EAST TEXAS (KLTV) - One category of the 2015 Country Music Association Awards is jam-packed with East Texans: Female Vocalist of the Year.
Three of the nominees grew up within about sixty miles of each other. So, we caught up with some of them, and other East Texas artists, to see what makes this neck of the woods such fertile ground for country music stardom.
Kacey Musgraves is up for three awards at the CMA's, including Female Vocalist of the Year, and she's won twice in the past. So it was a big deal this fall when she came home, to Mineola, to perform.
Backstage, she told us she owes a lot to her small-town roots.
"I'm really proud to be not only from Texas, obviously Texas is a great state," Musgraves said. "But I think East Texas is really special. There's a lot of creativity here."
She's nominated alongside Lindale native Miranda Lambert and Lee Ann Womack for Female Vocalist of the Year. Musgraves called herself a huge Lee Ann Womack fan. The feeling is mutual.
"I definitely, so much, look at Miranda and Kacey with pride," Womack said before an October performance near Dallas. "I love those girls, and Kacey and I are really close. I'm just so proud of 'em."
Lee Ann Womack grew up in Jacksonville. She won her first CMA award in 2000 for her smash hit, "I Hope You Dance." Since then, she's won five more.
She still can't believe she's up for a seventh in the same category as two of her favorite East Texas girls.
"I know what it felt like to grow up in this little town in East Texas, and have these big dreams," Womack said. "And I cannot believe that out of five people, three of us grew up, you know, right near each other."
These talented women are carrying on the East Texas country music tradition started by artists like Tex Ritter, Ray Price, and George Jones. Womack said you can feel their presence if you grow up in East Texas playing music.
"I would like to think that there's something in the soil down here," Womack said. "There's a soulfulness that's there, that you don't get from other regions I think. So, I like to think I got a little bit of that."
And she carries it with her, to every audience member, at her shows all around the world.
"I'm obnoxiously proud of where I'm from," Womack said. "So much of that comes out in my music, and what I say. Every night, I tell people, 'I grew up in a small town in East Texas, my dad worked at a radio station, my mom was a school teacher.' I tell them who I am, and what I'm about."
Womack's not the only country music voice from Jacksonville. Texas Country Music Hall of Fame member Neal McCoy grew up there as well. He said that Womack's father taught one of his high school classes.
In addition to his connection to Lee Ann, he told us he knew Miranda Lambert long before she started racking up CMA awards. He first met her years ago, during a sound check for an East Texas Cattle Baron's Ball performance.
"Miranda's parents, Rick and Bev, brought her over, and she was like 14 or 15," McCoy said. "And they said, is there any way she could sing a song, maybe come back tonight and sing a song with you?"
McCoy said yes, but they weren't able to sing together that night, because Miranda was too young to be there. But they've performed together since, and McCoy says her talent in undeniable.
"I've known Miranda forever," McCoy said. "And to see her blossom into what she has blossomed into, and to see her become the female vocalist for five years in a row, it's pretty great stuff."
McCoy still calls East Texas home. He has for years. He says the small town sound you hear from East Texas artists is very attractive to people who didn't grow up here. That's why it sticks.
"A lot of big city folks, who listen to country music, they want to live like that. They want to have grown up like that," McCoy said. "We're not always hunting and fishing. We have jobs. But the people who listen to it think, 'Oh my gosh, that's what I want to do, I want to be that person,' and I think that's where a lot of that comes from."
"It seems like we're on a roll right now in East Texas, especially from a woman standpoint," McCoy said. "It sure seems like it. These girls are killing it right now."
So who's the next great East Texas voice? There are already a lot of artists making their way up the industry. But one of the women who has been to the top says without one thing, they're wasting their time.
"If you do it because you love music, you can pick up your guitar, and sit in a room like this and play, and be satisfied and fulfilled," Womack said. "And that's what it should really be about."
We reached out repeatedly to Miranda Lambert's representatives for a comment on this story, but she was not available.