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Main Stage Friday Night | The Ridge Runners’ Opening Act & Joe Nichols’ Main Stage Performance
June 23 @ 6:30 pm - 10:30 pm
Joe Nichols has been a mainstay of country music for two decades, bridging the gap between the genre’s old-school roots and contemporary era. He’s a 21st century traditionalist — an artist who’s both timely and timeless, racking up a half-dozen Number 1 singles and ten Top 10 hits with a sound that honors his heroes. From his first radio smash, 2002’s “The Impossible,” to 2021’s Home Run,” Nichols has proudly done things his own way, blurring the boundaries between country music’s past and present along the way.
It’s an approach that has earned Nichols multi-platinum success, three Grammy nominations, a CMA award, an ACM trophy, and — perhaps most importantly — the support of his idols. He still remembers the day he received a letter from Buck Owens, who passed away the same week his message arrived in Nichols’ mailbox. The two had previously crossed paths in Bakersfield, California, where Owens complimented Nichols on his classic sound… and gave him some good-natured teasing about the length of his hair.
“He wrote me the day before he died,” remembers Nichols, who was still riding high on the success of his gold-selling fourth album, III, and its chart-topping single “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off.” “It was so nice of him to do that. He said, ‘I’m really proud of you. I love the way you’re keeping it country. And thank you for cutting that daggum hair!’ An honor like that is irreplaceable. It’s got nothing to do with winning awards or having your songs on the radio. It’s much more than that. It’s the kind of thing you pass down to your grandkids.”
For Nichols — an Arkansas native who grew up listening to icons like George Strait, Merle Haggard, George Jones, and Buck Owens — keeping things country has been a lifelong mission. He made his major-label debut with 2002’s Man With A Memory, a platinum-selling album rooted in southern storytelling and honky-tonk hooks, then continued blending the worlds of neo-traditionalist country and modern twang with follow-up records like Real Things, Crickets, and It Never Gets Old. Between duetting with Dolly Parton on “If I Were a Carpenter,” serving as Garth Brooks’ hand-picked opening act, and numerous other career milestones, Nichols also kept things lighthearted, showcasing his easy-going humor with “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off” and a slow, shuffling cover of Six Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.” At the core of his sound, though, remained a serious commitment to a bigger goal: making genuine country music that nodded to his influences while still breaking new ground.
“It’s a fine line to walk,” he admits. “How do you stay fresh while also honoring your roots? I’ve always admired people like Merle Haggard and Buck Owens, who built their careers on timeless songs and created their own sound by electrifying traditional country music. It’s one thing to have hit songs, but it’s something else entirely to have hits that still sound timeless 15 years later. That’s always been my goal. I’m a country singer who loves the old-school stuff. I throw it back and pay homage to the guys I grew up listening to, while hopefully bringing that sound into the modern world.”
Nichols swings for the fences once again with his newest single, “Home Run,” written by award-winning songwriters Ashley Gorley, Dallas Davidson and Ross Copperman. It’s a song about reconnection and rebirth — an anthem for anyone looking to turn life’s curveballs into a straight shot toward the center field seats.
“It’s more than a great hook; it’s a great message, too,” says Nichols. “After the year we’ve had, we could all use a little bit of a break, just to step away from the rat race for a while and get back to our roots. We could all use a reminder of what home feels like.”
“Home Run” reunites Nichols with acclaimed music producers Mickey Jack Cones and Derek George, who helmed Nichols’ much-lauded 2013 Red Bow Records album Crickets containing back-to-back number 1 hits “Sunny and 75” and “Yeah.”
Additionally, “Home Run” reunites Nichols with longtime collaborator and legendary label head Benny Brown, who helped Nichols achieve success at Red Bow Records before signing him to the newly-formed Quartz Hill Records in early 2021. The song marks the singer’s first release for Quartz Hill, ushering in a new era of classic-influenced country music. For Nichols — an artist who remains focused on honoring his roots — there couldn’t be a better group of partners to join him in the next phase of his career.
“For the first time in a long time, I don’t feel any pressure,” he says. “I’m around great people. I’m the type of person who’s always striving for more, but I’ve reached a place where I’m grateful for everything I’ve accomplished so far. It’s been such a good run. I feel at peace, and that has freed me up to make new music that’s very honest.”
Carrying the torch for traditional country music is a full-time job, even for a legend in the making. Joe Nichols continues to meet the challenge with the same roll-up-your-sleeves work ethic that helped launch his career decades earlier, mixing sharp songwriting, a palpable appreciation for the genre’s past, and modern melodies into his own sound. There’s more music to make. More milestones to chase down. More home runs to knock out of the park.
The game is still unwinding. But Joe Nichols has already hit his home run.
Songs by Joe Nichols:
Opening Act: The Ridge Runners