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2024 Two Step Inn Fest Proves The Future is Country

The rise of the independent country megafestival with support from ’90s country stars has been one of the biggest illustrations for how significant, sustainable, and broad-based the resurgence of roots and twang in country music has been. The fact that the calendar can now sustain an entire circuit of these megafests speaks to how mainstream radio is no longer the kingmaker. It’s the fans and their interests that are curating the winners in 2024. And those winners happen to be more country-sounding, and come with better songs than perhaps any other time in the last two decades.

This was the story of the 2024 Two Step Inn in Georgetown, TX April 20th and 21st. Held just north of Austin in San Gabriel Park, it put a lineup together that included a wide range of artists from the country and roots space, but all who seemed to have one thing in common: they’re playing a role in country music’s resurgence.

You had country legends like Hank Williams Jr., Clint Black, and Lee Ann Womack. You had young songwriters such as Sam Barber and Dylan Gossett who’ve blown up via Tik-Tok. You had some of the top names in independent country who are taking the music to levels we never thought possible from artists not played on mainstream radio like Charley Crockett and Colter Wall. And you even had a surging artist from the mainstream in Megan Moroney who despite all the glitz and glamor, also fits in this “more country” movement.

The lineup was incredible, with the only concern being how you could navigate between the three major stages to see it all in two very packed days. Sometimes you hate to miss a festival from the fear of missing out. In the case of the Two Step Inn, sometimes you missed out because you chose to be at one stage instead of another.

A big monkey wrench was almost thrown into Two Step Inn’s plans when the weather forecast called for torrential rain on Saturday. The rain held off for much of the day, until about 5:00 PM during Colter Wall’s set. Even as the sky opened up though, nobody was budging from their opportunity to experience a rare appearance from the cowboy and Western singer.

Colter Wall

But when it became inevitable that big weather would move in, Two Step Inn organizers decided to cancel sets from Sammy Kershaw, Ryan Bingham, and Ernest on Saturday to make room for the evening’s big acts of Martina McBride, Ian Munsick, and on the main stage, Cody Johnson to play earlier. Some gripes went up about the cancellations, but when the torrential downpours started right after Cody Johnson finished, the wisdom of the decision bore out.

From what the forecast looked like initially, it could have been much worse. The entire day could have been a rain out. Ernest still got to perform as part of a Keith Whitley tribute (read full report), and Ryan Bingham later played a set at Austin’s South Congress club C-Boys.

But it wasn’t the rain or the cancellations that people kept remarking on throughout the weekend, it was the music. Make no mistake about it, young traditionalist Zach Top has caught an incredible wave of interest behind his new album Cold Beer & Country Music, and perhaps nobody received more positive buzz over the weekend. Timing is so paramount when it comes to who makes it in music, and Zach Top feels like one of those artists that the timing is perfect for.

Zach Top

Zach Top has the voice, the songs, the pickin’, and the presence to bring real deal country music back to the masses, and that’s what he’s doing in the present tense. His song “Use Me” is a bona fide Song of the Year contender, and it was cool to see him playing with steel guitarist Smokin’ Brett Resnick. Resnick came up playing with Kelsey Waldon, and always seems to be around folks making great country music.

Brett Resnick with Zach Top

The other performer who made a large impression with the audience was of course Sierra Ferrell. She is more like an apparition from a fever dream as opposed to something this cold ball of rock hurdling through space could ever sustain in a corporal state. She manifested at the Two Step Inn like a living fairy tale, charming a massive crowd with her fictional tales of mirth and wonder, and then floated back into the ether to re-appear somewhere else in the world like an auspicious ghost.

On Sunday for her main set, she took the form of an Old World lass to go with the motif of her excellent new album Trail of Flowers. Someday the stage attire of Sierra Ferrell will populate museums and coffee table books. But this isn’t just about image. Sierra Ferrell is the reigning Saving Country Music Artist of the Year from bringing an inspired new vigor to the very elemental roots of country music, and bringing a massive new cohort of fans to American roots music along with her.

Sierra Ferrell

Speaking of rising stars, sisters Elanor, Lily, and Powell Balkcom of The Castellows are the perfect example of how the next generation of roots music is rising up and making country cool and relevant to a new generation. Well beyond pretty faces, they’re writing their own songs, and playing their own instruments. They break hearts when they walk out on stage, they break hearts when they break into three-part blood harmony, and they sing songs of heartbreak that evoke the very roots of country.

Like the latest wave of performers, The Castellows first created conversation via social media. But they proved they have real world appeal at Two Step Inn.

The Castellows

Along with the Castellows, Sam Barber and Dylan Gossett are also artists that started on social media, and are seeing soaring numbers and popularity. Two Step Inn participants Nolan Taylor and Bo Staloch also fit in that conversation. It all seems to be made possible by Zach Bryan opening up a space for pure, earnest songwriters to share their craft and find an audience in younger listeners. It’s not entirely “country,” but it’s more country than anything else, and it’s allowing great songs to resonate with impressionable listeners in a way that opens up a brighter future in American music.

Sam Barber

J.R. Carroll definitely fits in this songwriter category too, and as he said from the stage, most people probably know him from playing in Zach Bryan’s band. But he’s quickly making an audience of his own, and this was reflected in the massive crowd that showed up for his set early on Sunday. Unlike some of the other Tik-Tok songwriters that still feel a little green, J.R. has been around the world a few times. Opening his set with Crosby, Still, and Nash’s “Ohio” spoke to the current moment, and to Carroll’s mature perspective on the world.

J.R. Carroll

Of these earnest songwriters, perhaps none is rising faster, and perhaps in a more sustainable manner than Oklahoma’s Wyatt Flores. After taking some time off to focus on his mental health, he’s now back looking healthy and focused, and sang songs from his recent EP Half Life. While introducing the new song “Running Out of Time,” Wyatt talked about losing three people close to him recently. Flores knows how to take real world inspirations, and wrap them into songs that convey their raw emotion.

Speaking of taking time off, that’s also what Mark Chesnutt did recently as well to get in front of a recent undisclosed medical issue. But at Two Step Inn, he looked happy and healthy, and sounded great as he opened his set with classics like “Bubba Shot The Jukebox” and “Blame It On Texas.”

Opening the show for Chesnutt was yet another young and surging traditionalist in Jake Worthington. After his set, Worthington and his entire band stood side stage and watched Chesnutt who paid Jake about the best compliment anyone could. “That boy is COUNTRY,” Chesnutt said. “He’s carrying it on.”

Mark Chesnutt
Jake Worthington
Jake Worthington and band watching Mark Chesnutt

Chesnutt was followed by the always-entertaining Neal McCoy, and then a special acoustic set from John Anderson with legendary producer Buddy Cannon (Willie Nelson and many others) acting as accompaniment.

Pop country performers get old. Country performers get legendary. John Anderson proved this during his hour-long set. He went from putting the roof on the Grand Ole Opry as part of a construction crew to now being the latest inductee to the country music Hall of Fame. Similar to Chesnutt, it was good to see John Anderson in fighting form.

John Anderson
John Anderson with Buddy Cannon

Megan Moroney is on the opposite side of the career arc from these country legends. She’s currently one of the hottest up-and-comers in the mainstream. When she came out in a pink shirt and a bedazzled microphone, strutting choreographed moves, you could tell she’d been drilled on Music Row, and it drew a sharp contrast with the rest of Two Step Inn’s performers.

But it’s the songs and sincerity of Megan Moroney that endear her even to some of the staunchest of country music traditionalists. The crowd was full of girls and young women, but they were listening to serious country songs, even if they were packaged in a pop presentation. If Moroney symbolizes the future of pop country, it once again underscores just how country the future of country music will be.

Megan Moroney

The true outlier of the festival was rapper Ludacris. But just like the inaugural year of Two Step Inn in 2023 when they brought Diplo, T-Pain, and Blanco Brown, the girls in daisy dukes and boots were there in droves, swinging their hands in the air like they just don’t care as Ludacris barked orders by Barney on a children’s program that the audience delightfully obeyed.

There were more N-bombs dropped that at a Morgan Wallen private party, and ironically, Ludacris was the guy to introduce the most pop country moment of the fest when he performed a remix of Jason Aldean’s “Dirt Road Anthem.” So much for the Black community being turned off by “Try That In A Small Town.” Ludacris had everyone shouting along to his lyrics about how Austin girls give the best head.

You have to give Ludacris credit though. Being the only rapper at a country festival can’t be easy. But it probably would have been better if Two Step Inn had booked a Black country artist to satisfy their diversity quota, since there are plenty of them out there and they always seem to get superseded by performers from other genres (see Beyoncé).


Unfortunately, Saving Country Music could only take in a brief portion of Cody Johnson’s Saturday headlining set before the downpours started. And because of the rain and access to the photo pit was restricted, no images were captured. Strangely, the only place on the festival grounds that were swamped in Saturday evening’s rains were right in front of the main stage where photographers and security stand.

On Sunday evening, it was the Turnpike Troubadours that had the final dance to cap the Two Step Inn off. With a revamped set list incorporating new songs from their recent album A Cat in the Rain, an unusually animated Evan Felker led the group in an inspired set for the enthusiastic crowd. Years ago, Turnpike fans were left stupefied that the boys from Oklahoma weren’t any bigger. Now they’re undeniably one of the very few bands in independent country and Red Dirt that nobody else can follow.

In what could have been a weather disaster, Two Step Inn persevered. In what’s increasingly becoming an overcrowded festival market, Two Step Inn pulled together a lineup that represented the true breadth and strength of the country music resurgence. As you stood and saw crowds of 25,000 taking it all in, it really helped underscore just how far the alternative movement to mainstream country has come, and how good the hands are to shepherd it into the future.

– – – – – – – – –

All photos by Kyle “Trigger” Coroneos. For more photos and video from Two Step Inn and other events, follow Saving Country Music on Instagram. Apologies to any performers not pictured or mentioned.

Vincent Neil Emerson always impresses.
Like a long track tornado tangled with a trailer park and a hair salon and left its remnants in a loblolly pine, Hannah Dasher makes a very large impression and draws a wide audience of gossiping gawkers. She’s like a Trans-Am that shoots flames from the exhaust pipes when running from the cops.
Drake Milligan brings an honest enthusiasm and Sun Record-era vibe to country music in a way that renders it naturally infectious. After having to cancel his appearance at the 2023 Two Step Inn due to a serious auto accident, he made up for it and then some in 2024.
The future is country.
Sierra Ferrell introducing her song “Bells Of Every Chapel”
Pat Green had a surprisingly good set, perhaps because it was before Happy Hour.
Nolan Taylor
The legendary Lee Ann Womack
Hank Williams Jr.
Charley Crockett performing ahead of the release of his new album “$10 Cowboy”
A little rain ain’t stopping a good time.
Isaac Gibson of 49 Winchester
Dylan Gossett
Deana Carter
Evan Felker of the Turnpike Troubadours
Ryan Engleman of the Turnpike Troubadours
Hammerin’ Hank Early of the Turnpike Troubadours
Kyle Nix of the Turnpike Troubadours
Eleanor “Ellie” Balkcom of The Castellows
Lily Balkcom of The Castellows
Powell Balkcom of The Castellows
Brendon Anthony isn’t just Pat Green’s fiddle player, he’s also the Director of the Texas Music Office, a one-of-a-kind state organization that helps advocate for Texas music and encourage music business development in the state.
Ian Munsick still performing without a bass player.
Ella Langley
Wyatt Flores fiddle player Kenzie Sue Miracle is one of the best in the business at the moment.
Sax player Jeff Dazey played with Vincent Neil Emerson, and later sat in with Sierra Ferrell.
What a country stage looks like when it’s prepped for a hip-hop artist.
Got any Hank on that thing?
Clint Black performs as a full moon rises.
Bo Staloch

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