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FarmBorough 2015: 11 Must-See Acts

The hitmakers and budding stars who are sure to do country music proud in the Big Apple this weekend

Kip Moore and Mickey Guyton

Kip Moore and Mickey Guyton

Joseph Okpako/Getty; Terry Wyatt/Getty

Dierks Bentley, Luke Bryan and Brad Paisley will headline FarmBorough 2015, drawing up to 50,000 fans to New York's Randall's Island this Friday through Sunday. It's the city's first-ever major country music festival, coming on the heels of a wave of Big Apple success for the genre. In 2013, Nash FM became New York City's first country radio station in more than 17 years, and acts including Bryan, Miranda Lambert and Eric Church have since sold out major venues in the area.

As we get ready for country music to finally dominate the New York, New York soundtrack this weekend, here are the 11 acts worth ferrying (or subwaying) over early to catch before the headliners.

Brandy Clark

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Brandy Clark

Singer-songwriter Brandy Clark's live shows are, like her songs, filled with biting humor and lump-in-the-throat pathos. It's kind of like sneaking up to a house (whether nestled in suburbia or up on cement blocks) and getting a too-close-for-comfort peek into the lives of some unforgettable, albeit sometimes regrettable, characters who probably thought their deepest, darkest secrets were safely hidden inside. It's all well and good, you're thinking, "At least she's not singing about anything from my life." Until she is. Expect tracks from the artist's exceptional 12 Stories LP, and perhaps some of the hits she's penned for others, including Miranda Lambert and Kacey Musgraves.

Chris Stapleton

NEW ORLEANS, LA - MAY 02: Chris Stapleton performs during 2015 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival - Day 6 at Fair Grounds Race Course on May 2, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Scott Legato/WireImage)

Scott Legato/WireImage

Chris Stapleton

Chris Stapleton has made his bones in Nashville for over a decade as a songwriter, placing over 150 cuts with a legion of different artists including hits like Luke Bryan's "Drink a Beer" and Thomas Rhett's "Crash and Burn." But there's a reason that many of those same artists also ask Stapleton to provide background vocals: his deeply soulful rasp melts hearts and starts fires. Anyone who saw the Kentucky native sub for Bryan at last year's CMT Artists of the Year show with Lady Antebellum or caught him as part of the all-star group that joined Marty Stuart's Late Night Jam earlier this month knows this as well. His is a masterful instrument which can be heard all over his superb new album Traveller. The bonus both on the album and live in concert comes from Stapleton's songbird wife, Morgane. The pair are intense onstage, harmonizing while staring deeply into each other's eyes. But the real beauty of that connection — as witnessed by those who saw Stapleton open for Eric Church recently — is that it doesn't shut the audience out, it welcomes them into their love story and the heart of the songs they sing.

Joe Nichols

ATLANTA, GA - MAY 16: Joe Nichols performs on stage at KSU Sports and Entertainment Park on May 16, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Paul R. Giunta/WireImage)

Paul R. Giunta/WireImage

Joe Nichols

Arkansas native Joe Nichols is as country as the day is long, and although he's the most traditional act on the FarmBorough bill, he's also daring enough to occasionally mix things up. (Pun intended.) Last summer, the singer told Rolling Stone Country that what started as a joke on his band, a country-flavored take on Sir Mix-a-Lot's Nineties rap smash, "Baby Got Back," turned into a real crowd-pleaser during his shows. Still, with a voice that's vintage honky-tonk, there's no shortage of Haggard-inspired country music, and, of course, hits including fun-in-the-sun anthems such as "Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off" and "Sunny and 75."

Charlie Worsham

DETROIT, MI - NOVEMBER 28: Charlie Worsham performs at The Fillmore Detroit on November 28, 2014 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Scott Legato/Getty Images)

Scott Legato/Getty Images

Charlie Worsham

Like Vince Gill and Steve Wariner before him, it's tough to say whether Charlie Worsham is a more commanding singer or instrumentalist. Luckily, concertgoers get to see the extremely likeable guy – another trait he has in common with those aforementioned legends – plying his skills in both areas. His smooth-as-glass vocal delivery and tasty bluegrass-influenced licks haven't translated to big radio hits yet, but there's a reason he's been tapped to open shows for superstars such as Taylor Swift and Miranda Lambert. Worsham's inventive covers of songs outside country music are always a real treat, too. A little Ozzy on banjo, anyone?  

Kip Moore

NASHVILLE, TN - JUNE 09: Kip Moore performs at Downtown Nashville on June 9, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Erika Goldring/Getty Images)

Erika Goldring/Getty Images

Kip Moore

With a booming, gritty rasp, Kip Moore is like the country cousin of John Mellencamp and Bruce Springsteen – and he's struggled to find a balance between the genre's party-friendly atmosphere and his love of bandana-tied, blue-collar songs. But his latest single, "I'm to Blame," from his forthcoming sophomore LP Wild Ones, shows he's ready to own up to his roots, letting his voice get more raw and his melodies more rock & roll, all to a banjo undercurrent that says he's quite comfortable living in two worlds. Luckily, this all translates live, as he rips inspiration from the Boss' fierce shredding as much as the big-show spirit of mainstream Nashville.

Mickey Guyton

ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 12: Country Recording Artist Mickey Guyton performs at the UNCF An Evening Of Stars Show at Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center on April 12, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Earl Gibson III/WireImage)

Earl Gibson III/WireImage

Mickey Guyton

Mickey Guyton has been catching ears with her breakout hit "Better Than You Left Me," and getting fans into their seats early on Brad Paisley's Crushin' It World Tour, once they hear that Carrie Underwood–like vocal range blasting from the speakers. She'll look to do the same at FarmBorough with an early set Saturday afternoon on the main stage. With a comfortable presence onstage despite her newcomer status, Guyton looks confident and sounds even better. Paisley seems to know that, too, so he's been having her cover Alison Krauss' part in "Whiskey Lullaby" during his concerts (and hopefully will do the same this weekend).

Randy Houser

DENVER, CO - JUNE 06: Singer/Songwriter Randy Houser performs at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on June 6, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Allison Farden/Getty Images)

Allison Farden/Getty Images

Randy Houser

Randy Houser has proven himself as a country singer capable of cranking out hits — his last four singles have been Top Fives, with three landing at Number One – but his true strengths lie onstage. Whether it's a one-foot-tall riser in a tiny club (like when "Boots On" came out) or a stadium for Luke Bryan's Kick the Dust Up Tour, Houser is a natural performer with a commanding voice. He’s able to place fans inside each song, seeming to turn his soul inside out for weepers such as "Anything Goes," then flip 180-degrees for a bouncy summer anthem like "Runnin' Outta Moonlight." With a new album on the way and the project's fast-talking, Bonnie and Clyde-inspired first single, "We Went" already out, who knows what kind of journey the Mississippi native has in store for the FarmBorough crowd when he hits the main stage Sunday night.

Sturgill Simpson

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Sturgill Simpson

There aren't many acts that can play Bonnaroo and FarmBorough and seem equally at home at both, but Sturgill Simpson manages to straddle the line between country purist and indie sensation, all while singing with one of the most traditional twangs in the game about some of the most atypical subjects (metaphysics, LSD, unapologetically romantic love with no bro in sight). That gives him an enormous amount of room to play when it comes to his live shows, which dabble in psychedelic riffs and trippy jams as much as homegrown hoedowns and Western swing, all centered around a first-class backing band.

Dwight Yoakam

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Dwight Yoakam

Like punk-rock icons the Ramones did, country renegade Dwight Yoakam tends to speed through his live shows, churning out so many hits and album tracks you'll swear you just heard him play everything he's ever recorded – and then some. With 30 years worth of exceptional material to choose from, including the outstanding Second Hand Heart LP released in April, that's not really possible, but you can bank on him making the most of his allotted time. Here's hoping his set includes the Kentucky native's barn-burning version of "Man of Constant Sorrow." Bluegrass, it ain't.

Wade Bowen

NASHVILLE, TN - MARCH 24: L/R: Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen "Hold my Beer" Album Release Party at City Winery Nashville on March 24, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images)

Rick Diamond/Getty Images

Wade Bowen

New York City and Texas might not always see eye to eye, but Wade Bowen will likely convince a few fans at FarmBorough to jump on board the Red Dirt bandwagon. Born in the dance halls of Texas and Oklahoma, Red Dirt country has its own universe of stars totally separate from the mainstream, usually favoring lyrical substance and tradition over the flavor of the moment. Bowen is a standard bearer of the scene with more than a decade of constant touring under his belt. Relying on the tried-and-true sound of husky vocals, electric guitars and a cranked-up bass, getting an unfamiliar crowd grooving is just another day at the office for him. Leaning on lyrics that mix sincerity and real-life experience with humor and smart turns of phrase, listeners will still get songs about good-timing and hell-raising, but they might also hear about why Saturday nights suck or the honest reality of postpartum depression.

Maddie and Tae

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Maddie and Tae

Given their debut album is still forthcoming, most everyone in the audience during Maddie and Tae's set will be there primarily to sing along with every witty word to the duo's breakthrough, bro-shaming debut single, "Girl in a Country Song." Fair enough. But they'll stick around because they're captivated by the 19-year-old singers' exquisite harmonies, heard on songs such as the inspiring "Fly" and "After the Storm Blows Through," which sounds like it very well could be an old Emmylou Harris–Dolly Parton duet. They've already proven wiser than their years in the songwriting sense, and seeing Maddie and Tae live proves their timeless performance style, as well.