Jordan Davis recently announced dates and details for his 2020 Trouble Town Tour, including the trek's two openers, Kassi Ashton and Hailey Whitters. While he didn't specifically bill the trek as an effort to bridge the gender divide in country music, it's difficult to look at the lineup without considering how unusual it is for a male headliner to enlist two rising female artists as tourmates.

In many ways, 2019 seemed like the year of the single-gender tour: Kelly Clarkson, Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris and Carrie Underwood helmed all-female runs, while Luke Bryan, Rascal Flatts, Thomas Rhett and Florida Georgia Line took out all-male camps. Davis didn't line up his tour schedule specifically to break that tradition, but, he tells The Boot, he did feel called to throw his weight behind correcting the gender imbalance.

"There's no denying the problem that country music faces with getting women heard," Davis said on the red carpet before the 2019 CMA Awards, an event billed as a celebration of country's legendary female figures. "That's what we're doing here tonight: honoring some of the powerful women that are in our genre. It was kind of one of those things where I felt the tug in my heart to do my little part at it."

Still, Davis didn't decide on Whitters and Ashton strictly because they're women; rather, he says, he's simply a fan.

"I was a huge fan of Kassi. I've been a fan of Hailey for a long time," Davis shares. "To be honest with you, I wasn't doing it because they're female -- I was doing it because they're making amazing music, and I want people to hear it."

Whitters tells The Boot that she and Davis have been mutual fans and acquaintances for quite a while. In fact, she's a longtime collaborator with his brother, songwriter Jacob Davis.

"I know Jacob really well. We've written a lot of songs together. So it's just cool, us going out together," Whitters explains. "I think I have an old photo of Jordan and I playing the Bluebird [Cafe] together that I'm gonna have to dig up -- from, like, 2015!"

Whitters goes on to say that while it's refreshing to see an artist in Davis' position select two female openers, she's looking forward a time when male and female artists are on an even playing field. "It's kind of frustrating to me that we have to [talk about gender when we talk about music], because I think that good music's just good music. Gender is not a thing I think about when I'm listening to a song," she continues. "But it is a time when it's pretty hard for a woman to be heard, so I think it's amazing."

As Whitters points out, she has also recently been on the road with Brent Cobb, another artist who has consistently -- and quietly -- worked hard to incorporate talented women into his roster of tourmates and colleagues. "Having both Brent and Jordan say, 'I don't care if she's a woman or not, I want her on my tour' -- it's a really cool thing, and I think that's the way it should be," she adds.

The day before the 2019 CMA Awards, CMT held its annual Next Women of Country showcase, announcing their Class of 2020 (which includes Whitters). At that event, Nashville's five top label executives appeared onstage to address the audience. Of those five speakers -- Warner Music Nashville CEO John Esposito, BBR Music Group EVP Jon Loba, Sony Music Nashville CEO Randy Goodman, Big Machine Label Group CEO Scott Borchetta and Universal Music Group Nashville President Cindy Mabe -- four were men.

The label heads took turns celebrating the strides that have been made toward an equal playing field for female artists. Esposito spoke to Warner's commitment to signing female artists and helping them find their place on the radio, citing Ingrid Andress' current spot at No. 20. Loba pointed out the shift toward music being made by women becoming more commercially successful. Goodman spoke in celebration of rising artists such as Tenille Townes and the Sisterhood. Borchetta brought up the fact that he was celebrating his 220th No. 1 with Brantley Gilbert and Lindsay Ell's "What Happens in a Small Town," adding that more than a third of those chart-toppers came from female artists.

Mabe, the lone female label executive onstage, was the only speaker to focus just as much on how things haven't changed as on how much they have. She spoke to the success about artists including Carrie Underwood, but she also noted that artists such as Kacey Musgraves are finding new, innovative ways to achieve success -- and not always with the support of radio.

"And this is how each of you that are sitting in this audience needs to understand your impact of where you go from here," Mabe said, addressing the 11 rising artists who make up the Next Women of Country Class of 2020. "I think that we're all going to have different path, and you're going to forge your own way, and none of them are all going to look like radio. But we have artists like Kacey Musgraves that are showing that there are different ways to expose new music to the masses. And I think if there's anything to say today, it's that."

During the showcase, event head Leslie Fram took a moment to point out Davis' commitment to working with female artists. His 2020 tour with Whitters and Ashton isn't the first time he's used his platform to spotlight female artists: He brought Jillian Jacqueline on his 2019 White Wine and Whiskey Tour, and his newest song, "Cool Anymore," is a duet with pop singer-songwriter Julia Michaels. Davis was sitting in the audience, but he didn't come up onstage to speak; he didn't have to.

As meaningful as it was for the five major Nashville label heads to speak to the hits they've had via female artists, the milestones they've reached, the women they've signed, Davis quietly hiring women to join him on tour was the more powerful statement of the day. He said it best, as Keith Whitley sings, when he said nothing at all.

"I really do appreciate Leslie for having me there," Davis commented after the ceremony, when asked about his reaction to his shoutout from Fram. "I think it's amazing what she's doing for females in country music, especially the young artists who are moving to town. I mean, I just can't say enough good things about CMT Next Women of Country."

If 2019 was the year of the gendered tour lineup, perhaps Davis is helping herald a new kind of trend in 2020. Miranda Lambert's 2020 Wildcard Tour includes openers such as Cody Johnson. Luke Combs will be taking Ashley McBryde on the road, and Lauren Alaina's 2020 tour plans include support from Filmore.

Artists -- particularly male artists -- are in a powerful position to make moves toward an equal playing field by selecting both male and female opening acts to join them on the road; for example, Tenille Townes' career exploded in 2019, in large part due to the fact that Dierks Bentley included her in his tour lineup. If Davis can have a powerful impact by choosing to bring rising women on the road with him, imagine how much positive change the year could bring if Luke Bryan, Rascal Flatts, Thomas Rhett and Florida Georgia Line all followed his lead.

LOOK: 2020's Country Tours

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