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Preview: 10 Artists to see at Railbird Festival 2021

By Matt Wickstrom

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It’s officially Railbird week folks, which means it’s time to print out those festival schedules and start planning your daily itineraries (if you haven’t already). With a stacked lineup of music with no real weak spot, the only way you can mess things up is by not showing up.

Alongside mainstays like Dave Matthews, Jason Isbell and Leon Bridges, there are plenty of hidden gems and up-and-coming artists performing across the weekend. Here, we’ve compiled our top 10 not to miss during the second annual Railbird Festival on the grounds of Keeneland in Lexington, Ky. from Aug. 28-29.

Nicholas Jamerson

Perhaps more well known for his role as half of Prestonsburg, Ky. country duo Sundy Best, Nicholas Jamerson may just be the most under-the-radar singer-songwriter in all of Appalachia. Performing with his backing band The Morning Jays on the Burl Stage from 1:30-2:15 p.m. local time on Aug. 28, Jamerson looks to kick-off the festival’s performances right with his feel-good blend of country, soul and rock.

Sierra Ferrell

The mesmerizing West Virginia waltzer Sierra Ferrell will still be riding high from the release of her debut LP, Long Time Coming, when she hits Railbird’s Burl Stage on Aug. 28 at 2:45 p.m. local time. Primarily cutting her teeth in the music world by way of busking, Ferrell possesses a spellbinding mix of folk, bluegrass, old-time country, gypsy jazz and ragtime music resulting in exhilarating live performances that those in attendance won’t want to miss.

Joy Oladokun

Admittedly figuring things out through trial by fire, Joy Olakokun’s pop and R&B infused confessionals act as a tell-all of her life as she learns to live it. Oladokun has found success in the large sphere of roots music following the release of in defense of my own happiness. The buzz around Oladokun has only continued to grow since, leading to anticipation boiling over for her set on Railbird’s Limestone Stage on Aug. 28 from 3:45-4:45 p.m. local time.

Margo Price

Mixing vintage country sounds with modern day muscle is Margo Price. The new-age country queen is prepped to shine on her Railbird throne atop the Elkhorn Stage from 4:30-5:30 p.m. local time with everything from heartfelt ballads like ‘Hey Child’ to empowering rock anthems like ‘Twinkle Twinkle.’ Price also has a knack for collaborating after recording songs with the likes of EmmyLou Harris, Sturgill Simpson, Jack White and Adia Victoria in recent months, meaning that anything and everything could be on the table when she hits the stage.

Billy Strings

Billy Strings has long been beloved in Kentucky, but with his recent Grammy win and new album Renewal on the way next month, the genre-bending bluegrass phenom is looking to make an even bigger statement in his return to Railbird. The only returning performer at the second year of the event, Strings will blast off from the festival’s Elkhorn Stage on Aug. 28 from 8:15-9:30 p.m. local time. With his deep catalogue of original material, an even bigger collection of covers and plenty of heady psychedelic jams, Strings has catapulted himself to being one of the top live shows currently touring, making him a must-see at Railbird.

My Morning Jacket

They may not fall quite into the realm of country, roots and Americana, but one thing I’ve learned from a life (mostly) lived in Kentucky is to never miss out on a show from Louisville-based rockers My Morning Jacket in their home state. Already a band known for their electrifying live performances, Jim James and company turn up the intensity and antics ten-fold in their own backyards. With this being the first major music festival back in Kentucky since the onset of the pandemic you can bet that the band are going to pull out all their tricks to light up the night sky when they take to Railbird’s Limestone Stage on Aug. 28 from 9:15-11 p.m. local time.

Grayson Jenkins

Starting off Railbird’s day two action will be Lexington, Ky. by way of Muhlenberg County country artist Grayson Jenkins. Performing on Aug. 29 from 12:45-1:30 p.m. local time on the Burl Stage, Jenkins is sure to get the early bird crowd grooving with several of the poignant and poppy country-rock stylings from his new album Turning Tides out on Aug. 27.

Southern Avenue

Much like Grayson Jenkins, Railbird weekend will double as an album release celebration for Memphis, TN based rock, blues and soul outfit Southern Avenue, who’s latest project Be The Love You Want drops on Aug. 27. The band will surely sample songs from the collection during their set on the Elkhorn Stage on Aug. 29 from 1:15-2 p.m. local time. Led by energetic and charismatic frontwoman Tierinii Naftaly, the band boast a tight chemistry that makes for unforgettable live performances.

The War And Treaty

One of the hottest acts in Nashville following multiple Emerging Artist and Artist Of The Year honors, The War And Treaty are sure to turn heads during their Railbird debut. The husband and wife duo of Michael Trotter Jr. and Tanya Blount will turn up on Railbird’s Elkhorn Stage on Aug. 29 from 2:45-3:30 p.m. local time and are sure to have people laughing, crying and more in their 45-minute set.

Zach Bryan

With a raspy voice that draws upon his Oklahoma upbringing and seven years serving in the U.S. Navy, Zach Bryan cultivates an intimate listening experience with his stripped-down acoustics and brutally honest lyricism (check out songs like 'Heading South' and 'Crooked Teeth'). With the Appalachian region’s appreciation for authentic songwriting, expect the Railbird crowd to take an immediate liking to Bryan’s storytelling when he takes to the Burl Stage on Aug. 29 from 5:45-6:30 p.m. local time. You best make plans to set up early!

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For more information on Railbird Festival, visit their website.