From a soulful NorCal crooner to stomping North Carolina roots-rockers to a spunky satirist, these are the five artists busting out of Music City that you need to have on your radar this month.
The Northern California native picked up a guitar at age 12 and promptly kissed youth sports goodbye. “I got the music bug right away and totally immersed myself in my craft, whole-heartedly,” he tells EW. But it wasn’t always country music he was creating: He and his brother once started a metal-grunge band in their garage with their best friends. Eventually, though, he wound back around to the sounds of the cassettes his mom used to play at home, like Tim McGraw’s “Indian Outlaw,” Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart,” and George Strait’s “The Chair.” Since then, hHe’s keyed into a few other influences, from the Beatles to Marvin Gaye to Sam Cooke and even Metallica, and is now prepping for the release of his debut full-length, due out later this year via Warner Nashville. (He has loaded an EP’s worth onto his Spotify page to tide you over.)
“I wanted to tell an entire story,” the 28-year-old says of the upcoming set, which saw him team up with hitmaker Jay Joyce (Eric Church, Little Big Town). “I wanted to represent every corner of who I am: country, soul, rock, et cetera. I wanted to represent all emotions: happy, sad, and indifferent. I wanted to showcase all of the influences that have shaped me throughout my childhood and my musical journey; I wanted every song to have its own moment while still maintaining a common thread between them… I wanted to make a record that gave me a sonic identity that made people say ‘that’s Devin Dawson’ the second they heard it come on.” It’s working: After opening for Maren Morris this spring, the newcomer will join Tim McGraw and Faith Hill’s massive Soul2Soul Tour this summer.
EW featured the former MLB-hopeful earlier this week in our monthly Breaking Big column thanks to his open-hearted tunes — which arrived, he divulged, after setting a very intentional goal to stay honest. “I really wanted to make sure that I put a lot of myself into these songs so that fans were given a chance to get to know me when they listened,” he says. “Watching people sing these songs back to us at live shows means so much more knowing that they aren’t just connecting to words but also to my genuine life experience. I think vulnerability is important in songwriting and I feel like I show that.”
Young spent the spring opening for “Die A Happy Man” singer Thomas Rhett and now, he’ll commit the rest of his summer to warming stages for recently rejoined powerhouse trio Lady Antebellum. And both pairings have him glowing: “Being out with Thomas was so fun,” he says. “Aside from the phenomenal performance and stage presence, he is also a consummate professional offstage and a shining example of how people should be treated. And Lady A is absolutely the best at what they do. I’m selfishly so excited to catch their show every night!”
The path to stardom has been long and winding for the L.A. country crooner. She signed her first record deal at 17 and began struggling with addiction soon after; rock bottom came when she found herself in jail after attempting to rob her dealer. (As she says, “It’s been a long haul.”) She channels her experience from eight months in county into her rustic LP Felony Blues, one of the most critically adored collections out of Music City this year. The set is funny, often spunky, and, across the board, wonderfully inviting. Wyatt credits Dylan with inspiring her lyrics: “He taught me how to channel the anger and resentment that I learned from my upbringing into song,” she says.
Nine years have passed since her conviction, but Wyatt says the education from the experience is ongoing. “I look back on that time as a period of reflection and a timeout from a life that I couldn’t handle at 22-years-old,” she says. “I’m not angry for being incarcerated, though it did cost my family a lot of money that they didn’t have. At least I used the time effectively by writing and reading as much as possible. And I must credit my mother for encouraging me to do so.” She adds, joking, “And I learned a lot about the legal system in the process.” Wyatt is currently on the road in support of Blues. All future dates are available on her website.
The St. Louis, Missouri native began writing songs late in high school, but it wasn’t until enrolling in Ole Miss University that he began to pursue his craft more seriously. Soon, he was routinely driving back and forth to Nashville for writing sessions and workshops. “I always loved the lyrics and stories in country music,” the 27-year-old says of why he gravitated toward this genre despite being raised in a household steeped in tons of different sounds. “And I think that’s what drew me to it. They were songs about life and things people could relate to and I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
Bandi’s debut song, the understated confession “Man Enough Now,” earned some key playlist placement on Spotify earlier this year and is now closing in on 10 million streams — which hasn’t stopped thrilling the singer. “It’s still crazy to see that number!” he admits. “After we finished it, I knew I wanted it to be my first single, even though it took a year and a half to put it out.” He goes a little R&B on his follow-up, “Gone Girl,” and is currently focusing on his increasing live profile this summer. Along with playing CMA Fest this weekend in Nashville, he’ll also play Country Jam and Country Thunder festival dates between the rest of his tour stops.
The North Carolina folk rockers have been a band for almost a decade, but their profile will rise this year thanks to a choice signing with Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Label Group — and as they push their new single, the strummy anthem “A Long And Happy Life,” off their 2017 EP of the same name, the opportunity isn’t lost on the six-piece. “There are so many people out there creating music,” vocalist Brittany Hölljes says, “and when you’re one of them, it feels like you’ll never rise above the noise. We have to be writers, performers, and small business owners running all facets of recording, distributing, and selling our own music. I’m thankful that we had time to cut our teeth for years on the road, but now we have new wind in our sails, time to be creative and craft our every release, and the power to get our music into exponentially more ears. It’s inspiring!”
“We are a Southern band that plays our own instruments, writes our own songs, and sings in four-part harmony,” Hölljes says of the outfit, completed by her multi-instrumentalist siblings Eric and Ian as well as singer Elizabeth Hopkins, drummer Mike McKee, and bassist Grant Emerson. “Country feels like home for us for that exact reason. When we think of contemporaries to look up to, we see Rascal Flatts, Zac Brown Band, Lady Antebellum, and Little Big Town, bands who have long been beloved in the country world.”
A full-length is currently in the works, but Hölljes says the group is mainly focusing on staring down 50 live dates they have booked this summer. “It’s all about getting our new music into as many ears as we can.”