By John Scott | Guest Editor

Country music is as popular today as it has ever been, but its popularity is cyclical and often hinges on the strength of the current pop music. When pop music becomes watered down, country music often fills the void. History shows that country music is full of charismatic artists from Johnny Cash to Garth Brooks, from Patsy Cline to Taylor Swift and great songs. Great country acts aren’t just a national phenomenon. There are plenty of great local country artists, too.

Stephen Carey – Carey has the chops, the look and the songs to be big time. His catchy, hook-laden tunes are packed into three-minute, guitar-driven songs about life and love. He won THE PLAYERS Championship “Rock the Players” competition for this year’s tournament.

Clark Hill – These guys play a great combination of mainstream country and party rock ‘n’ roll, seamlessly working their originals into their sets of covers.

Ronnie Gainey – Gainey is a gifted singer and songwriter turning out tuneful originals that slyly sound simple, belying the gravitas beneath the veneer. Some of the best songs to come out of Jacksonville recently have come from the pen of Gainey.

Sunset Circus – Brothers Scott and Darren Johns have put together a band where their southern rock roots proudly show on the turbo-charged country music they make. A great live band, they are pros who know how to work a crowd.

Brittney Lawrence and the Grave Diggers – Lawrence has one of the most distinctive voices; a natural, evocative rasp that sounds neither forced nor worn out – easily gliding into a country twang or belting out Adele. Her band, the Grave Diggers, adds a solid backing to support.

J. Collins – J. Collins weaves stone country lyrics within a modern country fabric for good effect and easily can throw down a party anthem with the best of them. Example: “Party Your Hats Off,” now why hasn’t someone come up with that title before?

Jordyn Stoddard – What a future this young woman has; she’s already loading up her arsenal of original hooky pop-country confections like the incredible ear worm, “Sayonara.” The Fletcher High student has beyond-her-years presence.

Lauren Elise – Whenever we hear the phrase “young and talented female country singer” the first thought is usually a Taylor Swift wannabe. That is where we’d be wrong with Lauren Elise. Young, talented, female … with a voice of her own. The excellent song “Lonely Alone” is hopefully a precursor of her future output.

Savanna Leigh Bassett – Great wordsmith with catchy songs, this multi-talented instrumentalist and singer/songwriter has one of the most unaffected country voices in this area; she’s a natural.

Larry Mangum – A stalwart of the Jacksonville country music scene, Mangum has entertained this area for decades and shows no signs of slowing down. To quote the old joke, he plays both kinds of music: country & western. Actually, his latest album, “Older Than Dirt,” is a beautiful piece of folk music.

Lyndie Burris – A veteran of the area, Middleburg’s Lyndie Burris recently won the Clay County Fair talent show and shines on the Reba-style country, yet she effortless eases into other styles.

Other talented artists are not listed due only to their proximity to country music. Another stellar list of folk/Americana/alt country /pop sounds/ such as Grandpa’s Cough Medicine, Canary in the Coalmine, Flagship Romance, Corbitt Brothers, Leah Sykes and more could be made, possibly for a future issue.

The artists listed are worth finding. Thankfully, Mavericks at the Jacksonville Landing has been using local bands to open for some of the national acts that come through. But, it’s best to check out the pages of Void and check out the social pages of these artists to find out where and when they are playing in the area.

John Scott is a Jacksonville-born radio personality, musician and writer. He has spent the past 25 years at Jacksonville’s WQIK Country 99.1, most of that time as music director. He is also the co-host of Jacksonville’s No. 1-rated morning show (“The Big Show”) and is host of “The New Show” (Sunday at 10 p.m.), which gives him an opportunity to spotlight local country musicians.