If 2015 wasn’t the year country crowned Chris Stapleton its king, 2016 is certainly set to make up for it.
Let’s rewind: Chris Stapleton is no rookie shopping for Stetsons in Nashville or stroking his beard at Barista Parlor. The singer-songwriter released his solo debut, Traveller, back in May, but Stapleton has been writing hits for some of country’s biggest names for years, and he gathered a sizable following — and a fan in Adele — before he left bluegrass outfit the SteelDrivers. Traveller received high marks from critics across the board upon its release, but a late-in-the-year Country Music Association Awards performance with Justin Timberlake had new fans clamoring for the record and fueling its surge up the country charts at the tail end of 2015. Stapleton collected three statuettes at the CMAs, and he’d go on to score a handful of 2015 Grammy nominations for Traveller, including a nod for Album of the Year. So you’re one of those people who “listens to anything but country,” whatever: The chances of you making it through all of 2015 without hearing Stapleton’s name or the rasp of his baritone are slim. And even if you somehow did miss a strain of “Tennessee Whiskey,” the post-holiday return of Saturday Night Live fixed that up for you real quick.
Stapleton did country proud on SNL, especially considering that the two dudes who represented the genre most recently on the show — Zac Brown and Blake Shelton — peddle the kind of “bro country” and small-town sentiment that prompt eye-rolls from the cynics and the unfamiliar. Stapleton sings about whiskey and beer just like those guys, but he isn’t a cartoon or an ambassador for the truck-drivin’, eagle-tat-sportin’ population outside of Nashville. Being that SNL served as Stapleton’s big-time mainstream debut, “Parachute” was the perfect introduction for new listeners. For the uninitiated, Stapleton’s sky-high belt was more than enough to stop a healthy swath of the viewing public from changing the channel or heading to the kitchen for a snack in between Adam Driver’s Star Wars jokes. For the fans, Stapleton’s watertight ensemble — featuring Mickey Raphael, who’s Willie Nelson’s harmonica pro of choice, and Dave Cobb, Stapleton’s producer on Traveller and arguably the most sought-after record whisperer in Nashville — were basically icing on the cake of Stapleton’s sterling vocal acrobatics.
His next pick was “Nobody to Blame,” Traveller’s second single, and this time the might of the rest of the band — especially that of Morgane, Stapleton’s wife and choral foil — buoyed the tale of broken relationships and smirking remorse beautifully. Stapleton rarely looked away from the neck of his guitar or a shared gaze with Morgane, but if anything, the lack of engagement with the audience just inspired a closer look and listen. Stapleton is about as straightforward as one could hope to get in a performer; he wears that hat because he likes it, not because he’s sporting a Music Row costume, and he’s not gonna strut like Luke Bryan for the sake of louder cheers. The pedal steel, timeless sentiments, and varsity session players and production giants rounding out his act only further elevate great songs that speak a language we can all understand. If Stapleton is the new king of country, may his reign officially begin with this wholly satisfying SNL set.
As for the internet, everyone thought Cobb was Jason Schwartzman playing hooky on Coconut Records and freaked out about his hat, which is more or less tame by Twitter shouty-match standards. Behold, the peanut gallery:
We really could stop this here ’cause no one needs to write a better explanation for Stapleton’s crossover appeal:
Chris Stapleton on SNL, reaffirming my belief that country music should only be performed by people who’d certainly ruin you in a bar fight.
— Adam Jacobi (@Adam_Jacobi) January 17, 2016
….Except for this one.
4000 bald eagles just flew out of Chris Stapleton’s mouth.
— Dan Cronin (@croninwhocares) January 17, 2016
Bebe Buell was stoked for Stapleton’s SNL performance:
— Bebe Buell (@BebeBuellBand) January 17, 2016
As was that guy from *NSync or whatever.
— Justin Timberlake (@jtimberlake) January 17, 2016
Chris Stapleton hits me in the feels
— Stew (@DarrylKs) January 17, 2016
Whaaaaat does this even mean?!
With all the hair on stage in Chris Stapleton’s band we could literally save 100 children, 45 puppies and 37 kittens. #SNL
— IgotHeart (@IgotHeart) January 17, 2016
YOUR beard is full of lollipops and squirrel meat. (And drugs, from the sounds of it.)
“His beard is full of lollipops and squirrel meat.” – Devin on Chris Stapleton
— Kelli (@kleemcadams) January 17, 2016
Chris Stapleton plays the guitar the same way I play Guitar Hero, like a robot. He even activated Star Power at the end of the second song!
— Rafael Utrera (@rmoney222) January 17, 2016
Guys Jason Schwartzman is probably busy filming the next Wes Anderson movie stahhhhhp:
Watching @nbcsnl and wondering how long Jason Schwartzman has been in Chris Stapleton’s band.
— Ryan Gregg (@Ryan_Gregg) January 17, 2016
Since when do Mark Ruffalo and Jason Schwartzman play in Chris Stapleton’s band? #SNL
— Pasha Bahsoun (@ThePashaB) January 17, 2016
Was that Jason Schwartzman playing guitar w Chris Stapleton on @nbcsnl or just his doppelganger?
— Thomas Pashko (@thomaspashko) January 17, 2016
And now for the cowboy hat commentary:
Also, how many peacocks did Chris Stapleton kill to make that hat? #SNL
— Pasha Bahsoun (@ThePashaB) January 17, 2016
I love that Chris Stapleton can sound so badass even with a hat he bought at a gas station near an Indian reservation
— Patrick McLellan (@pmclellan) January 17, 2016
I can pull off most things and look incredible but I could not pull off the cowboy hat Chris Stapleton wears
— Seth Hughes (@THESethHughes) January 17, 2016
Chris Stapleton is the only guy that can pull off wearing Chris Stapletons cowboy hat. #SNL
— Murray (@TheKramer8) January 17, 2016