Last year, Fleet Foxes, Blitzen Trapper, and Bon Iver made beards, acoustic guitars and Crosby, Stills and Nash's debut album key indie-rock accessories. But what seemed like a refreshing departure a few months ago now feels like a full-blown trend with a new crop of acts paying homage to their Woodstock and Laurel Canyon predecessors. "This music maybe represents some of the things that Cash and Dylan believed in," says singer Cory Chisel, who just released his debut LP of dusty folk rock, Death Won't Send a Letter. "I'm just trying to make a record that's missing from my collection."
1. The Avett Brothers
Hometown: Concord, North Carolina
Sounds Like: Cat Stevens meets "Dueling Banjos": These real-life bros show off their Appalachian roots with bluegrass pickin', pretty harmonies a and wholesome-as-pie love songs.
Rural Cred: On their first tour, in 2002, the Avetts crashed at campsites instead of motels. "We took a pickup, a tent and a shotgun," recalls Scott. "We went out thinking it was a wild frontier."
Down with: Rick Rubin produced their new LP, I and Love and You. Dave Matthews tapped them to open recent shows.
Key Tracks: The stately, piano-driven title cut: These Southern dudes wrote the best song about Brooklyn since the Beastie Boys.
2. Cory Chisel
Hometown: Appelton, Wisconsin
Sounds Like: Sings like Nebraska-era Springsteen with gospel organs, strummy guitars and borderline-schmaltzy lyrics: "I've seen you bloom like a flower, but you are fading in the absence of rain."
Rural Cred: Dresses like a Deadwood extra; writes in his family's Minnesota cabin. "You can hear your thoughts in the woods," says Chisel. "The , environment becomes a critic."
Down with: Shares a manager with Jackson Browne; members of the Raconteurs guest on his new album.
Key Tracks: The haunting "Tennessee," a ballad about lost love, in the style of Dylan's "Girl From the North Country."
Hometown: North Hills, California
Sounds Like: L.A. scenesters cherry-pick from the best of 1969: Frontman Taylor Goldsmith sings like a less-tortured Richard Manuel while the band backs him up with goose-bumpy, CSN-style harmonies.
Rural Cred: Dawes cut their debut in roots-rock ground zero: Laurel Canyon. "Living in L.A., we romanticize the country lifestyle," says Goldsmith. "Our music reflects that."
Down with: Jenny Lewis invited Dawes to open for her this year.
Key Tracks: The achingly pretty ballad "That Western Skyline," which will have you crying into your sack of primo medicinal.
4. J. Tillman
Sounds Like: The Fleet Foxes drummer's solo tunes are molasses-slow, Nick Drake-style mope-folk, amped with fancy-pants instrumentation (dulcimers, cellos) and creepy sound effects.
Rural Cred: Is Jesus, basically: Has a stupendous beard, worked as a carpenter until this year.
Down with: His bros in Fleet Foxes, obviously. And Chloe Sevigny was spotted at a recent L.A. gig.
Key Tracks: With its breathy vocals and acoustic tinkling, "Howling Light" is prime hippie-chick seduction music.
5. The Duke and the King
Hometown: Palenville, New York (only 12 miles from Woodstock)
Sounds Like: Singer Simone Felice has a wispy, Donovan-like delivery; instrumentalist Robert Burke's psych-folk grooves are mellower than Matthew McConaughey at an eco-spa.
Rural Cred: Cut debut in a Woodstock cabin; band named after characters in Huckleberry Finn. "Its not the Mississippi, but I grew up on the Hudson, so I related to the magic of that book," says Felice.
Down with: Will jam with Woodstock royalty Levon Helm at his Midnight Ramble in November.
Key Tracks: "Still Remember Love," a jaunty pop stroll with chiming guitars, hazy vocals and flower-child musings.
Hometown: Toney, Alabama
Rural Cred: Left home at 18 to tour the Southwest, where he lived out of his pickup for six months.
Down with: Nelson asked him to play Farm Aid 2009. "I missed the call, but I totally saved the voicemail," says Houck.
Key Tracks: The solemn, churchy cover of Nelson's pleading Red Headed Stranger cut "Can I Sleep in Your Arms."