Sometimes it can feel like country music exists in its own vacuum, a community that’s largely separate from what’s going on in the mainstream. Over the past few years, though, that has begun to change. Artists like Chris Stapleton, Kacey Musgraves, and Maren Morris have all found success beyond Nashville thanks to their broad appeal that shows country doesn’t have to play in the corner by itself.
Those three performers all have something else in common as well: Before they joined the national music conversation, they were all up-and-comers who performed at Windy City Smokeout, the Chicago country music and barbecue festival that has had a real knack for hosting the finest talents of tomorrow since it began in 2013. In just a couple weeks (from July 13 to 15), the event returns for its sixth year, and it has plenty of new rising stars in tow.
For instance, this year’s lineup features Ryan Kinder, who has racked up millions of streams and been named an artist to watch by publications including Rolling Stone. The New York Times, meanwhile, thought that Ashley McBryde’s “A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega” was one of 2017’s best songs. Andrew Duhon is already getting award recognition, as his 2013 album The Moorings was nominated for a Grammy for Best Engineered Album. Riley Green’s new EP In A Truck Right Now recently topped the iTunes Country Albums chart. You might even remember Jimmie Allen from his appearance in that Taylor Swift Diet Coke commercial a few years back. In addition, there are plenty of acts you’re likely already familiar with, like Brothers Osborne, Brett Young, Brett Eldredge, Aaron Lewis, and others.
Ed Warm, a Smokeout co-founder who is also a three-time ACM award-winning promoter and a restaurant owner, reminisces about some of his favorite moments from past festivals, like “when Chris Stapleton played Windy City Smokeout a few years back and every artist on the bill that day was at his stage watching his set, only a few months before the world saw his performance with Justin Timberlake during the Country Music Awards. Or when Maren Morris thrilled us long before she became a household name this year with ‘The Middle.’ It’s those moments that make Windy City Smokeout a can’t-miss event.”