It's summertime, which means country music is back. It's a guilty pleasure of mine, and with the Taste of Country Music Festival happening this weekend at Hunter Mountain in Upstate New York, I created a playlist with some of the music you are likely to hear if you are attending, or if you would like to pretend you are there.
1. Logan Mize-Can't Get Away From A Good Time
Logan isn't one of the headliners for this festival (he shouldn't be), but he has a twangy voice that makes him sound like authentic country. He is not part of the Country-Pop movement. In fact, no one at this festival is a definitive Country-Pop artist. He'll be playing in the mid-afternoon on Saturday, around when people will first be recovering from Friday night's festivities. This will be a good song to get people in the spirit for day 2. If I'm Logan's manager, I'm opening with this tune.
2. Keith Urban-John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16
Keith on Friday night is a perfect start for the festival. All his songs have that feel-good melodic base to them. This is latest hit, which straddles the border of Country-Pop since it features a lot of synthesized musical aspects to it, is a chart-topper in the making. In classic Keith fashion, he pretty much stays at the same vocal level the whole song, which isn't as bad as you would think. In fact, the song wouldn't work without it. He's the only artist who could sing this song, and that's what makes him a great artist.
3. Colt Ford-Driving Around Song
No, Colt Ford is not Country-Pop despite being a rapper in the country genre. He is in a genre all his own. This is his best song, and one of my favorites in all of country. I would pay good money to see him in concert. While this features Jason Aldean, I'm sure he would have someone capable of singing the chorus in his band, as Jason won't be there. Maybe one of the artists already there will make an appearance with him.
4. Eli Young Band-10,000 Towns
As one of the few groups I have seen live in concert, I can say that they are the real deal. This is one of the unappreciated groups in country, stuck in the shadows of the likes of Florida Georgia Line and Lady Antebellum. This is another country song about typical life in a small town, and how many towns are alike. It's not one of their biggest hits, but it's one of my favorites.
5. Chase Bryant-Take It On Back
Chase isn't a headliner either, but one of the interesting things about the country music industry is that they are always prepping the next generation of artists while still keeping the veteran artists relevant. For some reason the Binghamton country station played this song several times a day. It has a hard-rock element to it, but still has the bones of a country song.
6. Billy Currington-Soundtrack
This is a complete curveball I'm throwing at everybody. Multiple songs from a typical country album make the radio, but not all at once. Right now, the opening song of Billy's new album, "Don't It" is the current hit. If you hear this song at #TOC, remember in a few months, or even next summer, how I warned you about this song.
7. Tim McGraw-Diamond Rings and Old Barstools
Many of the traditional country music fans will point to Tim as one of the last bastions of "real country". This is a good example of a song that is written like a "real country" song. Although I don't agree with the "real country" vs. Country-Pop debate, as I believe music is made to evolve, if you are looking for "real country", here it is. Somehow Tim makes two objects that normally wouldn't have anything to do with each other have some meaning in this song.
8. Josh Abbott Band-Hangin' Around
This is exactly what people at #TOC will be doing. Just hangin' around, having a good time with their buddies, and listening to some music. This group could surprise the festival attendees, and they may mention this group as one of their favorite performers of the weekend.
9. Jerrod Niemann-Drink to That All Night
Honestly, I'm waiting for this guy to do something that will elevate him to a status as an A-List country artist. He's been around too long, and I haven't heard anything that would propel him. He is a low B-List star, maybe even C-List right now. He needs a new album soon. So if you're interested in what he can do, this is his best song.
10. Toby Keith-Drunk Americans
I have a feeling that if you took a poll of people at the festival this weekend, the artist they're most excited to see is Toby Keith. It would have been too easy to put "Red Solo Cup" as the Toby Keith song on this list. Believe me, there will be plenty of Red Solo Cups on the premises - there's a reason this is a camping festival. He's the final act for a reason, and the crowd will be raising their cups in the air and waving them to this song. If you're a fan of country, and 'murica, then this song is for you.
11. Easton Corbin-Clockwork
Easton is nearly in the same category as Jerrod to me, but I think his track record is slightly better. He's had multiple big songs, but the casual country fan may have not heard of this guy. Country-Pop has taken over, and if you're not part of the past generation of stars (Keith Urban, Tim McGraw, Toby Keith, Kenny Chesney, etc.) you better get with the times and at least use some of the aspects of Country-Pop in your music. There are too many guys like Easton (see Granger Smith, Josh Turner) who haven't broken out. You either have to be so out there on a limb (see Eric Church) to make it, or be Country-Pop. He hasn't done either. Here's a single from 2014.
12. Tracy Lawrence-Find Out Who Your Friends Are
Speaking of "real country", this is a guy who has been doing this for nearly 25 years. He is a member of the old country generation. This is an oldie but goody that may stay in people's heads. No old-school country song is complete without some string-sounding instrumentals in it, and this song has plenty of that.