J.D. Shelburne plays his guitar in a recording studio with two musicians behind him on either side.
Country music artist J.D. Shelburne does an acoustic session at The Hilson Studio in Nashville, Tennessee.
Volunteering & Giving
October 9, 2020

Pandemic relief for the country music community

Wells Fargo grant allows ACM Lifting Lives to extend aid to songwriters, musicians, and tour support sidelined by COVID-19.

After playing 215 shows in 2019 and winning accolades as one of country music’s hardest working performers, J.D. Shelburne thought 2020 would be even bigger.

On Jan. 8, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear announced Shelburne would be on the cover of its Kentucky Tourism’s 2020 Official Visitors Guide, with more than 460,000 issues distributed across the state.

“I attended the press conference at the state Capitol, and shortly after, the calls for gigs all over the state started rolling in right and left,” Shelburne said.

ACM Lifting Lives logo
As the philanthropic arm of the Academy of Country Music, ACM Lifting Lives has already awarded $1.5 million from its COVID-19 Response Fund to people in the industry.

But two months later, COVID-19 had canceled a majority of those dates and sent his band members looking for other work. “It was really devastating for all of us in the industry,” said Shelburne, who lost 60 events in 2020. “Before all this, I was gearing up for the biggest year my career.”

Grants from the ACM Lifting Lives® philanthropy arm of the Academy of Country Music — and new corporate support from Wells Fargo — have given Shelburne, some of his band members, and others in the country music industry a lift. His drummer used the money for apartment rent, and it also helped him with publicity fees for a month.

“While we allocated $100,000 after the Tennessee tornadoes and have made grants after hurricanes and other disasters, the $1.5 million awarded through our COVID-19 Response Fund is unprecedented,” said ACM Lifting Lives Executive Director Lyndsay Cruz. “We’ve never given over a million dollars to anything like this, and no one knows when it will end and when people can get back to work and what they love doing.”

Cruz said ACM Lifting Lives quickly distributed every dollar of the $1.5 million after receiving hundreds of applications for the COVID-19 Response Fund launched in March, awarding grants of $1,000 to $2,000 to about 900 people in country music from 30 states and 157 cities.

Of those, 36% went to band and session musicians and 21% to tour support crew, including bus drivers, sound and lighting technicians, stage and event crew, caterers, and other employees.

ACM Lifting Lives can now make up to 100 new COVID-19 relief grants because of a $100,000 contribution from Wells Fargo. The company made the gift as part of its sponsorship of the 55th Academy of Country Music Awards.

The contribution is part of the company’s support for its customers, employees, and communities during COVID-19, including the Drive-Up Food Bank program with Feeding America member food banks.

“It’s our passion. It’s our life. It’s our dream. We’re often kind of forgotten about, so what you guys have done at Wells Fargo by donating $100,000 to help us out is remarkable." — J.D. Shelburne

Shelburne’s interest in music began in college at the age of 19 with a guitar found in the closet of his grandmother’s home after her death. His self-taught hobby became a part-time job and became a full-time gig in 2008 because of his growing fan base. After graduating from the University of Kentucky, he packed his bags and left his hometown of Taylorsville, Kentucky, for Nashville, Tennessee.

Along with the visitors guide magazine cover and other magazine placements, 2020 has produced some other bright spots for Shelburne, including the birth of his and his wife Amy’s first child, Jax Dillon, born Sept. 21.

Strip of three images shows J.D. Shelburne with guitar in front of a barn, carpool karaoke with wife, Amy, and screenshot from a media interview conducted via Zoom
The life of a country music artist: A photo shoot in Franklin, Tennessee; Facebook Live carpool karaoke for fans with wife, Amy; and a media interview conducted via Zoom.

Other 2020 highlights include being named by Texas Roadhouse as May’s Artist of the Month with his song “Straight from Kentucky” being featured in nearly 600 restaurants nationwide, and the July premiere of his single, “Church Pew Bar Stool,” on CMT, which became his first tune to reach No. 1 on its 12-pack Countdown.

Because of the pandemic and fan safety, Shelburne delayed the scheduled fall 2020 release of his album, “Straight from Kentucky,” and live debut concert in Taylorsville, until 2021.

“Some people think music is just a job for fun, but it’s not,” Shelburne said. “It’s our passion. It’s our life. It’s our dream. We’re often kind of forgotten about, so what you guys have done at Wells Fargo by donating $100,000 to help us out is remarkable.

“It’s something that we’ll never forget.”