Year in Music 2020

It’s been very easy to feel overwhelmed in 2020, when it seems like the rules get rewritten every day — by a global pandemic, a long-overdue public conversation about systemic racism and more. But faced with an industry and a society undergoing all kinds of turbulence, musicians and business folk across Nashville’s constellation of music scenes responded with ingenuity and compassion. Even though there’s still much work to be done, there’s a great deal to take away from this extraordinary year — and to be proud of. In our Year in Music issue, we get perspective from outstanding musicians Kyshona Armstrong, Lilly Hiatt and Becca Mancari; our critics take stock of the year’s top local albums; we hand the mic to an array of singers, songwriters and others in our annual Rock ’n’ Roll poll; and much more.

Finding the Center

Kyshona Armstrong, Lilly Hiatt and Becca Mancari find hope for the future in a strange and challenging year

By Stephen Trageser

Top Local Albums Critics’ Poll

From Bully and Brian Brown to Jason Isbell and Kyshona, here are our favorite local LPs of the year

The Year in Hip-Hop

Brian Brown, Tim Gent and others made 2020 one of the most dynamic, vibrant years yet in local rap

By Brittney McKenna

The Year in Country

Breland, Reyna Roberts and other Black country aces prove Lil Nas X isn’t an anomaly

By Marcus K. Dowling

The Year in Jazz, Blues, R&B and Soul

Artists and organizers across an array of scenes rolled with the many punches of 2020

By Ron Wynn


Skin Tension, JayVe Montgomery and others used jazz and other improvisational music in fascinating ways 

By Edd Hurt

Say It Loud

Joy Oladokun, Adia Victoria and other Nashville musicians called eloquently for an end to systemic racism in 2020

By Megan Seling

Navigating Troubled Waters

Without in-person shows, musicians, venues and fans developed intriguing approaches to streaming concerts

By Charlie Zaillian

The Year in Ven-News

Music venues continue the uphill battle for survival — and keep contributing to our communities

By Stephen Trageser

Those We Lost

Remembering John Prine, Little Richard, Charley Pride, Justin Townes Earle and more

By Stephen Trageser

The 2020 Rock ’n’ Roll Poll

The local music scene on the local music scene

Compiled by Stephen Trageser

2020 Music Timeline


1/18: David Olney dies at 71

1/31: Brian Brown releases Journey


2/6: Keith Blaydes, co-owner of Tribe and Play, dies at 56

2/8: Kent Osborne, Heaven Honey, many more play Spewfest V at The Cobra and The East Room

2/26: Jim Williamson, Nashville Jazz Orchestra music director, dies at 78

2/28: Kyshona releases Listen


3/3: Deadly tornado hits Middle Tennessee, damaging buldings including Five Points’ The Basement East and Jefferson Street’s J.U.M.P. office

3/9: Marathon Music Works hosts Brandi Carlile, Jason Isbell, Yola, many more for To Nashville With Love tornado benefit

3/11: Knoxville’s Big Ears is first Tennessee festival to announce COVID-related cancellation

3/12: The 5 Spot is first Nashville venue to announce temporary closure, launch crowdfunding campaign

3/20: Kenny Rogers dies at 81

3/27: Lilly Hiatt releases Walking Proof

3/28: Jan Howard, Opry legend, dies at 91


4/1: Rolling Stone: Taylor Swift gave money to and funded health insurance for Grimey’s staff

4/7: John Prine dies at 73

4/17: Nashville venues join National Independent Venue Association, lobby for federal aid

4/22: Zac Brown’s Southern Ground Nashville, formerly Monument Studios, listed for sale


5/8: Hayley Williams releases Petals for Armor

5/9: Little Richard dies at 87

5/15: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit release Reunions 

5/25: Bucky Baxter dies at 65

5/28: Douglas Corner Cafe announces permanent closure

5/29: Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum announces furloughs and layoffs for around 170 staff members


6/2: Mickey Guyton, Shannon Sanders, more join panel on racism in Nashville music business

6/12: Nashville Symphony cancels 2020-21 season, furloughs all musicians, most staff

6/18: Far Out Nashville hosts Far Out Free Fest online

6/20: Jefferson Street Jazz and Blues Festival moves online

6/26: Becca Mancari releases The Greatest Part


7/6: Charlie Daniels dies at 83

7/7: Metro Council votes to allow clients at home-based businesses like recording studios

7/8: Gary Walker, songwriter and Great Escape founder, dies at 87

7/10: The Change Up, monthlong streaming series featuring local hip-hop and R&B, launches

7/17: Black Bra releases Black Bra

Fanny’s House of Music announces expansion plan


8/10: Historic marker recognizing the Rock Block unveiled outside Exit/In

8/20: Robert’s Western World’s JesseLee Jones buys Ernest Tubb Record Shops building

Justin Townes Earle dies at 38

8/21: Bully releases Sugaregg

8/28: Ruston Kelly releases Shape & Destroy

8/31: Jonathan Odine, much-loved drummer, dies at 32


9/1: Metro Council votes to offer CARES Act funds to independent venues

9/14: Music City Bandwidth, six-week streaming series supporting independent venues, starts

9/16: Thriving Roots streaming panel series launches in lieu of AmericanaFest


10/20: Daisha McBride, Margo Price, many more play Third Man Records’ Musicians for Marquita telethon

10/24: J.T. Corenflos, session guitarist, dies at 56

10/28: Marty Stuart, many more play Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s Big Night fundraising stream


11/13: Eve Maret releases Stars Aligned

Group of Elliston Place buildings, including site of The End, sell

11/30: Nashville Public Radio launches music discovery station WNXP, moves 91Classical online only


12/4: Nashville Symphony and musicians reach stipend agreement

12/6: David Soldi, much-loved punk, dies at 43

12/12:  Charley Pride dies at 86

Year in Music 2020

From left: Kyshona Armstrong, Becca Mancari and Lilly Hiatt at The 5 Spot

Like what you read?

Click here to make a contribution to the Scene and support local journalism!