Peering into country music's crystal ball, 2015 is poised to be a year of comebacks, throwbacks and grand events. The biggest revivals will include a new chapter of one country queen's recording career while another returns to the big screen after more than a decade. Albums by the likes of Kacey Musgraves, Loretta Lynn and Jamey Johnson will, no doubt, remind fans of the foundation of country's appeal: its lyrics. And big ticket shows on both coasts will team country-radio rulers with their equally gifted freshmen counterparts. Here, Rolling Stone Country looks ahead to the albums, films, events and trends we're most looking forward to in 2015.
With so many musical genres fighting for air time during the star-studded Grammy telecast, country music often gets short-shrift. That's especially true when country artists are not among the nominees for the multi-genre categories such as Record, Song or Album of the Year. This is the case again in 2015 with one exception: the Best New Artist race will see country singer-songwriter extraordinaire Brandy Clark competing against Iggy Azalea, Bastille, Haim and Sam Smith. While a Clark performance slot may be doubtful — at least with one of her own tunes, expect the genre to be well represented on the 2015 Grammy stage. Last year's festivities featured performances by eight country stars, including Keith Urban singing his now-nominated hit, "Cop Car," and 2014 Best New Artist nominee Kacey Musgraves with "Follow Your Arrow." Nashville numbers should be comparable this year. S.B.
Country's coolest, most versatile band, led by the silver-throated Raul Malo, returns with more country infused with elements of world music, rock, jazz and whatever else the group has decided to throw in. Sadly, the Mavericks are down a man after voting founding member and bassist Robert Reynolds out of the band while he deals with an alleged substance abuse issue, but his departure has done nothing to dampen the retro-exuberance and heartache displayed on the group’s first set since 2013's In Time. M.N.
It's always an exhilarating treat when Lady Antebellum take the stage, and this year, hot on the heels of their 80-city Take Me Downtown global trek, the Grammy-winning trio will embark on the Wheels Up 2015 Tour, beginning with a series of Australian and European dates on February 28th and covering North America beginning May 1st. Along for the 65-city trip will be budding superstar Hunter Hayes and genre-defying newcomer Sam Hunt. "That's how we want to make our living for 20 years: out there on the road," the trio's Dave Haywood told Rolling Stone Country when their 747 album was released last fall. "It's a big focus for us. We change the set list almost every night, trying to find the perfect set list for the perfect crowd. That's always been a priority." S.B.
"Tortuga," the Spanish word for turtle, would seem to indicate something that's slow-moving, but when it comes to this two-day fest in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, that's not at all true. Since it began in 2013, the Tortuga Music Festival has accelerated into one of the most exciting (and socially aware) country music events in the U.S. From 25,000 attendees its inaugural year to nearly 45,000 a year ago, the festival has raised funds and awareness for ocean conservation and also delivered performances from such country superstars as Kenny Chesney, Eric Church, Luke Bryan, Dierks Bentley and dozens of others. Joining Chesney among this year's entertainers are Zac Brown Band, Little Big Town, Jake Owen, David Nail, the Mavericks, Maddie and Tae and at least a dozen more country, roots and rock acts. The festival also features Conservation Village, where interactive games and exhibits spotlight the plight of the sea turtles found along South Florida's Atlantic seaboard. S.B.
There will be nothing small about the ACM Awards' golden anniversary, starting with the venue: For its 50th, the award show, hosted by Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan, moves from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, home of the Dallas Cowboys. Add in the fact that the ACMs will host 50 concerts at adjacent Globe Life Park April 17th-18th to lead up to the big show, and you’ve got your own three-day festival right there. M.N.
The country equivalent of Coachella, the 2015 edition of Stagecoach boasts all the usual big names — Tim McGraw, Miranda Lambert, Blake Shelton, Dierks Bentley, the Band Perry — but as is usually the case with the mega-artist festivals, it's the undercard that makes this year's edition so intriguing. From hot newcomers like Frankie Ballard and Parmalee to country outliers such as the Lone Bellow, the Cadillac Three and Sturgill Simpson to swampy non-country veterans like ZZ Top and George Thorogood and the Destroyers, there's something here for all sorts of fans to circle the wagons around. M.N.
Kenny Chesney hits the road nearly every summer, preaching the gospel of flip-flops and margaritas in super-sized venues that typically hold football games, not concerts. He took a rare break in 2014, which might explain his decision to tap one of the biggest names in country music — Jason Aldean, country's top album seller of the moment — for 10 co-headlining gigs this summer. The guys are going big, booking shows in the NFL's three biggest stadiums and extending the seating capacity of venues like Gillette Stadium, where Chesney often ends his tours, to more than 100,000. When tickets for the Gillette show went on sale last fall, they sold out in less than 12 minutes, a full 10 months before the actual gigs. A.L.
As winter turns to spring and baseball fans' minds turn to opening day for the major league, so do country music fans' minds turn to the major leaguers whose careers are enshrined in the Hall of Fame at Nashville's sprawling downtown museum. New members of the Hall are expected to be revealed sometime this spring (last year's class, including Ronnie Milsap, Hank Cochran and Mac Wiseman, was unveiled in late April). Who'll get in this time around is anyone's guess, but in the Modern Era category, the smart money is on Alan Jackson or Randy Travis, both of whom are overdue for inclusion. Ardent fans of late country-pop superstars Dottie West and the Oak Ridge Boys have been rallying for them be elected into the Hall's esteemed ranks of veteran performers, and both are certainly worthy. Others to watch for this year include Tanya Tucker, Clint Black and Hank Williams Jr. S.B.
It's a pretty safe bet to follow the lead of Dave Cobb — after producing two stellar records in a row, for Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson, it's hard not to pay attention to anything and anyone he invites into his studio. And Anderson East, a Nashvillian by way of Alabama, who can sing the blues with a sultry, countrified growl, is no exception to the rule. Evoking a twangier Ray LaMontagne or Amos Lee with notes of plaintive Ryan Adams, he's forming a sound all his own that will be on full display on his first official LP, the Cobb-produced Delilah. His voice is full of gravely soul, easily tackling both piano ballads and foot-stompers, going head-to-head with a gospel chorus thanks to a killer range and often heartbreaking lyrics. M.M.
Her 2013 album, Like a Rose, balances the sting of heartbreak with biting humor, setting it all to a stone-cold country soundtrack featuring an angelic voice that is pure bliss. So what will "Hippie Annie" (one-third of Pistol Annies with Miranda Lambert and Angaleena Presley) do for an encore? How about a tune co-written with Matraca Berg called "I Buried Your Love Alive," featuring backing vocals by the teenage daughter of Vince Gill and Amy Grant? That's just one tidbit about the follow-up that she has revealed, along with the fact that Gill serves as co-producer once again. Other details, including a release date, remain under wraps for now, but Monroe has certainly set the bar pretty high. S.B.
This New Orleans-based quintet has a song called "The Real Deal" — a swampy, clapboard shuffle that burns with southern soul that's, well, simply the real deal. Formed by ringleader and renegade Sam Doores, the Deslondes have been gathering a following as they traipsed from the stages of Newport Folk to opening for Alabama Shakes and fellow Big Easy inhabitants Hurray for the Riff Raff. With an album expected in late spring or early summer on New West, they manage to resurrect a lost sound — Stax and Sun records are distinct touch points, as are upright-bass-driven melodies — while giving it a modern, vibrant swing, building on the foundations of old-time traditions without sounding like they're stepping out of a time machine. M.M.
It's country music's Comic-Con, four days of concerts, autograph sessions and swag. And its reach is worldwide, as fans from all over the globe flock to Nashville to get some face time with stars past and present. But while the chance to take a selfie with the members of Little Big Town is a draw, it's the myriad performances — at stages all across town, including the massive nightly shows at LP Field — that distinguish CMA Fest as the must-attend country festival. The lineup won't be announced until March, but it's a likely bet that if you're hearing them on the radio now, you'll be seeing them live in June. J.H.
It's been more than a decade since Faith Hill proved her comedic chops in the blockbuster film, Stepford Wives. This year, she'll add a second movie to her acting resume and first big-screen dramatic role, as she plays the mother of a troubled boy (played by The Leftovers' Chris Zylka), who, shortly after being released from prison, falls for the bad-girl-next-door (Riley Keough, of Magic Mike and Presley family fame) in Dixieland. In addition to seeing the soft-spoken singer in what sounds like it could be a gritty role, the anticipation for the crime-drama is escalated by another supporting cast mate: the outspoken Steve Earle. There's no word yet on what role the "Copperhead Road" traveler tackles in the film, but it's sure to be memorable. B.D.
In 2013, Ty Herndon released his most recent album. The title, Lies I Told Myself, would take on greater significance when the singer-songwriter came out publicly as a gay man in November 2014. Although his coming-out has temporarily overshadowed Hendon's music career, it doesn't seem to have halted it. If anything, the declaration, and the flurry of media attention that followed, gave him the opportunity to remind fans that he has been performing live and making music all along, including the Grammy-nominated contemporary Christian LP, Journey On, in 2010. What the follow-up to Lies will offer remains to be heard, but this year's album will be his first as an out-and-proud gay man, which would, of course, mark a milestone for country music. Herndon will also be touring this year on a triple bill with fellow country stars Andy Griggs and Jamie O'Neal. S.B.
After releasing two albums on now-defunct labels — including Lost Highway Records, the Americana powerhouse that folded just a few months after the band's sophomore LP, Billy Jack, hit shelves — Honeyhoney took matters into their own hands, rebranding themselves as roots-rock independents and hitting the road on their own dime. Their upcoming third release finds them back on a label's roster — Rounder Records, to be specific — but the fierce, ball-busting attitude that steered the boy-girl twosome during their DIY days is still on full display. Also occupying the spotlight are harmony-heavy songs like "Yours to Bear," a crowd favorite during the band's 2013 tour with Jake Bugg, and "Big Man," a dark, driving rocker that bandmate Ben Jaffe describes as "a churchy funeral song." Dave Cobb, the producer behind award-winning records for Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson, recorded the album in his Nashville studio, proof that Honeyhoney have finally made it into Americana's "cool kids" club — even as their music looks far beyond that genre's borders. A.L.
In development since 2009, the long-awaited Hank Williams biopic will finally see the light in 2015. English actor Tom Hiddleston, who starred in the Avengers series before landing the lead role of Hank Williams Sr., put himself through musical boot camp last summer, running through daily guitar lessons and vocal exercises with music supervisor Rodney Crowell. The two even crashed one of the stages at the 2014 Wheatland Music Festival in Michigan, where Hiddleston flexed his country muscles by performing impromptu versions of "Move It on Over" and "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry." Hank Williams III has been a big critic of I Saw the Light in recent months, claiming that a Bible Belt-born actor like Matthew McConaughey would be able to play his grandfather with much more authenticity. . .but 1,500 happy Wheatland fans can't be wrong, can they? A.L.
In April, it will be a full 10 years since the release of Loretta Lynn's remarkable Jack White-produced album, Van Lear Rose. That Grammy-winning LP may not be the last collaboration for the unlikely pair, Lynn hinted late in 2013, but it'll have to wait. Since around 2007, the country icon has been recording several projects that are now set to see the light of day, thanks to a deal with Sony Music's Legacy Recordings division, which was announced the day after the Coal Miner's Daughter appeared with Kacey Musgraves on the 2014 CMA Awards. The first of these recordings, due this year, will include country standards and updated versions of the singer-songwriter's own classics, along with gospel tunes and Appalachian folk songs she learned from her mother as a young girl living in Butcher Holler, Kentucky. Also among them will be fresh, original material penned by Lynn herself. S.B.
Ah, this is nice to see: a country chart-topper who writes not some, or even most, but all of his own songs. On Moore's next album, reportedly titled Smoke, the raspy-throated thirtysomething sings about the redemption of Sunday morning ("Dirt Road"), the blue-collar struggle of the working week ("Comeback Kid") and the romantic thrill of teenage nights ("Young Love"). Originally due out last summer, Smoke was delayed by nearly a year — possibly by a record label that balked when the album's flagship single, "Dirt Road," barely cracked the Top 40, or maybe by a cautious Moore who wanted to tweak and fine-tune his twang before releasing the official follow-up to 2012's lauded Up All Night. The singer promises it'll be worth the wait, telling Rolling Stone Country, "I believe in this record even more than I did the first one. I’ve seen the way our fans react to the new songs, and I know what it's going to do." A.L.
Nearly two years have elapsed since the release of Kacey Musgraves' Same Trailer Different Park, and what a two years it has been for the Texan. Her universally acclaimed album topped the country chart and went on to win a Grammy for Best Country Album, while one of the LP's most buzzed-about tracks, "Follow Your Arrow," was named CMA Song of the Year. Musgraves joined Lady Antebellum, Little Big Town and Katy Perry as an opener on their respective tours, hauling her Trailer all over the world, while plotting her next musical move. The new LP will once again be co-produced by the singer with Luke Laird and Shane McAnally, but little else has been revealed about the project. Last fall, however, Musgraves told the Tennessean, "I'm going to go with my gut and make it about the songs. . . I've found my stride, and I'm doing something that makes sense to me." S.B.
The last year or so saw artists such as Lee Ann Womack and Brandy Clark releasing albums with an emphasis on stripped-down production and engaging story songs, a trend we're excited to see continue in 2015. Jamey Johnson recently gave the first taste of his 2015 album with the sparse, nostalgic "Alabama Pines," which lopes along with a primarily acoustic sound. An early listen to the music Tyler Farr will release this year — like possible album track "Suffer in Peace" — is similarly encouraging, full of soul-baring lyrics and traditional country phrasing. And pop-country duo Love and Theft, whose last single was the party-hearty "Night That You'll Never Forget," have switched gears in 2015 with "Whiskey on My Breath" — a heartbreaker of a regret ballad about meeting one's maker reeking of booze. J.H.