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Trio of popular musicians currently continuing the legacy of toe-tapping tunes radiating from the home of Dolly Parton.


Sevierville, Tennessee’s most oft-mentioned claim to fame is superstar Dolly Parton, the most decorated female country music performer of all time who grew up in the hills around Sevierville and the Great Smoky Mountains and is commemorated with a life-size bronze statue on the courthouse lawn.

But the singer, songwriter, record producer, actress, author, businesswoman and philanthropist isn’t the only well known musician who has called Sevierville home. The late Benny Sims was a bluegrass and country musician who played with Flatt and Scruggs, Roy Acuff and Bill Monroe among others, while Bashful Brother Oswald, who popularized the use of the resonator guitar and Dobro, also played with Acuff's Smoky Mountain Boys and later was a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Oswald died in 2002.

Have Fun during Springbreak in Sevierville, TN
Kristian Bush Photo by Joseph Llanes

These days, Sevierville continues to produce musicians who are making their marks upon the industry. A current trio — Kristian Bush, Tara Thompson and Jacob Whitesides — have all emerged from the small but vibrant town at the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains to make names for themselves through their own unique recording styles.

Kristian Bush was the first of the three to venture from Sevierville into music stardom. He started his career with folk rock duo Billy Pilgrim in the early 1990s, when he and bandmate Andrew Hyra — the brother of actress Meg Ryan — released a much-lauded pair of albums for Atlantic Records, earning popular and critical acclaim as well as a reputation as dynamic live performers.

Bush later teamed up with Jennifer Nettles to form the popular country duo Sugarland. The two met when both were regulars in Atlanta's folk-rock scene and formed Sugarland in 2002. The band exploded onto the music scene, surpassing sales of more than 22 million albums worldwide, achieving five No. 1 singles and winning numerous awards, including trophies from the Grammys, AMAs, ACM Awards, CMT Music Awards and CMA Awards. In October of 2012, they were inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.

In 2013, with Nettles on maternity leave, Bush made his solo debut at the inaugural Country to Country Festival in London, England and the following year signed as a solo artist with Streamsound Records. During Sugarland’s temporary hiatus, Bush’s debut solo single “Trailer Hitch” was released in July 2014 and his debut solo album, Southern Gravity, was released the following April. Now signed to BBR Music Group's Wheelhouse Records imprint, Bush has recently released a new solo single called “Sing Along.”

Another Sevierville product, Bush’s younger brother Brandon, plays keyboards for the band Train. They are the great-grandsons of A.J. Bush, founder of the company that makes Bush’s Best Baked Beans. Their family sold the company when the two were children, but their cousin Jay continues as company spokesman.

Bush isn’t alone among the current Sevierville trio claiming famous relatives. When Rolling Stone magazine identified Tara Thompson’s sound as “Loretta Lynn for the Instagram generation,” the description made sense, as Lynn is the Sevierville native’s third cousin and had a major influence on Thompson’s real-life songwriting.

When Thompson was 18, the self-proclaimed “hillbilly from East Tennessee” left Sevierville for Nashville, where for the better part of a decade she performed classic country songs by the likes of Willie Nelson and Patsy Cline during daily and nightly shows at several popular, downtown honky-tonks.

Now, however, Thompson is performing her own tunes. She recently signed with Big Machine Label Group, whose Valory Music Co. imprint will release Thompson's debut album later this year, and Thompson is currently on the road with Nettles and Brandy Clark as part of CMT's “Next Women of Country Tour.”

Sevierville Singer - Tara Thompson
Tara Thompson
Sevierville Singer - Jacob Whitesides
Jacob Whitesides

As for the most recent talent to emerge from the town, Jacob Whitesides has toured all over the United States, Europe and South America, but says he still feels most at home in Sevierville. “My family and I love going to Dollywood and Splash Country,” he said during a recent interview. “I love the Southern cooking, so we go to Applewood (Farmhouse), where my mom waited tables for 10 years. Honestly, I love just being home in general.”

When he was 13, Whitesides taught himself to play guitar and with the help of the Internet, learned three staples — “Hey There Delilah" by Plain White T's, “Bad Moon Rising" by Creedence Clearwater Revival and Maroon 5’s “She Will Be Loved.” His father, who played in a band that frequently performed at local bars, encouraged his son’s talent, bringing him onstage to perform.

A product of the social media generation, Whitesides began posting YouTube videos of his songs and quickly garnered a rabid following. In 2012, he gained even more national attention by making it through the first cut on the second season of Fox's The X Factor.

In late 2016, after releasing a handful of EPs, Whitesides released his much-anticipated debut album titled “Why?” Wrote one reviewer: “A powerful thirteen-track collection is brimming with standouts like the finger-clicked soul-pop of ‘Lovesick’ and ‘You Told Me So,’ which deeply reflects on the stresses of a long distance relationship.”

With worldwide stardom staring him in the face, Whitesides said he would never forget his roots in Sevierville.

“I’m in Nashville now for the most part, and I live in this tiny apartment and have neighbors who don’t like loud music, so it’s nice to go home in the middle of nowhere and have a bonfire and blast music,” he said. “It’s a completely and totally different vibe, and it’s really a blast to come home and do that.”

For more of the history, sites and sounds, current events and more happening in Sevierville and the Great Smoky Mountains, please visit http://visitsevierville.com.



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