The 10 Best Acts We’ve Seen

Some of the best country musicians and singer-songwriters from Appalachia and beyond gathered this past weekend for the third annual Laurel Cove Music Festival in the scenic southeast mountains. Kentuckyjust north of the Cumberland Gap.

Held in Pineville, Ky. at the Laurel Cove Amphitheater inside Pine Mountain State Resort Park, the festival quickly garnered appreciation from artists and fans alike for its beautiful Appalachian mountain scenery and emphasizes showcasing some of the best regional and up-and-coming songwriters in the business. Known as the venue for one of the state’s oldest traditions – the Kentucky Mountain Laurel Festival – for over 90 years, the venue is building a new one with music that will last for years.

Produced by Bell County Tourism and director Jon Grace (who officially became Kentucky’s newest colonel over the weekend), this year’s gathering was no exception when it came to attracting the best talents from all corners of the continent. With performances from Alberta, Bella White from Canada, Drayton Farley from Alabama, Caleb Caudle from North Carolina and Vincent Neil Emerson from Texas alongside natives of Kentucky and West Virginia like Kelsey Waldon, Sierra Ferrell, Charles Wesley Godwin and Abby Hamilton, every set was truly not to be missed. stock.

As a result, it was like pulling your teeth trying to whittle down the list of festival highlights to just 10. Pretty much every band had whole swaths of the audience singing along and every artist I got the pleasure to see received a standing ovation. In terms of festival crowds, it’s one of the most respectable I’ve seen, focusing intensely on the songwriters in front of them from the opening note of opening act Cody Lee Meece & The Poor Excuses Friday until the last of Vintage Pistol early Sunday morning.

Here are my top 10 moments from the 2022 Laurel Cove Music Festival.

Nicholas Jamerson and the Morning Jays

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After playing at Laurel Cove last year with Sundy Best, the duo he founded with Kristofer Bentley over a decade ago, Nicholas Jamerson returned to the festival this year to play with upstart band The Morning Jays which he created a few years ago as Another Outlet to showcase his heartfelt and philosophical writing. Jamerson’s set included everything from a tribute to his native Eastern Kentucky (“Hindman”) to mature reflections with biblical imagery (“Leviathan”), a humorous tale of gluttony (“Brother Rabbit”) and more. again, each showing a different side of himself and reinforcing why so many within the Commonwealth consider him the best recent artist in Eastern Kentucky, aside from Tyler Childers or Sturgill Simpson.

Sierra Ferrel

Sierra Ferrell at Laurel Cove Fest

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West Virginia nomad Sierra Ferrell sprang onto the Laurel Cove main stage looking like a mountain fairy during her whimsical Friday night show that lit up the night sky. Whether it’s tracks from his acclaimed album Long time ahead like “Bells Of Every Chapel”, “In Dreams” and “Lost At Sea” or new songs like “Lighthouse” and a fiddle track called “Fox Hunt” which she named after a band once fronted by her compatriot John R., a native of Mountain State. Miller of the same name, Ferrell had the crowd of around 1,000 hooked on every word. In a set full of highlights, the best came during a performance of “At The End Of The Rainbow” where the crowd lit up the secluded mountainside amphitheater with the rippling lights emanating from their cell phones.

Abby Hamilton

Abby Hamilton at the Laurel Cove Festival

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Dueting with her brother Zachary on electric guitar as she wielded an acoustic, Abby Hamilton’s old-school chirp and modern-day sass combined for an epic collision of past and present Friday night on the Laurel Cove scene by the creek. Performing songs like “Whatever Helps You Sleep At Night” and “Trailer Park Queen,” Hamilton carried a voice that eclipsed her petite frame that was so powerful and ethereal that she could literally move mountains around the park if she wanted to.

Drayton Farley

Drayton Farley at the Laurel Cove Fest

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With a southern croon featuring a subtle hint of fellow Alabamian Jason Isbell, Drayton Farley kicked off day two on the festival’s main pondside stage with a mix of originals touching on everything from the myth of the American dream (“American Dream (Hard Up)”) and struggling to cope with manual labor (“Blue Collar”) with a good old-fashioned killer ballad (“Lucinda”). He even teased some new songs from a new project he’s recording with Isbell guitarist Sadler Vaden as producer and the 400 Unit as backing band before wrapping it up with an emphatic cover of “Morning Song.” of the Lumineers.

Beautiful White

Bella White at Laurel Cove Fest

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Besides Farley, my favorite new find of the weekend was Bella White from Alberta. The red-haired siren brought a burst of bluegrass and folk bliss to the Laurel Cove main stage just past Farley early Saturday afternoon and quickly captivated the crowd with personal vignettes like “Broke (When I Realized )” and “The Hand Of Your Raising”. As well as teasing a few tracks from her upcoming full-length project, she also found time to reinterpret Guy Clark’s iconic “Dublin Blues” that breathed new life into the old.

Logan Halstead

Logan Halstead at the Laurel Cove Fest

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Logan Halstead, 18, from West Virginia, became an overnight viral hit in Appalachia a year and a half ago with a video of his original “Dark Black Coal” that examines the damage caused by the coal industry. He performed this song and more during a rowdy solo on the main stage on Saturday afternoon that showcased his undeniable and budding talent with originals like “Angel On My Shoulder” in addition to a cover of ” River Takes The Town” by the Wood Brothers and “Uneven Ground”, a recent co-write he has with Laurel Cove alum Arlo McKinley.

Justin Wells

Justin Wells at the Laurel Cove Festival

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Formerly of Fifth On The Floor, Lexington-based artist Justin Wells has continued to thrive in the years since the band’s breakup, releasing two albums to much acclaim. Wells performed a collection of choice tunes from the two with his all-star band which included members of the Brother Smith and John R. Miller crews. The best moments of the action-packed set were an opener “Can’t Break My Heart” which ended with Wells stepping off the mic and shouting the last words in the Mountain Scream without amplification, much to the delight from the crowd with a heartfelt love letter to his wife (“Another Night Lonely”) and a breakdown of Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon Of Kentucky.”

Kelsey Waldon

Kelsey Waldon at the Laurel Cove Fest

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Hot on the heels of a European tour with label mates Oh Boy Records, western Kentucky native Kelsey Waldon headed down Saturday night for an hour-long set of songs, old and new, including hits like “Kentucky, 1988” and “High On Heels” alongside tracks from his upcoming album due out in August like “No Regular Dog”, “Simple As Love” and “Sweet Little Girl”. For good measure, she also gave a nod to her musical mate John Prine with a cover of “Paradise,” fitting considering the musical paradise everyone who frequented Laurel Cove found themselves in throughout. of the weekend.

Cole Chaney with the Wolfpen Branch

Cole Chaney at the Laurel Cove Festival

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One of Kentucky’s most dynamic songwriters over the past year has been Cole Chaney. The Lexington via Ashland-based artist’s debut Mercy racked up over 3,000,000 streams on Spotify during that time and propelled it to the stage with 49 Winchester, Zach Bryan and now Laurel Cove with the help of Central Kentucky bluegrass supergroup Wolfpen Branch. The partnership has brought a jolt of dynamism to Chaney’s already vivid storytelling on songs like “Charlene,” “Another Day In The Life,” “Coal Shooter” and “Ill Will Creek” as his career potential continues to spin. for the stars.

Vincent Neil Emerson

Closing the festival’s creekside stage on Saturday night was a solo performance by tactful and tenacious Texas songwriter Vincent Neil Emerson. With each song, Emerson evoked a new emotion from the audience, it seemed to be anger (“Son Of A Bitch”), humility (“Letters On The Marquee”), sadness (“The Ballad Of The Choctaw- Apache”) and the highlight of her set, however, was a performance of the old tune “Wabash Cannonball” which, like Abby Hamilton the night before, bridged the gap between past and present in a profound way.

READ MORE: Carly Pearce to be inducted into Kentucky Music Hall of Fame

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Elizabeth J. Harless