Up next: The four biggest country music stars of the 2020s

photo: Andrew Wendowski

By Jeff Uveino

The beginning of the 2020s found country music in a place that is as familiar to the genre’s history as is a guitar and fiddle.

While some artists work to pull country music forward and evolve its sound, others try to preserve its traditional sounds, as has always been the genre’s case.

The previous decade saw the rise, dominance, and (near) fall of “bro country,” before a new class of Nashville sooners made sappy love songs the featured song type on the radio once again.

Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line, Jason Aldean and more dominated the 2010s by tapping into these sounds. Now, however, country music seems to be experiencing a “changing of the guard,” as it has before and will do again in the future.

Of the young artists vying to become the next Aldean, Blake Shelton or Thomas Rhett, four have emerged that represent the current state of the genre holistically.

Each artist’s sound is similar enough to fit the mainstream, yet distinct enough to allow them to stand out. And, while tapping into slightly different circles of an ever-vast world of country music, these four have primed themselves to be the genre’s biggest stars of the 2020s.

Luke Combs

Luke Combs is already a superstar.

The Charlotte, North Carolina native’s popularity skyrocketed in 2017 off of the success of his debut album, “This One’s For You,” and since then, it really hasn’t stopped.

Luke Combs (Matt Winklemeyer/Getty Images)

Comb’s sophomore album, “What You See Is What You Get,” not only dominated country charts in late 2019 and into 2020, but also peaked at No. 1 on Billboard’s genre-binding Top 200 chart. The album has produced four singles that have reached No. 1 on the US country airplay chart, and is certified platinum by the RIAA.

If that’s not impressive enough, “This One’s For You” spent an unprecedented 50 weeks at No. 1 on country charts. 

So, what makes Combs so popular? He has a little bit of everything, which suits everyone. He seamlessly transitions from relentlessly authentic love songs to tales of buck-wild Friday nights, all while maintaining his trademark, acoustic-based sound that features just the right amount of electric guitar.

Combs once again proved his popularity with the release of five new songs last Friday, including “Forever After All,” which soared to the top of genre-wide streaming charts, a feat that is rarely achieved by a country artist.

It’s hard to argue against Combs being the face of country music right now. He dominates the radio. He dominates streaming services. And, if his music catalog stays true to its roots, he will dominate the decade.

Jon Pardi

Jon Pardi’s debut album put his name in the Nashville conversation six years ago, but it was his 2016 album “California Sunrise” that launched his career to the level that it is currently at.

Pardi is this list’s representative for traditional country music. All three of his studio albums are loaded with fiddle, and the Dixon, California native has had a lot of radio success despite keeping his sound and lyrics traditional instead of leaning toward pop.

Jon Pardi (Jim Wright/Rolling Stone)

“California Sunrise” produced four top-10 singles, and is certified platinum by the RIAA.

In 2019, “Heartache Medication” became Pardi’s third No. 1 single on US country radio airplay, and was the lead single for his September album that bears the same name. The album made it to No. 2 on US country charts, largely held back by the dominance of Combs, and continued Pardi’s momentum as the modern-day defender of the “Bakersfield Sound.”

Pardi is 34, which is prime age for a country artist to have the biggest years of their career. Expect to hear him throughout the 20s and beyond.

Morgan Wallen

The bad boy. The wildcard. The mullet.

Despite being the most pop-centric artist on this list, Morgan Wallen has adopted the role of Nashville’s “bad boy” after his rise to fame on the success of his 2018 debut album, “If I Know Me.”

Morgan Wallen (Debby Wong/Shutterstock)

Wallen’s signature mullet, cutoff flannel and skinny jeans look was everywhere in 2019, and, in case you haven’t noticed, an absurd amount of American teenagers are cutting their hair into mullets.

Wallen may be to blame.

He’s gotten into some trouble this year, infamously getting arrested at Kid Rock’s bar in Nashville in May, and getting removed from hosting NBC’s Saturday Night Live in October after videos surfaced of him partying the week before.

However, country music has always made space for outlaws. And while Wallen’s music doesn’t fit the outlaw bill, his freewheeling lifestyle does.

At just 27 years old, Wallen’s potential is endless. George Strait, whom many consider the king of modern day country music, didn’t have his first No. 1 hit until he was 30. Wallen has had three such hits on country radio so far, and his new single “7 Summers” not only debuted at No. 1 on country charts in September, but at No. 6 on pop charts.

Wallen’s upcoming album, for which “7 Summers” was the third released single, will be a good litmus test for his popularity. Don’t be surprised to see Combs-like numbers produced by that record, and the rest of his work this decade.

Riley Green

Representing the state of Alabama, Riley Green is perhaps the least popular of the aforementioned artists. At least for now.

The Jacksonville, Alabama native embodies the rural south through and through, and his lyrics reflect it. He played quarterback at Jacksonville State before pursuing a music career, and released his debut album, “Different ‘Round Here,” in September 2019.

Riley Green (Rick Diamond/Getty Images)

Green’s sound is more traditional than Combs but less than Pardi, and his unapologetic songwriting has contributed to his popularity, despite some negative publicity.

Green is the underdog in the race for country music stardom, and although he may never achieve the walloping chart numbers of Combs and Wallen, he’s here to stay throughout the 20s.

Channing-Brown addresses SBU community as “ABR” author

photo: Austin Channing-Brown/Twitter

By Dustyn Green

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — St. Bonaventure University held its annual “All Bonaventure Reads” keynote address on Tuesday night, as author Austin Channing-Brown virtually spoke to students about her book.

First-year students were asked to read “I’m Still Here: Black Dignity In a World Made for Whiteness” as part of their first-year experiences. Channing-Brown held a “fireside chat-style” question and answer session after her address.

“Each year, the All Bonaventure Reads committee selects a book for the community to read and discuss,” said Dr. Joseph Zimmer, vice president for academic affairs and provost at SBU. “These books usually deal with controversial subjects, so our students can learn to participate in respectful dialogue with others.”

Despite becoming a popular speaker, it is not without a sense of surprise that Brown accepted the honor of speaking to a campus-wide community.

“There are a handful of colleges and universities that (do something similar) and every time I am blown away,” she said.

The COVID-19 pandemic halted Channing-Brown from visiting the campus in Cattaraugus County, so instead, she visited from a room in her three-bedroom apartment with a rack of her “favorite books about racial justice.”

Channing-Brown has one ideology in her job that she gets excited about seeing in action, no matter how many times she can do so.

“The idea that the experiences of some Black students are going to be affirmed is really exciting to me.”

Although the topics she discusses as part of her career are difficult, she goes back to her days as a college student sitting in an African-American history class to find a strategy on how to educate her audience and that is using the word “friends” when she addresses the issues of race.

That thought comes from this professor, as she said, “being very involved in the lives of Black students.”

“It was a class that if you were a Black student, you had to take it,” Channing-Brown said.

Channing-Brown was pregnant when she was writing the book, and said that there was a “new  layer of emotion knowing she was going to bring a little boy into the world.”

Even with the emotional layer there, the power of this turn of events was more powerful than what the words above describe.

“I was writing about an America that I could not protect my son from,” Channing-Brown said. “It made me write with a fierceness that I do not know I would have had if I was not pregnant.”

Channing-Brown’s underlying message was something much deeper than the need to fix racial issues in the United States. She made a case for what it means to be against racism and condemn the actions of those around you.

“If you choose not to do anything for the cause of racial injustice, I am not here to judge you,” Channing-Brown said. “You just do not get to call yourself anti-racist.”

Bona women’s soccer stays competitive with scrimmages

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Tom Doyle

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — The St. Bonaventure women’s soccer team is focused, energized and ready for the spring season. 

Although the Bonnies cannot play against any opposing universities in the fall due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, they have been preparing for the possibility of playing in spring with intra-squad scrimmages.   

On Oct. 9, the team played a scrimmage that pitted the “gray” team versus the “white” team, ending in a 2-1 “gray” victory.

Coach Steve Brdarski praised how well his girls played in the scrimmage.   

“From the first scrimmage to the second scrimmage, there were some great individual performances,” Brdarski said. “There were also some great highlights as a group, and as a team.”

The gray team’s offense was led by a duo of sophomores, as Rachel Hutchison and Kasey Hollins each scored a goal. Hutchinson was assisted by freshman Alyssa Spring, while Hollins had the game-winning goal from a corner kick with five minutes to play.

Freshman Lydia Choban scored on an assist from freshman Alexa Martinos for the white team’s lone goal.

“Both groups had some great moments within the 70 minutes that we played,” Brdarski said. “It was very competitive, it was feisty, and I loved the development from a coaching perspective.”  

For the next two weeks, the Bonnies will have unrestricted training and will look to continue to build on what they have been working on. 

“We will hopefully have one more scrimmage here to finish up the fall season, and hope to see some of our best soccer here,” Brdarski said. 

Kessler finds new home at SBU

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Ryan Surmay

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — Even though this season is different from previous, that doesn’t take away from the preparations Callie Kessler has made for the upcoming season. 

It’s not easy being an athlete during COVID-19, with schedules and practices constantly changing.  From the time she started playing, however, Kessler was always prepared for the big spotlight. That led her to where she is now, in her freshman year on the St. Bonaventure women’s lacrosse team.

“I started playing youth lacrosse in 2nd grade, and in 6th grade I started travel,” Kessler said. “Then I played club (lacrosse), which other coaches go to. We went to the ESPN Center in Florida, which was big to be seen by other coaches.”

When asked why she decided to come to Bona’s, the North Haven, Connecticut gave an answer that is familiar among the SBU community.

“I came on campus in January and right away it felt super homey,” she said. “Even through I’m so far, it feels like home is 10 minutes down the street because everyone is so welcoming. All coaches are so welcoming and have an open-door policy, so everyone is comfortable going to them.”

For some people, it’s a big adjustment to go from high school, where it’s obvious that a Division I athlete would be the best player on the field, to then go to a much more competitive league. 

Kessler said the speed of the collegiate game will be a challenging adjustment.

“Playing club, we got to play with some of the college rules,” she said. “It is going to be much faster and girls are much stronger, but I’ll get adjusted.” 

In this unique season, Kessler said she is most excited to learn to play with her new teammates, and learn how the collegiate schedule works.

While a significant knee injury has kept her out of practice and the team’s intra-squad scrimmage on Oct. 24, Kessler will look to return to her prior form and be a huge addition for her team over the next four years.  

NFL WEEK 7: Goss’ three good things, three bad things and one thing to watch

photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

By Anthony Goss

This fall, the Tampa Bay Lighting won the Stanley Cup, the Tampa Bay Rays are in the World Series, and now the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are blazing their own path to a divisional crown and potentially a Super Bowl appearance.

The latter might be far away, but the excitement is real for Tampa fans since QB Tom Brady has rejuvenated this Buccaneers franchise, and now they are one of the best teams in the NFL.

Many doubted the ability of the six-time champion, but Brady has played with a chip on his shoulder this season. His play has contributed to making Tampa Bay the new epicenter of the sports world.

Three Good Things 

Steelers Outlast Titans 

In a battle of undefeated teams, the Steelers outlasted a furious rally from the Tennessee Titans to move to 6-0 on the season. This game was a tale of two halves, as the Steelers raced out to a 24-7 lead, and in the second half the Titans stormed back and nearly sent the game to overtime. 

QB Ben Roethlisberger was not himself, but the Steelers defense had another strong performance led by LB Bud Dupree and DE TJ Watt. In the past weeks, the Steelers’ record was questioned because they had not beaten a quality team, but in the last two weeks they have shut down two of the best rushing attacks in the league and grabbed wins against quality AFC opponents.

The offense arguably has not reached its full potential yet, but almost every skill position player has the potential to breakout any given week: This week, RB James Conner led the rushing game with 20 carries for 82 yards and WR Juju Smith-Schuster took the opportunity to silence critics with 9 catches for 85 yards. The Steelers sit at first place in the AFC North and can strengthen their hold in the division with a pivotal game against Baltimore on Sunday.  

Brady and the Bucs look Dominant 

Despite a couple hiccups early in the season, the Buccaneers have been a force on both sides of the ball. QB Tom Brady looks motivated to silence the critics, and he followed up a quiet performance last week by gashing a weak Raiders defense with 369 yards and four touchdowns, which lifted him into the all-time for passing touchdowns.  

After his last year in New England with limited options on offense, Brady has a plethora of exceptional weapons this season. In a couple weeks, Tampa will be adding WR Antonio Brown to this offensive attack.

If they can keep his antics under control, this surging Buccaneers offense will really start to give opposing defenses headaches. Defensively, the Buccaneers held a solid Raiders run game to seventy-six yards and have yet to allow over a hundred rushing yards in any game this season. Through seven games, the Buccaneers have established the best run defense and become one of the best total defenses in football. 

Linebackers Lavonte David Devin White are anchoring a nasty Buccaneers defense. The obsession with winning and preparedness that has become a hallmark of Brady’s illustrious career seems has reflected on his teammates and turned Tampa Bay into one of the best teams in the NFC.  

Cardinals End Seahawks Undefeated Streak 

In a Sunday night shootout, the Cardinals handed Seattle its first loss of the season. A couple weeks ago, I mentioned some of the strange results from Arizona after bursting out to a 2-0 start, but QB Kyler Murray and company have regained their mojo with three straight wins.

Given the crowded situation in the NFC, winning divisional matchups and protecting home-field is vital, and the Cardinals did exactly that. QB Russell Wilson’s turnovers were out of character, but the Cardinals deserve credit for taking advantage and making the plays necessary to win. 

Murray’s dynamic performance resulted in 360 passing yards and sixty-seven rushing yards with four total touchdowns. His connection with WR DeAndre Hopkins grows stronger every week and points further to the potency of this offense. The loss of RB Kenyan Drake to an ankle injury hurts, but Arizona should be able to handle the loss. 

If Sunday night is any indication of what is to come in this division the next half of the season, the NFC West race will be one to keep an eye on until Wild Card Weekend.  

Three Bad Things 

Cam Newton Starting to Struggle  

After a decent start, the Cam Newton experiment at quarterback has gone sour in New England. Many attributed last week’s poor showing against Denver to the weird rescheduling consequences from a COVID-19 outbreak, but with Sunday’s loss, the Patriots have put themselves in unfamiliar territory. 

At 2-4, the Patriots are third in the AFC East with many holes on both sides, but quarterback play has been the main issue on this losing skid. Newton was deplorable with ninety-eight yards and three interceptions on Sunday.

Bill Belichick pulled Newton toward the end of the game and many were critical of Newton’s latest performances, including himself. The Patriots lack any speed or playmakers, and the defense has its own issues. However, Newton must elevate his game going forward to prove his worth as a starting quarterback. With a big game against Buffalo next week, there is no better time for Newton to right the wrongs and put the Patriots back into the race for the AFC East.  

Turmoil in Dallas 

Once again, the Dallas Cowboys took the field and embarrassed themselves. 

After a week of controversy with reports leaking out about discontent with the coaching staff among the players, Dallas continued to struggle against division rival Washington. The loss of QB Dak Prescott has had a severe effect on this offense, which mustered up only three points Sunday. 

The defense has been extremely poor this season and has given up a record amount of points. No moment captures the 2020 Cowboys better than the dirty hit by Washington LB Jon Bostic on QB Andy Dalton, a hit that was followed by absolutely no retaliation by any Dallas player. Beyond the major character issues spread throughout the team, the Cowboys simply lack the talent to compete with most teams.

Prescott’s presence was only able to mask those problems to an extent, but without him, one must question the front office and the decisions they have made. Letting CB Byron Jones leave was a horrible mistake, yet they paid players RB Ezekiel Elliot and LB Jaylon Smith who have contributed next to nothing this season. 

Head coach Mike McCarthy was supposed to turn the Cowboys from a good to a great team after a year off, but has only made things worse. There are some bad football teams in the NFL, but the Cowboys are a bad team without upside. 

Falcons Collapse…..Again 

When a team loses by accidentally scoring a touchdown, it is fair to say they have invented new ways to lose. Down by two, Atlanta put together a solid drive to run clock and potentially win the game in the final seconds. 

On a first-and-goal play, RB Todd Gurley rushed through the line and broke into the secondary but could not stop his momentum before the goal line and accidentally scored a touchdown with a little over a minute left to play. This gave QB Matthew Stafford plenty of time to march down the field and toss a game winning touchdown to TE TJ Hockenson. 

Sitting at 1-6, the Falcons add another gut-wrenching loss to their record. Last week was a fresh start with a win against Minnesota, but this loss is a major setback for any hopes of climbing back into contention. Strange things have happened this season, but the ways in which Atlanta has struggled to finish games is incredible.  

Keep an Eye On…. 

NFC West Race 

San Francisco’s win brought the 49ers back over .500, the Rams defeated the Bears on Monday night, and Arizona’s win over Seattle gave them their second divisional win. Each of the four teams in the NFC West have an argument for being the best team in the division. With a long way to go, this divisional race is becoming one of the exciting storylines in the NFL.  

Bonnies to play four non-conference games at Mohegan Sun

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Anthony Goss

As the college basketball season approaches, men’s basketball teams are filing into multiple-team events (MTE’s) in bubbles to begin the season amid the Coronavirus pandemic.

One of the major bubble sights for these games is at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut.

According to CBS College Basketball Insider Jon Rothstein, St. Bonaventure will play four non-conference games at Mohegan Sun to start the 2020-21 basketball season.

Towson, Stephen F. Austin, and Vermont are the scheduled opponents for the Bonnies, and a fourth opponent will be named later. This will be the fourth-straight season that the Bonnies will play Vermont. The Catamounts have won two of the teams’ three previous contests.

SBU joins Rhode Island as the other Atlantic 10 team currently scheduled to play four games at Mohegan Sun. No updates on the full schedule for the 2020-21 season have been released.  

Wilson reflects on path to Bona soccer program

photo courtesy of gobonnies.sbu.edu

By Dustyn Green

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — Dreams.

Every kid has them. They will change, cause stress and lead them down a life-changing path.

In the world of sports, one of the most common dreams is to play collegiately on an NCAA Division I team. For most, this is the culmination of four years of hard work on and off your high school team.

However, that was not the case for St. Bonaventure men’s soccer goalkeeper Trevor Wilson.

“I only played one year of high school soccer,” Wilson said.

Before taking off for a development program with the Portland Timbers, which did not allow him to play high school contests, Wilson earned first-team all-league as a sophomore in high school.

His experience continued by playing on an Olympic development team, where he represented the state of Oregon.

“I played on a regional team that consisted of players from 13 states on the West Coast,” Wilson said. “The idea of it is to get to train in as professional of an environment as you can every day.”

Wilson said spots on the team are very limited, which means there are no guarantees. Players develop at a higher and faster rates due to the environment.

It goes beyond the physical training and stretches into the mental aspects of competitiveness and edge. Ultimately, these aspects are what led the senior marketing major to four years of collegiate soccer.

Wilson spent his first two campaigns at DePaul before transferring to SBU for his junior season in 2019.

Wilson wasted no time impressing the Bona faithful, or the SBU coaching staff, in his first season at SBU. He started 10 contests for the Bonnies, including a game at Dayton, in which he had a career-high of eight saves.

Wilson averaged 2.31 goals allowed a year ago, and had saved 69% of the shots that he faced.

Like most college athletes across the nation, Wilson was affected by the COVID-19 cancelation of the 2020 fall sports season, and had to grapple with the decision of how he wanted to pursue his future.

As of now, he plans to return to SBU for a fifth year.

City of Olean faces budget decisions as COVID-19 impacts local economy

photo: Molly Williams/The Intrepid

By Nic Gelyon

OLEAN, NY — William Aiello hates the idea of losing government jobs to Coronavirus.

“When you cut jobs, you affect families,” said Aiello, mayor of the City of Olean. “That would be the last option.” 

But whether COVID-19 reemerges in Cattaraugus County or not, job loss may be a reality for Aiello. According to the mayor, Olean will enter next year missing around 31% of expected sales tax revenues, and about 20% of state-provided infrastructure funds. 

Aiello knows, however, that job loss cannot be counted out. 

If the city finds its financial situation worsening as early budget discussions begin for next year, layoffs could become even more of a reality. Some layoffs could possibly happen within the field of public safety.  

“Right now… if things don’t get better, if we don’t get some stimulus money, we may be looking at layoffs,” Aiello said to the Olean City Police Department almost three months ago. Those talks were halted, because the city had virtually nothing financially to offer the police officers’ union. 

As for other city employees, Aiello has deemed most workers essential.

“Do we stop sweeping the streets? You have to do repairs,” he said. “People have become accustomed to the services we provide.”

It remains to be seen, however, how these services will be provided if yet another COVID-19 outbreak occurs. And as county health officials have stated recently, that is much more of a reality than was once thought. 

“Are we going to shut the building down again?” Aiello wondered, speaking on the prospect of another outbreak. “Or do we go limited hours? We did 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and you could only get to the city clerk’s office… it’s a juggling act a lot of times.” 

The city is prepared to take steps to make up for lost funds, so that, hopefully, layoffs don’t happen. The first step, Aiello said, would be to cut some of those programs that aren’t essential to survival, but that many Olean residents still rely upon. 

“The first thing to go would be some of our programs… your youth activities and that are some of the first things to go,” Aiello said. “And then you get into, do we pick up leaves? Do we shut down the parks, so we don’t have to maintain them?” 

Many services are also relied upon by what Aiello said are the 20,000-plus people that commute to Olean for work every day. That number would include both government workers and industrial workers at companies such as Dresser Rand and Cutco. 

In an economy, workers tend to spend a significant amount of money where they work, depending on how much time they spend there. 

If another coronavirus spike does impact Olean, and businesses are forced to shut down again, the city will be put in a difficult place: Not only could workers be laid off, but workers that remain could have limited options as to where they could spend their money. 

Not helping the situation, some projects in Olean geared towards boosting the economy have been either delayed or put on hold. For example, the Hilton hotel under construction on Buffalo Street is set to open by the new year, according to Aiello.  

The hotel project, which should have broken ground around the time of last year’s postponed St. Bonaventure graduation, was delayed by problems buying materials.  

‘The suppliers shut down, and now they’re back to trying to fill their back orders,” Aiello said.  

State-maintained construction going on by Main Street in Olean has also been delayed, because the state has had to wait weeks at a time for the proper cement to finish the project. Known colloquially as “Walkable Olean II,” the project at Main and Front streets aims to make the city more accessible, thus drawing more people in and further boosting the economy. 

These projects have the potential to boost both jobs and sales tax revenues. But right now, their effects are dormant. 

It will be difficult, according to the mayor, to make up for the lost ground caused by COVID-19 solely by cutting different community programs. The numbers are just too large. 

And with questions already arising about the ability for the federal and state government to provide aid, and with projects like the Hilton and Walkable Olean II being delayed, the city is put in a difficult position. 

The city also can’t afford to pay government employees to sit at home if there is no work to do.   

So, the state of Olean’s economy seems to rely upon the status of state and federal aid. Economic stimulus money helped Olean earlier this year, to the tune of a 12 to 15 percent jump in sales tax revenue. But the next round of state and federal aid is either, according to Aiello, a “political football”— or is altogether not realistic. 

“There’s been bills introduced to get some relief, but nothing has come forward yet,” Aiello said. “At the state level, our state is at a deficit right now… I’m not looking to get any relief from the state.”