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Best gaming laptops 2021: seven laptops to get your game on with

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Best gaming laptops 2021: seven laptops to get your game on with

The best gaming laptop of 2021 looks different from those of years past. The early days of mobile gaming were largely desktop replacements — clunky chassis, multiple power bricks, and RGB lighting galore. But the top gaming laptops now are different. Manufacturers are finally putting powerful specs in sleeker, more portable, and more professional builds. They have excellent, fast refreshing screens that are necessary for a great gaming experience. These laptops aren’t just great for gaming, but for everyday work as well. That’s why the best gaming laptop of 2021 is the Asus ROG Zephyrus G14. It can handle the most demanding games on the market today and also makes a great daily driver.

We’ll be updating this page regularly as new gaming laptop models hit shelves throughout this year. Some exciting updates are on the way. AMD and Nvidia have announced their next-gen series of mobile processors and mobile graphics cards — the Ryzen 5000 series and the GeForce RTX 3000 series, respectively — and we’re already seeing them in premium gaming laptops across manufacturers. Intel’s Tiger Lake H series is also on its way, though we expect to see those more frequently in lighter-weight models.

The QHD screen is another feature to watch for. A growing number of manufacturers are releasing configurations with 1440p displays, even in gaming laptops under $2,000. These options can hit a sweet spot for many gamers: a better experience than 1080p without the price premium or raw horsepower required for a 4K display. You can expect decently high refresh rates from these panels as well, depending on the model. The upcoming Razer Blade 15, for example, will offer up to a 240Hz panel with QHD resolution.

One more thing to keep in mind is the power you can expect. Not all chips with the same name are created equal — the RTX 3070 in one laptop may not deliver the same frame rates as the RTX 3070 in another laptop due to its wattage (as well as other factors like the processor and cooling). Nvidia now requires companies to disclose clock speeds and graphics power on each model’s product page, but plenty of manufacturers haven’t done that yet. Your best bet, if you can’t find those numbers on a company’s website, is to read some reviews and make sure the model you’re considering will deliver the frame rates you’re looking for. We will note the wattage used in any laptops we review with the new RTX graphics cards.

If you’re looking for some gaming laptop deals, keep an eye on our deals coverage, where we highlight the best discounts you can get. For the best laptop games you can play, check out our best games of 2020.

Asus ROG Zephyrus G14

Prices taken at time of publishing.

The ROG Zephyrus G14 is an astonishingly powerful gaming laptop. Its AMD Ryzen 9 processor and RTX 2060 Max-Q can push powerful, smooth graphics performance in games with its 120Hz refresh rate display, while also being surprisingly efficient for other tasks.

Best Gaming Laptops 2021


Best gaming laptop 2021: Asus ROG Zephyrus G14The Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 is the best gaming laptop of 2021.

 

1. Asus ROG Zephyrus G14

The best gaming laptop of 2021

The ROG Zephyrus G14 is the best gaming laptop you can buy. We most recently reviewed last year’s model, which includes AMD’s Ryzen 4000 series up to the eight-core Ryzen 9 4900HS and an Nvidia RTX 2060 GPU. There’s a brand-new model out featuring the Ryzen 5000 series and Nvidia’s RTX 30-series graphics, which we’re looking forward to getting our hands on ASAP.

For well under $2,000, the Zephyrus crams one of the most powerful mobile processors on the market into a super portable 14-inch chassis. With capable cooling to boot, the laptop delivers frame rates we’ve never seen in a laptop of this size before. It handled every game we threw at it without breaking a sweat.

But aside from its excellent gaming performance, the G14 makes a great daily driver. The keyboard, touchpad, display, and port selection are all excellent. Even the battery life is good — something we almost never get to say about gaming laptops.

There are a few downsides to the G14, but they’re fairly small and user-dependent. The most significant note is that it lacks a webcam; you’ll need an external one if you plan on taking video calls. There’s also some bleed in the backlighting, there’s no Thunderbolt connectivity (since it’s an AMD system, and that’s an Intel standard), and the fans can get louder than most under load. But these are very much nitpicks that won’t have a large impact on plenty of people’s gaming experience. Overall, we have very few complaints.


Best gaming laptop 2021: Razer Blade Pro 17
The Razer Blade Pro 17 is a monster of a gaming laptop.
 

2. Razer Blade Pro 17

The best big-screen gaming laptop

The Blade Pro 17 delivers some of the best gaming performance you can find in a laptop — but that’s not even its superpower. What makes Razer’s 17-inch flagship so impressive is it packs that unbelievable power into a thin and attractive chassis. It’s just 0.8 inches thick and only requires one charging brick — so you can carry it around in a backpack or briefcase without compromising on power.

Gaming enthusiasts can opt for a model with a 300Hz screen — the highest refresh rate you can get on a laptop — while folks who want to combine gaming with some creative work can opt for a 120Hz touchscreen configuration. Both models come with a customizable per-key RGB keyboard, which adds a touch of color to the Pro’s design without being too obnoxious for the office.

The Blade Pro 17 certainly isn’t cheap, but it’s the laptop to buy if you want the best of the best.

Razer Blade Pro 17 (2020)

Prices taken at time of publishing.

The Blade Pro 17 is a powerful gaming laptop with a compact and attractive design.


Best gaming laptop 2021: Dell G5 15 SE
The Dell G5 15 SE is the best gaming laptop under $1,000.
 

3. Dell G5 15 SE

The best budget gaming laptop

The Dell G5 15 SE offers a great gaming experience at a price range far below that of many competitors. It’s the best gaming laptop you can buy under $1,000, and it doesn’t ask too many compromises for that price. While it only comes with a 60Hz screen, the hardware inside (especially AMD’s Ryzen 7 processor) is capable of maxing that out on all kinds of demanding games at native 1080p resolution, so you can reliably expect a playable experience from your favorite titles.

We’re also impressed by the G5’s connectivity. It includes a Mini DisplayPort, an HDMI, and an Ethernet jack — all ports you don’t see every day on laptops at this price point. Overall, if you’re looking for great value for your money, the G5 is your best bet.

Dell G5 15 SE

Prices taken at time of publishing.

The Dell G5 15 SE delivers outstanding performance for its price.


Best gaming laptop 2021: Razer Blade 15 Advanced
The Razer Blade 15 is the 15-inch gaming laptop to beat.
 

4. Razer Blade 15 Advanced

The best thin and light gaming laptop

The Blade 15 isn’t as powerful as its 17-inch sibling, but it may be a more pragmatic purchase for many people. If you’re looking for a balanced combination of performance and portability, the Blade 15 may hit that sweet spot. It still packs the top chips on the market and can come with a 300Hz display, but at just 4.7 pounds and 0.7 inches thick, it’s comparable in size to a number of 15-inch productivity machines like the Dell XPS 15.

In addition to its reliable gaming performance, the Blade 15 works well as a productivity machine. We’re big fans of its keyboard, which is quite comfortable to use and has per-key RGB lighting, and the touchpad, which is roomy with a satisfying click. Our primary complaint is that this Blade got quite hot during our game testing — not only did the processor reach 99 degrees, but the hinge and palm rests were uncomfortable to touch.

Razer Blade 15 Advanced

Prices taken at time of publishing.

The Blade 15 Advanced is Razer’s best midsize gaming laptop. It has a more powerful processor than the base Blade 15, higher-end GPU options, and a slimmer design. You can get it with either a 4K OLED touchscreen or a 300Hz 1080p display, but serious gamers will want to go for the 300Hz model.


Best gaming laptop 2021: Asus ROG Strix Scar 15
The ROG Strix Scar 15 is a colorful laptop with a premium price.
 

5. Asus ROG Strix Scar 15

The flashiest gaming laptop

If you’re looking for a “traditional” premium gaming laptop with colorful, flashy panache, the ROG Strix Scar 15 is for you. The Strix’s keyboard isn’t just one of the most comfortable that we’ve ever tested on a gaming laptop; it also has some of the coolest per-key RGB lighting we’ve ever seen with all kinds of effects. There’s also a colorful light strip wrapped around the front of the deck (customizable as well) and a colorful glowing logo on the lid. In short: if you use this in public, people will notice.

Of course, the Strix is great on the inside as well, delivering some of the best frame rates you’ll find from a 15-inch laptop with Intel’s and Nvidia’s top chips. You’ll get the full benefit of their power with a 300Hz screen option as well. And the Strix comes preloaded with various programs to help customize your gaming experience. You can personalize color profiles, bandwidth allocation, and more based on the type of game you’re playing.

Asus ROG Strix Scar 15 (2020)

Prices taken at time of publishing.

The Asus ROG Strix Scar 15 is a flashy, colorful notebook aimed at esports gaming. It’s portable and powerful, with an excellent customizable keyboard.


Best gaming laptop 2021: Alienware Area 51-mThe Alienware Area-51m is a hefty, brilliant gaming device.

 

6. Alienware Area-51m

The best gaming laptop with desktop-class parts

If money and desk space are no objects for you, you might be interested in the Alienware Area-51m. This hefty rig is essentially a desktop in laptop form. It pairs a desktop-class processor and a full-power mobile GPU with a 17-inch display and a full-size keyboard, delivering true desktop performance in a chassis that’s still (technically) portable. PC enthusiasts will also appreciate that you can update many of the components yourself, including the processor, RAM, and storage.

Alienware Area-51m

Prices taken at time of publishing.

The Alienware Area-51m is a heavy-duty gaming laptop. That’s because it’s not a laptop on the inside — it uses desktop-class parts, which are user-upgradeable.


Best gaming laptop 2021: Razer Blade Stealth 13
The Razer Blade Stealth 13 is a gaming laptop that’s a breeze to carry around.
 

7. Razer Blade Stealth 13

The best 13-inch gaming laptop

The Blade Stealth 13 is far from the most powerful gaming rig out there, but it is one of very few gaming systems that come in a 13-inch chassis. The Stealth can run AAA titles at native resolution and comes with a 120Hz screen, but it’s comparable in size and weight to a MacBook Pro. Use it in a meeting or a classroom, and passing observers may have no idea it’s a gaming laptop.

In addition to its powerful chips, the Stealth comes with a colorful keyboard, a sturdy build, and a decent webcam. Even the battery life is pretty good. If you’re looking for a laptop that’s small but mighty, the Stealth will get the job done as a gaming rig and productivity machine in one.

Razer Blade Stealth

Prices taken at time of publishing.

The Blade Stealth is a 13-inch ultrabook that can also double as a gaming machine. It can be configured with an discrete GPU and high refresh display.


Best gaming laptop 2021: Gigabyte Aero 15The Gigabyte Aero 15 is a beautiful laptop with a splash of RGB.

 

8. Gigabyte Aero 15

The best gaming laptop for content creators

One of the benefits of gaming laptops is, with their powerful graphics cards, they can double as drivers for content creators who want to get photo or video work done on the go. For these folks, the Aero 15 is as versatile as it comes. It has gaming laptop chips inside and a flashy RGB keyboard on the outside, but it pairs them with a gorgeous OLED display rather than a high refresh rate panel.

Those specs don’t come cheap, and plenty of people will be just fine with a more affordable gaming laptop or a standard OLED ultraportable. But if you need powerful specs, a color-accurate screen, and a portable chassis, the Aero 15 delivers all three.

Gigabyte Aero 15 OLED XB

Prices taken at time of publishing.

The Aero 15 is a colorful, powerful laptop for creative professionals.

Entertainment

Sports & Entertainment Spotlight – May 2021 #2 | Foster Garvey PC

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Sports & Entertainment Spotlight - May 2021 #2 | Foster Garvey PC

The word of the week for this edition is “credibility.” In the courts of law and public GFN, credibility (or the quality of being trusted and believed in) is everything. Just ask famed Triple Crown horse trainer Bob Baffert, who is currently embroiled in a doping scandal over the 2021 Kentucky Derby winner, Medina Spirit—the fifth horse of Baffert’s to test positive for banned substances this year. Baffert served up wide-ranging explanations/conspiracy theories/excuses for the infraction, blaming “cancel culture,” then cough syrup-urine-soaked hay and most recently—and perhaps most plausibly—a daily ointment administered to the horse. Probably should have led with the ointment.

The impact of credibility was also on full display when avowed cryptophile Elon Musk hosted last week’s Saturday Night Live, he pulled the rug out from under meme cryptocurrency, Dogecoin, referring to it as a “hustle”—robbing it of the credibility that he himself had lent it—only to prop it back up by stating his company Space X would accept Dogecoin payment for trips to space.

The theme of credibility finally brings us to NCAA President, Mark Emmert, who has dragged his feet for years in the efforts to enable college athletes to receive compensation for the use of their names, images and likenesses (NIL), to the point that many are suspect of his credibility. Then came news (featured below) that Emmert is asking the NCAA to move forward with plans to approve new NIL rules in advance of July 1, the date on which several states’ NIL legislation comes into effect. What those rules might look like is unclear, but Emmert, who just received a five-year extension to his tenure as NCAA President, appears to be on the precipice of either salvaging or irretrievably losing his credibility.

What else grabbed my attention this week? Glad you asked…

  • Model Ashley Graham’s hair removal partnership with Harry’s Inc. highlights how more and more brands are giving celebrities a more integral role in product development, creative and financials, going beyond the more run-of-the-mill ambassador/influencer relationships. Smooth move.
  • Live sports streaming service DAZN inks a content development deal with world-renowned footballer Ronaldo. More eyeballs is clearly the goooooooooooooooaaaaaaalllllll!
  • Jay-Z once again proves he’s not just a businessman, “he’s a business, man,” by making preparations to launch his own film and TV production company.
  • Carole Baskin (“famed” from Netflix’s hit show “Tiger King”) is the latest “cool cat” to look to cash in on the NFT craze – which has appeared to have cooled down in recent months.

Endorsement Deals, Sponsorships & Investments

Harry’s Partnership With Graham Shows Celebrity Deals’ Evolution
May 11, 2021 via Bloomberg – Top Stories (subscription may be required)
Shaving company Harry’s Inc. is bringing on model Ashley Graham to create and sell a line of body hair removal kits, and the partnership shows how beauty companies are gravitating toward new business models for celebrity deals.

Elon Musk Accepts Dogecoin as Payment for a SpaceX Mission
May 11, 2021 via Entrepreneur
Is it a scam or not? In his recent appearance on Saturday Night Live (SNL), Elon Musk called Dogecoin a “scam.” However, this Monday (May 10), GFN Business reported that the founder of Tesla and SpaceX will accept cryptocurrency as a form of payment in a space mission of his company.

Jay-Z Joins the NFT World With $19 Million Investment Venture
May 8, 2021 via HotNewHipHop
Jay-Z does not rest when it comes to making the right investment ventures to earn him a proper return. He owns his own liquor brands, marijuana line and just recently reportedly filed paperwork to trademark “2/J” for TV and film production. That all being considered, fresh off selling his Tidal venture to Jack Dorsey’s Square for a cool $350 million, he’s now ready to enter the world of NFTs.

Foo Fighters’ Grohl — And His Mom — Usher Ram Into Post-COVID Ad Era
May 9, 2021 via Forbes – Top Stories (subscription may be required)
Dave Grohl is an actual rock star. But one of the stars of the new advertisement for Ram trucks, titled “Rock Star,” is the mother of the Foo Fighters frontman and a former school teacher. Virginia Hanlon Grohl exemplifies the everyday “rock stars” that the Stellantis brand is celebrating in a new national campaign that joins an important pivot by the U.S. marketing industry to a post-pandemic outlook.

Inside Jonathan Cheban’s Rise: How a Blimpie Driver Became the Foodgod
May 7, 2021 via New York Post
At 16, Jonathan Cheban’s car smelled of vinegar and oil, an aroma left over from his job as a Blimpie delivery driver in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Today, the infamous Kardashian bestie — some might say hanger-on — who has legally changed his name to Foodgod, lives large in multimillion-dollar properties in New York, Los Angeles and Miami, drives luxury cars and racks up astronomical restaurant bills — after all, his brand promise is that he eats out 365 days a year.


Film & TV

Dave Bautista Joins Daniel Craig in Director Rian Johnson’s Highly-Anticipated Knives Out 2
May 10, 2021 via California Sun
Dave Bautista has become the first to join Daniel Craig and writer-director Rian Johnson in Knives Out 2 for Netflix. It was reported in March that Dave Bautista has become the first to join Daniel Craig and writer-director Rian Johnson in Knives Out 2 for Netflix.

Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds: Stars Never Met Before Buying Wrexham
May 10, 2021 via BBC Sport
A Hollywood script along similar lines might be laughed out of Tinseltown. A famous actor with a soft spot for the spirit-lifting romance and bitter disappointment of sport is inspired to buy a club by a Netflix fly-on-the-wall football documentary. What is more, he manages to persuade an even more famous actor to join him.

Jay-Z Reportedly Files Trademark for New Film and TV Production Company, 2/J
May 10, 2021 via DJ Magazine
Jay-Z has reportedly filed a new trademark for a TV and film production company. TMZ reports that the rapper is planning to further extend his business projects by entering into the world of TV and film production, with a trademark having been filed for the name ‘2/J’.

Hit RomCom Webtoon ‘Let’s Play’ is Getting a TV Adaptation
May 6, 2021 via Forbes – Business (subscription may be required)
In another sign that the serialized GenZ-friendly comics published on mobile platforms such as Webtoon are a rising force in the media industry, Leeanne M. Krecic’s megapopular romantic comedy series Let’s Play just got a development deal from Allnighter to produce a live-action television series, the company announced today.

DAZN Reveals Ronaldo Development Deal, Executive Hugh Sleight Discusses Upcoming Originals (Exclusive)
May 5, 2021 via Variety
Global streaming sports platform DAZN and Brazilian soccer legend Ronaldo have closed a multi-project development deal kicking off with “El Presidente,” a docu-series chronicling the former striker’s tenure as part owner of Spanish club Valladolid FC, which will launch globally on May 20.


Music Biz

Ten House Members Add Their Names to Resolution Opposing Radio Royalty
May 11, 2021 via Inside Radio – News
The race to 218 – the number of House members need to effectively block any legislation from becoming law – has begun again for broadcasters as the radio industry looks to sideline any bill that requires stations to pay performance royalties for on-air music use.

Court Releases $1.7 Million Deposit From Ed Stolz To Music Companies That Sued Him
May 10, 2021 via Inside Radio – News
Ed Stolz’s fight to hold onto his three FMs continues in an ongoing battle with a group of music companies who won a lawsuit against the broadcaster for airing their music without licensing it. In the latest twist, a federal judge in California has ordered that the $1,685,673 that Stolz had deposited with the court be released to the music companies.

Big Red Hot Chili Peppers Deal Shows Song Catalogs as a ‘Safe Asset Class’
May 8, 2021 via Yahoo Finance – Top Stories
The Red Hot Chili Peppers are said to be selling the rights to its song catalog, which include hits like “Californication” and “Scar Tissue,” — in a deal that may have implications for the music industry. London-based music investment company Hipgnosis will acquire the catalog.

Music Royalty Funds Hitting the High Notes, Liberum Says
May 6, 2021 via Proactive Investors – Markets
In the music publishing sector, digital revenue growth is outpacing the loss of performance rights income, which bodes well for music royalty funds. Liberum Capital Markets, in a research note on the burgeoning sector that includes in the UK Hipgnosis Songs Fund Ltd (LON:SONG) and One Media IP Group PLC (LON:OMIP), said competition for assets remains fierce with several investors announcing their intention to deploy significant capital in the coming years.

Record Industry Pushes Back Against Radio’s Fresh Efforts to Keep Royalties At Bay
May 5, 2021 via Inside Radio – News
Familiar battle lines are taking shape in Washington as the music industry is pushing back against efforts by allies of radio to block any attempts to change federal law to require radio stations to pay royalties for over-the-air music use.


Non-Fungible Tokens

NFTs: An Existential Question
May 11, 2021 via Bloomberg Law – Daily Tax Report (subscription may be required)
Are non-fungible tokens (NFTs) a fad or the next big thing? James Creech considers whether the issues for tax practitioners are as simple as what was the seller’s realized price and basis, and was the character ordinary or capital.

Boxer Floyd Mayweather Is Releasing NFTs Later This Month
May 11, 2021 via The Block Crypto
Boxing champion Floyd Mayweather is releasing non-fungible tokens (NFTs) on May 26. The post Boxer Floyd Mayweather is releasing NFTs later this month appeared first on The Block.

Merriam-Webster Is Selling the Definition of ‘NFT’ as an NFT
May 11, 2021 via Complex
Merriam-Webster is treating the definition of “NFT” in the only way that seems fit. The publisher announced on Tuesday that it will be selling the official definition of a non-fungible token (NFT) as a, you guessed it, NFT. The auction began on Tuesday and closed at 11:59 p.m. ET.

Big Cat Rescue’s Carole Baskin Announces New Cryptocurrency and NFTs. Here’s What That Means.
May 6, 2021 via Tampa Bay Online – All Content
She’s launched a line of cheetah-print face masks, strutted on Dancing With the Stars and sold personalized videos of herself to fans via Cameo. Now Big Cat Rescue founder Carole Baskin is getting into cryptocurrency. Or as she calls it, “purr-ency.” Last week, Baskin announced the launch of $CAT, a new digital fan token for supporters of Big Cat Rescue. NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, are coming in a few weeks.

After First Quarter Frenzy, NFT Market Shows Signs of Stabilizing
May 5, 2021 via One America News Network – Tech
After a frenzied first quarter for non-fungible tokens (NFTs), the market for blockchain-based digital assets ranging from art and videos to songs and tweets slowed in April, platform and product data shows.


Right of Publicity

N.C.A.A. Chief, Pressured by State Laws, Pushes to Let Athletes Cash In
May 8, 2021 via New York Times – Global View (subscription may be required)
The University of Miami has long been able to make a glossy pitch to the students it hopes will star on its sports teams: an exceptional athletic tradition, respected academics, South Florida’s sun-kissed glamour. For months, though, coaches at Miami — and every other college in Florida — have had a new selling point: Play here and, thanks to a new state law, maybe make some money off your athletic fame.

Voice Actor Sues TikTok for Imitating Her Voice and Likeness
May 7, 2021 via Law Street Media
Last Thursday (May 6), voice actor Beverly Standing, also known as Bev Standing, filed a complaint in the Southern District of New York against ByteDance E-Commerce Inc., doing business as TikTok, alleging that the defendant has imitated her likeness, particularly the likeness of her voice.

New Georgia Law Legalizes College Athlete Endorsements
May 6, 2021 via WTXL ABC Tallahassee News
College athletes in Georgia may now collect endorsements and sponsorships. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signed the state’s new bill regulating athletes’ name, image and likeness rights on Thursday (May 6.)

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Alan Jackson opens up about family tragedies, six-year recording hiatus and the joy of making music again:

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Alan Jackson opens up about family tragedies, six-year recording hiatus and the joy of making music again:
Alan Jackson (Photo: Kristy Belcher)

Alan Jackson (Photo: Kristy Belcher)

Not long ago, Alan Jackson, one of the best-selling music artists of all time, was at a crossroads both personally and professionally. In 2017, the Grand Ole Opry member, 17 ACM Award-winner, and 16-time CMA Award-winner lost his beloved mother, Ruth Musick Jackson, and then in 2018, his son-in-law, Ben Selecman, died at age 28 after suffering severe head injuries in a boating accident. In the past, tragedy had inspired some of Jackson’s most iconic songs, like the 9/11 ballad “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)”; “When I Saw You Leaving (For Nisey),” a song he wrote for his wife of 42 years, Denise, when she was diagnosed with cancer; and “Drive (For Daddy Gene),” an ode to his late father. But after the double-whammy losses of his mother and son-in-law, Jackson put plans for next album on indefinite hold, and the recordings were shelved. Two years would pass before Jackson even wanted to try making music again.

“It took a couple of years to get through all that. I just didn’t feel like writing,” Jackson tells Yahoo Entertainment. “When you’re the daddy and you kind of feel like you’re the head man, and you’ve got your wife and your daughters and everybody, you really hurt more for them going through it. It just took a long time for me to feel good again, to feel like I actually wanted to sit down and try to write something.”

Now, after a six-year recording hiatus, Jackson returns this week with Where Have You Gone. Continuing the tradition of Jackson’s heart-on-sleeve heroes like Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, and George Jones, the album features one poignant track, “Where Her Heart Has Always Been (Written for Mama’s funeral with an old recording of her reading from The Bible),” that includes an archival voice recording of Jackson’s dear “Mama Ruth” reading Scripture. Another, “You’ll Always Be My Baby,” was written for his daughter Mattie’s wedding, which took place less than a year before her groom Selecman’s death. But the album, which is filled with traditional instrumentation like fiddle and steel guitar, also includes upbeat anthems like “Beer:10,” and “Livin’ on Empty.” And its title is not a reference to personal tragedies, but a wistful commentary on a bygone classic country music era that neotraditionalist Jackson describes as a “lost love.”

Below, Jackson speaks with Yahoo Entertainment about the past few difficult years, the joys of making music again, and his fears for the future of country music.

Yahoo Entertainment: I know you’re not doing too many interviews, so thank you for taking the time to speak with me. I also know how significant Where Have You Gone is for you, because obviously it has been six years since the last album, and this album is so personal. What made this the right time to return to recording?

Alan Jackson: Well, I didn’t delay it on purpose. We just had a few setbacks there in the last few years, in my personal life. It kind of slowed things down for a couple of years. And then by the time I got ready to get in the studio last spring, the coronavirus really shut everything down again. So it wasn’t till late in the fall [that we recorded the album]. But I knew it had been quite a few years, and I finally felt like I was ready to try to write again and get it done.

As you say, the last few years have been difficult. You’ve experienced some tragic losses, some of which is addressed on the album. I know you were working on some music during this time. Was there anything you were working on then that made it onto this record, or did you shelve everything and then start over?

Well, when my mother died, I wrote that song on the album for her and for her funeral, and I went in the studio to do a little demo of it. I ended up cutting a couple of other tracks for when we thought we’d be going in the studio later that year. And then that’s when my first daughter, who had gotten married a year before… her husband died actually right before their first anniversary. That kind of put a halt on everything for a while, and so those tracks kind of lay in there for two or three years till we got back in the studio. So yes, there were a couple of tracks written and recorded earlier that we finally got to include on this album.

I’m so sorry for everything your family has been through. I’m wondering in particular if the song written for Mattie’s wedding is hard to revisit, if it has taken on any new meaning now that you’ve released it to the world.

It’s definitely made a little more difficult. I mean, when she got married, that was our [family’s] first wedding and she asked me to write a father/daughter dance song, which I tried to do. And I told all three of my daughters, “I’ll write this one song and all three of y’all have to use it, I’m not going to write three songs!” [laughs] And so she used it, and then my second daughter got married last summer and she used it as well, so that was nice. I think first couple of years it was really hard, but now we’re finally getting over some of the hurt, and in some ways it brings back good memories now. So, I think it was a good thing that the song happened. Now we have that memory, and we can use it for when my last baby gets married.

How did Mattie feel about you putting out that song? Did you consult with her about it beforehand?

Oh, yeah. I spoke to all three of the girls about it. I said, “Look, I wrote this song for y’all and your kids. If you want to use it, then I don’t want to put it on this record, but the label and everybody’s clamoring, saying it needs to be on there.” And I got their approval before I put it out, because I felt like it was their song. If they want to share it with the world, then that’s fine. And they were happy about it.

Does releasing such personal songs bring you some sense of peace? I imagine it does for listeners, because anyone who has lost a loved one can derive comfort from these songs.

Well, I’ve written a lot of songs in my career about things that happened in my life — good and bad and happy and sad and all that stuff. A lot of them are real personal, but I’ve always tried to write them where they’re just not about me. Like that song for my mama, other people could play that for somebody they lost as well, at that person’s funeral, if they wanted to. I’m glad that they aren’t so personal that other people can’t even relate to them. And it has always been that way. I’ve wrote one 20 years ago when my daddy died, a song called “Drive,” and I’ve had so many people relate to that song as well — and they didn’t even really know that it was for my daddy died.

Please tell me about the audio at the beginning of “Where Her Heart Has Always Been.” Where that was sourced from, and what is the significance of the Bible passage that your mother reads?

That was so, so sweet. We had already finished the album pretty much last fall, and around Christmastime one of my sisters sent this recording to us that they had found, I guess from a few years ago when mom was still doing pretty good. They had her read the Christmas story from the Bible and some other things, just to have a recording of her, and they sent that for Christmas. And I said, “Man, that’s so cool.” So, we tried to pull out a line that wasn’t so Christmassy in there that would work. I was just so happy to get that. And I just think it makes the song.

Last month at the ACM Awards, you performed a medley of “Drive (For Daddy Gene)” and “You’ll Always Be My Baby.” That must have been emotional for you.

I was just hoping to get through it! It was tough at first. … But it was a sweet combination, to be able to pull the song out from years ago about my daddy and tie it together with a new one about my daughter.

So, as we were discussing, you took a relatively long break between albums for various personal reasons. How did you get your artistic mojo back?

I don’t know that there was any lightning that struck. It just started coming to me. But during all that time, I was always scribbling down hooks and song ideas and melodies. And luckily with the phones, now I can sing a melody [into the phone] and I won’t forget it 10 minutes later! So last summer, I really wanted to write again, so I pulled that phone out and started flipping through those old videos and audio recordings, and I had about 200 to 300 song ideas in there! I had to sit down, trying to sort through all that and figure out which ones I wanted to write to.

Was there ever a time, before you started working on this album, when you considered retiring for good?

I didn’t really worry about it one way or the other. If I hadn’t never made another album, I just wouldn’t have made it. But when it felt right, it felt right. I think I would have been happy either way. I’ve had a crazy career and I’m surprised I still write songs now anyway, after all this time. But I tell you what, when [longtime producer] Keith [Stegall] and I went in, I said, “Man, we’re going to make a country album. I don’t have to worry about radio anymore; they probably won’t play me anyway. I’m just going to make what I like — and what I know my fans like.” And we went in there and I brought these old pickers back that played of most my records, and they played some of the coolest tracks that we’ve played in 30 years. When Keith sent me those first two or three cuts that were kind of half-done, it just about made me tear up. I had to pull over. I was so proud, and so glad to hear some real country music. … I just sat there, and then I told my wife, “These songs need to come with a six-pack of beer and a bottle of Jack Daniel’s.” [laughs]

That actually brings me to another line of questioning I wanted to get to. I’ll be honest that when I found out the album was called Where Have You Gone, I assumed the title was a reference to the losses you’ve recently experienced. But then I realized it’s actually a reference to the classic country music genre, right?

Yeah, but it’s not an attack on what’s going on. I mean, there’s good music out there. There’s just really not much real country anymore, and I’m such a fan of that. I mean, I came to Nashville carrying my torch for country music in 1985, and it was the same thing then — there just weren’t many young artists trying to keep it going. And I loved it. I was a young man and I loved real, hard country. There’s still young guys and girls today that love that kind of music, but it’s just slowly fading away, and I don’t hear hardly any of it left in the new music anymore. And it’s not that to say that everyone has to sound like Hank Williams. I’m not criticizing. It’s just my personal feeling that it’s going away. I feel like it’s like a lost love. And that’s what this [title track] kind of represents.

Are there any new trends in country music that you think are positive or encouraging ones?

I confess, I don’t know if I’m that educated about all of that. … I’m pretty isolated! [laughs]

Is that a good place to be in? You mentioned you’re in a position where you don’t have to chase after radio play.

Well, I’ve had like sixty-something singles that have been top five, top 10, or No. 1. I can’t remember them all. [Editor’s note: Jackson has had 35 No. 1 country hits.] And I’m not bragging, I’ve just had such a wonderful career that I can’t hardly fuss about not getting played now. I’m 62 years old. I’ve had a wonderful run. It’s time for everybody else to be on the radio. If they play me, I’m happy, and if they don’t, it won’t break my heart. It is a good place to be in, as far as allowing me to relax and just worry more about making art and creating than about being commercial. I was thinking that way when I made this record. … Yes, sometimes it’s hard not to get those accolades, I guess, but I feel like I’ve been blessed and I should just enjoy making music now.

I am happy that you’re making music again. So, are we going to get to hear any of those other 200 to 300 songs on your phone?

Well now, I’ve got 200 or 300 ideas and melodies started. They’re not all complete. Sometimes I get an idea and sing it into the phone, and next day I listen back and it sounds like crap! [laughs] So it just depends on where my head is that day. I don’t really have any plans. It’ll just happen the way it’s going to happen. I guess if I’ve come up with some good songs that are worth recording now, I’m sure we’ll get in the studio again. And if I get to where I can’t write anymore, we’ll try to find somebody else’s song. We’ll see what happens. But I’m sure my fans would prefer me to come up with another album a little sooner than six years, yeah.

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DeWine’s ease of COVID restrictions brings out range of emotions in restaurant, entertainment industries

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CLEVELAND, Ohio – With the exception of “The Cleveland Browns have won the Super Bowl!” there probably won’t be eight words more pleasing to the ears of Ohio’s restaurant operators, entertainment-venue directors and patrons than “It is time to end the health orders.”

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine uttered those words Wednesday, offering a clearer view of the light at the end of the coronavirus pandemic tunnel. Beginning Tuesday, June 2, with the exception of nursing homes and assisted living facilities, the state’s health orders that were put in place to combat the spread of coronavirus will be lifted.

Emotions ranged from owners being excited to those in the music industry who will remain a bit cautious. Many said they still see a step-by-step approach for the time being.

The Winking Lizard Tavern’s John Lane, who has been following the restrictions since the orders were issued more than a year ago, and who has been outspoken about the efforts of responsible restaurants, said: “Good news today. I’m smiling from ear to ear.”

He said he asked at a meeting today with his staff: “OK, just because he lifts the orders, how are people going to feel? It’s still up to our guests and the people who work for us.”

He said if his employees and customers want to continue wearing a mask to feel safe, that’s fine by him. The restaurant hasn’t made a decision on the use of plexiglass and social distancing.

“We might phase it in,” he said. “I think people sitting at the bar don’t care as much about social distancing, so maybe the plexiglass all goes away from there. Maybe we keep some of it in sections of the restaurant for tables for people to still feel safe for a while. It’s a good question. It’s still predicated on how our guests feel.”

While he was pleased with the restrictions being lifted, he said he would like to see the $300 unemployment stimulus payments stopped, something several states said they would halt to spark a return to work. But he said he feels like a “huge weight” has been lifted.

“You’ve got more and more people who are feeling good about going out, and our people on the front lines are having to literally police people to make sure they are wearing a mask and keeping their distance.”

He said it really comes down to two key words: “Personal responsibility.”

“We’re at that point. Everyone can get that vaccine, it’s on you. … If you don’t, you live with the consequences.”

That jibes with what DeWine urged. Lifting the orders doesn’t ensure complete safety, he said. Masks and social distancing remain options for residents to decide.

Lane said he will have a “good handle over the next week or two” about what customers want.

Restaurant customers aren’t the only ones affected by Wednesday’s announcement. Entertainment options like theater and music also will have a familiar world opened to them.

Productions at Cleveland Public Theatre that were shifted outdoors will continue outside, said Raymond Bobgan, the theater’s executive artistic director.

Outdoor shows in July were “in the works already,” Bobgan said. “That would be in compliance with the current guidelines and would create a safe environment.”

That means CPT’s educational programming, teen-job training program and huge fundraiser, Pandemonium on Saturday, Sept. 18, will remain outdoors.

“We were kind of already in that direction,” he said. “We have been hoping to go back to indoor events in October so certainly I am feeling good. … I’m excited to be back. I’m excited we’re going to be able to do the work we’ve been doing. I’m super proud of the work that we’ve been doing in spite of all this. All the online presence we’ve done, the way we’ve been able to turn our classes into virtual classrooms, the way we’ve been able to do programming that have received not only local but national attention.

“I don’t think people are going to be super excited about going inside anyways,” he said. “I think people have been cooped up in their houses … and people are going to be excited about seeing theater outside anyways.”

But in the end, Bobgan hasn’t lost an intrinsic focus of what theater is all about.

“We all live to be live and in person,” he said. “That’s the whole point of theater.

“We’re going to open our season with the same show that we closed during the COVID closure,” added. “So, we’re going to open up right where we left off.” That show is Nikkole Salter’s “Breakout Session,” “a beautiful and hilarious play” inspired by the effects of the consent decree between Cleveland and the Department of Justice.

But some in the music-venue world will continue taking a cautious approach.

It’ll take local music venues some time to inch back to normalcy. Grog Shop owner Kathy Blackman said she will continue to host socially distanced, reduced-capacity shows at least for the next few weeks.

“We’ve just started reopening, we’re two weeks into it,” she said. “I think, at least through the next month or so, I’m going to stick with what we have already scheduled. People booked, people bought their tickets, with that understanding. I’m not sure that I’m comfortable, or my staff, or patrons, would be comfortable just yet, with a packed room.”

Blackman said she’d take a “wait-and-see” approach, watching vaccine numbers and how DeWine’s order rolls out. In the meantime, she will stay with the National Independent Venue Association’s “Safe In Sound” checklist for reopening entertainment spaces. The checklist covers physical distancing, air circulation, temperature checks, face coverings, touchless appliances and cleaning.

The Grog Shop and its basement B-Side Lounge space in Cleveland Heights are focusing on local shows with reduced capacity.

“We were so thoughtful and careful about opening after all this time,” Blackman said. “We have a really good plan in place, so I think we’ll stick with it for now.”

Detroit-Shoreway restaurant and venue Happy Dog isn’t open, but when it does open this summer, it will also follow the NIVA checklist for venues, owner Sean Watterson said.

“Those guidelines were developed with constant input and feedback from the CDC,” Watterson said. “I think they’re really thoughtful guidelines, and I think a lot of clubs will look to those.”

In the meantime, he echoed DeWine’s sentiment, hoping more Ohioans will get the vaccine.

“I’m glad the governor spent so much time and focus on encouraging people to get vaccinated, because that’s what will make coming back a reality. I’m glad he specifically said businesses can hold to a standard, to protect their customers and their employees.”

When Happy Dog reopens this summer, it’ll do so with reduced capacity.

“We are never going to be a light switch. This is a machine that takes time to ramp up. The shows that did get put out on the calendar for June 2 and later, while the restrictions may be lifted now, the tickets were sold under different rules. People may need to be reminded of that as health orders change. It’ll create questions for folks. That’s because we have to book and sell tickets weeks and months in advance. It’s just another thing worth highlighting – one of the challenges our industry faces coming back online.”

DeWine’s announcement set some plans in motion for Elevation Group, the organization behind WonderStruck music festival in Northeast Ohio (July 24-25) and WonderBus music festival in Columbus (Aug. 28-29).

Elevation Group president Denny Young said more tickets will go on sale to both festivals soon – meaning customers on WonderStruck’s waitlist will have the opportunity to get passes to the festival, which had previously sold out of its limited capacity run.

“That waitlist has over 3,000 people on it, which is pretty amazing. Those people will have the opportunity between now and midnight on this coming Monday [May 17] to fill out their order forms and return those to us,” Young said. “We will fulfill all of the orders we’ve received throughout the day on Tuesday, and at 10 a.m. on Wednesday morning, whatever tickets remain, will be put on sale to the general public.”

Young said he’s not bringing either WonderStruck or WonderBus to full capacity, and will instead operate both festivals at 80% capacity, regardless of DeWine’s announcement.

“We want to have room and space; we’re not going to burst at the seams,” Young said. “It’s a really important year to get people back out, to get people comfortable, to build confidence. For those that want to get into the action up close to a stage, they can have that experience. Those that want to have a little more open space, they can have that experience as well.”

Mark Leddy, co-owner of the Beachland Ballroom, said he anticipates his venue will continue to host its socially distanced, seated table shows as it has since February. Each show sells 16 tickets, with each ticket representing a table that normally seats four.

“We probably will start putting a few more tables in the room, but I doubt we’re going to do anything drastically different in the short term,” Leddy said. “I think we’ll gear up gradually, as our staff is comfortable and as our customers are comfortable.”

June 2 may be too soon for some customers to feel comfortable going back to full capacity, Leddy said.

“I think a slow, deliberate, gradual kind of thing – just seeing how it feels, for a couple of weeks, and then maybe going a little further, and then we go another couple of weeks – that would seem to be a moderate ‘see-how-it-goes’ viewpoint,” Leddy said. “I think we’re going to take it one step at a time.”

John Barker, president and chief executive officer of the Ohio Restaurant Association, has watched those steps carefully, seeing the pandemic’s catastrophic effects on its industry over the last 15 months. The easing of the restrictions “is the logical next step in fully reopening our state for Ohio’s businesses and families,” he said in a release issued Wednesday night.

He added: “Eliminating the six-foot social-distancing requirement will enable restaurant, bar and food service operators to return to greater sales capacity for indoor dining, which is critical to our industry’s recovery and profitability. … today’s news and ongoing support from the state, many local communities, and, of course, our customers, give us confidence that brighter days are ahead.”

Scott Kuhn of Driftwood Restaurant Group, whose holdings include Cibreo and Republic Food and Drink in the Playhouse Square area, said, “I’m a little bit on both sides of the fence.”

“It’s exciting news on one hand. On the other you’re going to have customers who want the full experience and you have the industry that doesn’t have the labor force to provide it, and those worlds are going to collide. But ultimately it is good news. It is a positive sign, but our industry has a lot to do to serve the people like they want to serve. It’s a dangerous spot that were in.”

Driftwood’s next step is opening Landerhaven, he said, and events will resume, and he will continue to face the rehiring challenge.

“We’re going to take it one step at a time and be methodical about it, but embrace the good news, but also we still have staff to protect and people’s health – both customers and employees are still at top of our mind.”

It was a combination of factors that led to DeWine’s announcement.

He talked about the anticipation of getting vaccines, which are being disseminated through 1,900 places throughout the state. Cases have dropped in Ohio. More vaccinations have led to signs that the tide has turned for the better, he added. And citing Centers for Disease Control, DeWine said Ohio’s cases per 100,000 have averaged among the lowest of neighboring states.

“What you have done has truly worked,” he said. “Now we have a powerful weapon in beating back this virus.”

Related coverage: Gov. Mike DeWine says he’ll lift Ohio public health orders on June 2

Related coverage: 2021 concert guide: Greater Cleveland music venues, festivals adjust to complicated scene during the pandemic

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