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Chris Stapleton has never had a song break into the top 10 of the Billboard Singles Chart. He has struck out repeatedly for the last five years on mainstream country radio.

Normally, this means an artist is tossed to the curb and a replacement is quickly provided by a major label to fill the void. However, this is an entirely different animal.

With his long hair and overall disheveled appearance, Stapleton is a phenom that has shattered the industry's business model. Without radio support, he sells out out major venues from coast to coast. Fans are attracted to his amazing guitar skills and vocals that drench every syllable with unbridled emotion.

Stapleton's continued domination of a genre as a virtual outcast is the top story in the year-in-review for country music in 2017.

Two weeks ago, Stapleton's new album “From A Room: Volume 2” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard albums chart. This knocked his 2016 release “From A Room: Volume 1” down to No. 3 and his 2015 breakout project “Traveller” to No. 4.

That's right, the 39-year-old musical vagabond from Lexington, Kentucky, had three of the top-four-selling albums in the industry.

“There are new rules to the old game and guys like Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson has it figured out,” says songwriter Kendell Marvel of Thompsonville, who co-wrote tunes with Stapleton on all three hit albums, including “Hard Livin'” and “Tryin' to Untangle my Mind” from the new record.

Marvel says the new plan of attack is to build a fan base by playing powerhouse concerts, which can be promoted through social media, instead of the costly public relation machines on Music Row.

The goal is for great live performances with quality original material to create huge concert audiences and merchandise sales that are off the charts.

Marvel is a believer in the formula. He released new album “Lowdown & Lonesome” in October and has created a buzz with his monthly honky-tonk shows at the Exit / In in Nashville. His album was critically acclaimed in numerous Nashville and national publications.

Marvel will perform an acoustic show at Morello's in Harrisburg at 7 p.m. Jan. 6. Tickets are $10. Eldorado's Travis Beasley will be the opening act.

Tragedy engulfed the country music world when 58 people attending a Jason Aldean concert as part of the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas on Oct. 1 were killed by a gunman shooting from a hotel room overlooking the venue.

“I talked to a guy that dove under the stage when the shooting started,” Marvel said. “He said it was pitch black. Then, when the bullets went through the stage floor, they saw the light come through the holes.”

Three legendary country artist died in 2017.

Glenn Campbell was the silky smooth voice behind timeless classics “By the Time I get to Phoenix,” “Galveston” and “Wichita Lineman.” He hosted a popular variety show on television and his stormy relationship with Tanya Tucker was tabloid gold. He was 81 when he lost his battle with Alzheimer's on Aug. 8.

Soft-spoken Don Williams, known as “The Gentle Giant,” succumbed to emphysema on Sept. 8. He was 78. His long hit list included “I Believe in You,” “Til the Rivers All Run Dry” and “Some Broken Hearts Never Mend.” Once, after singing “Tulsa Time” at the Du Quoin State Fair, a fan yelled out, “play it again.” And he did.

A few hours after Williams died, someone posted on Facebook: “Maybe the strongest argument I ever heard for the existence of an active hand of God — Don Williams met Bob McDill.” Real country music fans will understand the assessment. Sam Hunt fans may need help from Google.

Mel Tillis died on Nov. 19 of respiratory failure. He was 85. His hits included “Coca-Cola Cowboy” and “Good Woman Blues.” Tillis, well-known for his speech impediment, was a legendary songwriter, penning classics like “Detroit City” for Bobby Bare, “Ruby, Don't Take your Love to Town” for Kenny Rogers and “The Snakes Crawl at Night” for Charley Pride.

Other deaths included Michael Johnson, Troy Gentry, rockers Gregg Allman and Tom Petty, Nashville executive Norro Wilson and 92-year-old Ben Dorcy, “the oldest roadie in the world,” who had worked with Willie Nelson, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard.

Local venues continued to provide outstanding talent for local fans.

Organizers of HerrinFesta Italiana used local acts to open for headliners Gary Allan, Old Dominion and George Thorogood for its annual May event.

In June, Black Diamond Harley-Davidson packed the field behind the dealership with a mass of fans for a concert starring Toby Keith, Herrin native David Lee Murphy and Marvel.

Traditional country music was the big winner at the Du Quoin State Fair this year as a package show featuring Collin Raye, Sammy Kershaw and Aaron Tippin was the top-selling attraction. Newcomers Chris Janson and Granger Smith also appeared on the main grandstand stage.

Patoka native Drew Baldridge served as the opening act for Smith.

Baldridge has been paying his dues for five years in Nashville and is finally starting to get a little traction, thanks to feel good tune “Dance With Ya” and hook-friendly new single “Guns & Roses.”

Growing up, Baldridge and John Spicer were best friends, classmates and musical collaborators, until life took them in different directions.

Spicer and his The Fightin' Side band played a recent show at the Peabody Opera House in St. Louis.

A pair of die-hard St. Louis Cardinals fans, Baldridge and Spicer will perform a free concert at 8 p.m. Jan. 12 in Ballpark Village, located adjacent to Busch Stadium. 

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Vince Hoffard can be reached at 618-658-9095 or


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