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Kentucky’s Got Talent

Up-and-coming musicians chase their dreams

Chris Linton, Harrodsburg, is the frontman for the Chris Linton Band, which, pre-pandemic, played gigs most every weekend. Photo: Paige Franklin
Haleigh Martin, a Jackson Purchase Energy consumer-member, began playing guitar at age 7. Photo: Andrew Orth
Haleigh Martin. Photo: Ace Images
My Finest Hour, a group based out of London, Kentucky, thrives on playing to large crowds, says member Chuck Stuber. Photo: Connie Birch
Ernie “Sticktight” Akins II has his sights set on getting his music to a broader audience. Photo: Jenny Kawa
Ashley Renae Smith has opened for artists like Aaron Lewis and Joe Nichols. Photo: Jade Grisham

Ambition. Musical chops. A growing fan base. Work ethic. Kentucky’s talented up-and-coming musical acts all have traits that can catapult them to bigger and better venues and opportunities, if the stars align. 

You may have seen them at fairs, festivals, nightspots and private events while working their way toward their dreams. 

Here’s a glimpse into what it’s like for them to perform in front of a crowd, what inspires them and where you can hear their latest tracks.

Chris Linton 
Harrodsburg resident Chris Linton’s first real gig was a motorcycle rally that he played for free, for the exposure when he was 17, only about a year after he began singing. 

Now he’s the frontman for the Chris Linton Band, which, pre-pandemic, played about every weekend in Tennessee, Wisconsin or Kentucky. 

Linton counts Travis Tritt, George Strait and Waylon Jennings among his idols. His advice for other aspiring musical artists is simple. 

“Don’t think about it, just do it and always have somebody who’s willing to support you, because it’s a crazy life!” he says. 

Linton’s music can be heard on Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music and YouTube. 

Haleigh Martin 
Haleigh Martin remembers gleefully singing Ricky Martin songs karaoke style in her living room as a 4-year-old and picking up a guitar by age 7, foreshadowing a future where she’d sing and play for crowds in Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana and Illinois. 

Dividing her time between her hometown of Paducah and Nashville, Martin, a Jackson Purchase Energy consumer-member, typically performs a few times a week, shedding her somewhat shy persona for a self-described sassy stage presence, belting out original songs brimming with girl power. 

“When I’m on stage I let all of that (shyness) go,” she says. “I can be the most outrageous person onstage.” 

Her first complete album, Manpower, can be found at www.

My Finest Hour 
Chuck Stuber says while some may consider their youth as their glory years, he and his fellow members of the band My Finest Hour consider midlife a time when their talents and confidence can shine through—hence, the band’s name. 

By day, Stuber is a service manager in member relations with Jackson Energy. He is the band’s guitarist, keyboard player and vocalist, along with Mike Birch on drums, Wes Deweese on bass/ vocals, Roger Dale House on lead vocals and Brandon Stokes on guitar. Playing together for about two years, all are based in the London area. 

The group performs a mix of original and cover tunes in the classic rock, pop and R&B genres at festivals, fairs and other events. 

Stuber says the feeling of playing before a live audience is incomparable, and the time seems to fly. 

“It’s amazing,” he says. “The bigger the crowd the better, the more excited the crowd. You can always feed off their energy.”

To learn more about the band, visit Facebook: My Finest Hour or check out their clips on YouTube. 

Ernie “Sticktight” Akins II 
As a child, Ernie Akins II often would get covered with sticky burrs while playing outside—a trait that led to a nickname that also stuck: Sticktight. 

It became the Willisburg resident’s stage name, and either solo or along with his band, he plays Southern rock hits at nightclubs and distilleries, weddings, fairs and festivals in Kentucky, Tennessee, Michigan and parts of the western United States. 

After his debut singing and playing guitar in church at age 9, Akins started performing in other venues, first covers and eventually his original songs. When attending concerts as a fan, he noted what crowds most responded to, using it to hone his own stage presence. 

Eventually, Sticktight, a Salt River Electric consumer-member, hopes to earn greater levels of success, expanding to more states, getting radio airplay and opening for a national act. 

“I do want to get this new album recorded, and I’d love to single a few songs off of that and make some music videos with that,” he says. “I’d love to get my music out to a broader audience.” 

Check out the band’s music at or on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. 

Ashley Renae Smith 
Country singer Ashley Renae Smith of Owenton has been singing since she was 4 and playing guitar since age 13. Since then, she’s opened for Aaron Lewis, Brian Davis and Joe Nichols, and performed the national anthem for thousands of fans at the 2017 and 2018 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Race in Sparta. 

Smith, an Owen Electric consumer-member, has performed at the Owen Electric Annual Meeting and is regularly booked at Elk Creek Winery in Owenton, as well as small music festivals and local events. 

Playing solo or with backup musicians, Smith plays a mix of covers and original songs written for her by family friend Matthew Miller. 

She says she really enjoys singing the national anthem, though it’s a bit nerve wracking. 

“It’s such an honor for me to perform the national anthem, and I definitely don’t want to mess it up!’ she says. 

Listen online at com/ashleyrenae or find her Spotify channel to hear her latest offerings.

More up and coming artists
Our electric cooperatives and readers suggested more up-and-coming artists than we could fit in print, so here’s a compilation of talent across the state. Where possible, we’re including links to websites and Facebook pages so that you can check out the artists for yourself. 

Do you know an artist we should add to this listing? Email us at

Annabel Whitledge

Arielle Evans performing at the 2019 Kentucky Farm Bureau Variety Showcase December 2019.

Big Black Cadillac

Billy Starleene

Chase Cimala


John Capps

Justin Wells

Kaleb Cecil

Kevin Jaggers

Mackenzie Bell plays on Kentucky Farm Bureau’s VOICES YouTube podcast

Papa Bear and the Love Den

Sasha Colette

7eventh Time Down

Timmy Dunn

Tyler Booth

Waylon Nelson

Will Muse

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