The other day we did a recap of the SiriusXM Highway Finds at Riverfront Stage but after talking about all 23 artists we saw that day we thought we would point out those we thought were the best, and one that was the worst of the day. With all the #SALADGATE talk, we thought would be fun to break into “Best Lettuce” and “Best Tomato”, so here are Stacy and I’s picks. (We started out saying each one of us would pick, but for the most part we agreed on all the categories.)
BIG STAGE –
Stacy and I agreed who was our favorite performance for the day on the “big stage”. A Thousand Horses was incredible. They had a different sound, much bigger and better than last year, even added more guys to the band and 3 back-up singers which gave some songs a real fullness. Their debut album “Southernality” was released the day before CMA Fest and it is probably one of the best CD’s so far in 2015. They have a bit of southern rock, country, maybe some 70’s rock and blues all in a great package fronted by singer Michael Hobby. They head out this summer with Darius Rucker and expect they will blow up.
ACOUSTIC STAGE (“ON THE HORIZON”) –
Stacy – Jackson Michelson’s “The Good Life”, I had heard On the Horizon and it was a good song but nothing “extra” special. Didn’t know anything about the artist so was excited to see what he sounded like live. When he came out and started singing he sounded great! I was blown away. That acoustic stage, I think, is always hard for the performers to keep the crowds attention but he did. He was very at ease, great stage presence and really made the sometimes kinda boring acoustic set fun. He did “The Good Life” and it sounded great. This is one artist I hope The Highway keeps playing.
Ed – Adam Sanders is just getting started as an artist in his own right. He’s had songs for Dustin Lynch and his buddy, Cole Swindell, but since his first song “Somewhere You Don’t Go” first started being played on the Highway he has real potential with a traditional sounding voice and “new country” sensibilities. Live he did a great job, he has a real southern twang, and his version of “Hell of the Night” sounded wholly different than Dustin’s. He had good personality and was able to make the most of his 15 minutes.
BEST TOMATO (solo or group)
Clare Dunn is amazing and keeps getting better. We saw her before she was even a Highway Find artist and was impressed. Last year she was so good, had a different rock sound and attitude. This was our first time seeing her since opening for Bob Seger and signing her Universal record deal and was blown away by how much better she has gotten. We had worried being a major label artist would change her, but instead her songs were rockier with a better edge and did all they could to expose her guitar goddess skills. Clare works so hard and is such a great artist we hope for great things in 2015!
Stacy – Jess Moskaluke was On the Horizon a few months back and I loved her song “Cheap Wine and Cigarettes”. I will be the first to admit, I’m not a huge fan of most of the females in country music so for me to say I REALLY like a female artist, take it that they must be good. I knew from what Buzz had told about her when he started playing her song that she was from Canada. I followed her on Twitter and she is very responsive to her fans. I was excited to finally get to see her live. When she came out on stage she seemed really excited to be there and had as good a voice in person as on the radio. I really hope that The Highway will start playing her music again.
Ed – Sonia Leigh’s song “Put In Your Pocket” was one of the ones John Marks highlighted when he did a week of new female artists last year and we really liked the song, was so uptempo and had a good vibe to it. “When We Were Alone” came out this year and didn’t stay on long, but liked the sound. She has a new song coming soon to the Highway, “Booty Call” that is funny and has such a different sound to it than what others are doing. Live she was even better, infectious and fun with a very cool backing band. We liked her so much we went Friday and saw her with full band at the BMI stage and were even more impressed what she could do when she can really rock.
BIGGEST SURPRISE (lettuce or tomato)
Haley & Michaels definitely stood out at the most unexpected artist in a good way. Stacy had liked Another Love Song, I hadn’t, and neither of us liked 500 Miles cover, so we came in not knowing as a “couple” duo how they would be. They came out with great energy and both can really sing. They have good chemistry, but not cheesy and they picked songs that played to their strengths. Shannon Haley has an incredible voice and it really stood out. We are so glad that Buzz has promoted them and will look at them in a whole new light after seeing them live.
Stacy and I only didn’t like one artist all day. That is a testament to how many good artists there are, and maybe how smart John Marks and the guys at Sirius are, or that they are really responsive to what the fans say by buying albums, talking on social media and as members of the Highway Patrol. That said, there was nothing we could find positive about Haley Georgia, as we said in our recap, she couldn’t sing, the songs were bad and she had zero personality. Maybe she can get better songs and work on stage presence, but the voice isn’t something you can just learn. With so many great female artists out there, we think Universal should give a deal to one more deserving.
The Highway Finds stage is consistently turning out to be THE highlight of CMA Week for us. We hope it continues and it is great that the artists got an even bigger platform this year down at the Riverfront. Make sure and look out for these and other Highway Finds artists this year near you and go and see them and support great new country music.