
Shuteye – Logan Brill (June)
Brill returned to the UK in March 2017 for the C2C 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 and refined album. Can you hear those bees buzzing in their trees?
Something More Than Free – Jason Isbell (July)
No stranger to British shores, despite never appearing on C2C, Isbell’s fifth studio album charted a new direction in his life and the raw lyrics – delivered in those voices – seem to intersect between who he was and who he would become; a legendary Americana and Grammy-winning artist and father.
Wild Ones – Kip Moore (August)
August, the holiday month, is usually a quiet time for album releases. Enter Kip Moore, who debuted at C2C2015, both on and off stage, with this cover of Oasis and this two AM lineup. Wild Ones took a while to get used to, so very different from their previous album Up All Night. But the autobiographical songs, from the opener ‘Wild Ones’ to ‘I’m to Blame’ and the deluxe version’s trio, are his authentic free wrestling. Heartland rock converging on a corner of Nashville, eager to travel.
Tangled Up – Thomas Rhett (September)
Rhett’s second album brought us ‘Die A Happy Man’, along with Stapleton’s co-writing ‘South Side’. Rhett believes hard work and happiness is a big reason people buy C2C2023 arena tickets.
Buy Me a Boat – Chris Janson (October)
The only artist on this list to still tour the UK, this debut album from a songwriter who helped introduce us to McGraw’s ‘Truck Yeah’ hints at the dedicated energy Janson exudes onstage. , having fun with his friends.
Storyteller – Carrie Underwood (October)
Carrie stepped out of the shadow of her American Idol roots with her 2012 album Blown Away and into the midday sun with the follow-up album Storyteller. UK and European arenas still resonate with his C2C2016 headlining performance of ‘Renegade Runaway’, ‘Church Bells’ and ‘Dirty Laundry’.
Untamed – Cam (December)
With the energy of Dolly’s little niece, Cam easily won over UK audiences with her crystalline renditions of ‘Hungover on Heatache’, ‘May Day’ and ‘Burning Down The House’.
Still, 2015 can’t really have been the peak. We were still two years away from the release of ‘Diane’, but if you’ve seen Cam on one of her many UK shows, you’ve probably heard this tale from Jolene.
We also hadn’t heard of those guys from Maryland, Brothers Osborne. The Shires were just beginning their successful journey and Brandy Clark was set to follow up on her 12 Story debut with Big Day In A Small Town. Clark also took CMA Songwriters Night by surprise and ensured tickets were in demand for 2015 and beyond; the next three nights unofficially became four by bringing Thursday and a spin of Nashville’s top songwriters.
Luke Bryan had peaked musically with Tailgates and Tanlines, though we didn’t know that yet. Bro Country was far from over and we hadn’t begun to appreciate the hidden diversity in country music, with Kane Brown, Jimmie Allen, Breland and Brittney Spencer making their UK debut after 2015. As a pandemic approached, hundreds of country music memories were being created across the UK.
And the Long Road Festival was just an idea.
What are your memories of country music from 2015?