At the start of 2019, country music was having a moment – the kind that doesn’t come around every year.
Then it had another. And another. And a handful of miniature revolutions in between.
In the same year that Ken Burns laid out the epic history of “Country Music,” the nation collectively rekindled its love of and connection to the genre. In the process, they drove home one of Burns’ main points: country is many different things to many different people.
There’s the progressive, inclusive country of Kacey Musgraves’ “Golden Hour,” which was the surprising champion at February’s Grammy Awards. Then there’s “Old Town Road,” which spurred a national conversation about the genre’s sonic barriers and racial divide.
Legions of artists and listeners pounded the drum for a country landscape in which women reclaimed more than a sliver of space on the male-dominated airwaves. And through all of these movements, the circle remained unbroken: On the same stage where a legend celebrated her 50th anniversary, a new superstar was born.
Kacey Musgraves wins the Grammys’ Album of the Year
Nearly a year later, it’s tough to recall just how surprised everyone was – including Kacey Musgraves herself – when the country artist’s “Golden Hour” won the Grammys’ top prize in February. That’s a testament to just how much the next 11 months belonged to her.
The exposure that night kicked off a year of a sold-out tour, her own museum exhibit, a trip to the Met Gala and a star-studded Christmas special, and in the process, Musgraves became country music’s biggest crossover since Taylor Swift.
Alabama celebrates 50th anniversary
It was 1969 when Randy Owen, his cousin Teddy Gentry and local guitarist Jeff Cook gathered at Cook’s house near Fort Payne, Ala., to pick a little guitar and jam through a song Owen had written. Fifty years later, the men comprise Alabama – the most awarded group in country music history.
Alabama celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2019 with a nationwide tour that will swing through Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena for two nights – July 17 and July 18. Tickets are available now.
While Owen suffered from vertigo and migraines this year which forced the band to reschedule tour dates, the singer rebounded in the fall of 2019 and made multiple public appearances including the group’s induction ceremony into the Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville.
Brandi Carlile finds her roots in country
After stealing the show with her performance at the Grammy Awards, Brandi Carlile was free to write her own ticket in 2019. She chose to dive headfirst into the country world, where she helped get The Highwomen off the ground, sang at every awards show you can name and co-wrote/co-produced Tanya Tucker’s comeback effort.
“I found my roots again,” Carlile told The Tennessean. “And I suddenly realized it never left me.”
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Keith Urban’s shocking ACM win
20 years after releasing his breakthrough album, one of country’s most reliable superstars earned his due from the Academy of Country Music. Urban was named Entertainer of the Year at the ACM Awards, and it came just a few months after he picked up the same prize at the CMAs.
“I’d been nominated (for Entertainer of the Year) nine times, and I’d just come to expect that the nomination is the award,” Urban said after the show.
Country Music Hall of Fame inducts new members
Country duo Brooks & Dunn, comedic singer Ray Stevens and beloved music industry veteran Jerry Bradley comprised the 2019 inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
“This is Nashville. Anything can happen,” Stevens told the star-packed crowd at the 24th Medallion Ceremony, which was held in October at CMA Theater.
COUNTRY MUSIC HALL OF FAME: Brooks & Dunn, Ray Stevens, Jerry Bradley – ‘This is Nashville. Anything can happen.’
“I’ve never been so proud and humbled,” Brooks & Dunn’s Ronnie Dunn added. “If you don’t believe that, just step in my heart right now.”
Brooks & Dunn were inducted in the Modern Era Artist category. Stevens entered the Hall in the Veterans Era Artist category. Bradley was added under the Non-performer category. The men raised the number of those inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame to 139 members.
Dan + Shay wow at 61st Grammy Awards
In February, Grammy viewers learned what country music fans have known for years – that duo Dan + Shay are cross-genre, block-bluster entertainers who can stand toe-to-toe with music’s most accomplished singers.
Dan + Shay picked up a trophy for best country duo/group performance for “Tequila” that night, but it was their performance of the song on the live telecast that changed their career. Dan + Shay, comprised of Dan Smyers and Shay Mooney, dressed in black, played black instruments and were the only people on stage. The stripped-down approach meant there was nothing to distract from Mooney’s sky-high vocal performance that kept people talking for months.
The duo went on to collect honors at both the Academy of Country Music Awards and the Country Music Association Awards – their first wins at both shows.
Blake Shelton finds rejuvenation in ‘God’s Country’
At the beginning of 2019, plenty of people thought Blake Shelton’s country music career was in fine shape. But, Shelton thought he was slipping. When he found his hit single “God’s Country” he also found hope and a fire in his belly for the future. “God’s Country” flew up country radio’s airplay charts to become his 26th No. 1 song, the most streamed song of his career, won Single of the Year at the CMA Awards and is nominated for a Grammy.
FOR GOD AND COUNTRY: A religious revival is climbing the charts
“It was the most shocking moment I’ve had in my 20 years of doing this,” Shelton said of hearing “God’s Country” for the first time. “I had one of those moments that you hear people talk about … where they say they pulled over on the side of the highway and listened.”
53rd CMA Awards prioritize women
Reba McEntire, Carrie Underwood and Dolly Parton shared hosting duties for the first time at the CMA Awards in 2019 — a program that made sure to shine a light on female country stars of the past, present and future. The girls-only opening number included more than a dozen singers stretching from the three hosts, Crystal Gayle and Tanya Tucker to Sara Evans, Gretchen Wilson and Maren Morris. Little Big Town shared their “Girl Crush” moment with a bevy of the genre’s up-and-coming females including Kelsea Ballerini, Ashley McBryde and Lindsay Ell. McEntire stripped through multiple outfits during her performance – a reimagined version of “Fancy.” And Parton turned the CMA stage into a church with her seven-and-a-half-minute inspirational medley that included for KING & COUNTRY and Zach Williams.
For King & Country take crown at CMA Country Christmas
Grammy-winning crossover duo for KING & COUNTRY set the internet aflame with their theatric, percussive version of “Little Drummer Boy” during “CMA Country Christmas,” which aired Dec. 3 on ABC.
Known for hit songs including “God Only Knows” with Dolly Parton, brothers Joel and Luke Smallbone condensed their high-energy arena show down to an electrifying four minutes and fifty seconds for the memorable performance, a video that has more than 7.3 million views and 125,000 shares — and counting.
After the performance aired, for KING & COUNTRY’s live Christmas album “for KING & COUNTRY: Live from Phoenix” shot to No. 2 on iTunes’ all-genre album chart — just behind the soundtrack for “Frozen 2.” And, “Little Drummer Boy” landed at No. 4 on iTunes’ all-genre singles chart.
Garth Brooks wins seventh Entertainer of the Year trophy at CMA Awards
Three decades and 148 million albums sold since Garth Brooks’ released his self-titled, major-label debut, and the “Friends in Low Places” singer is still unstoppable.
In a year when Eric Church and Carrie Underwood were on a tireless mission to win the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year Award for the first time — and on a female-driven show that suggested a collective eagerness for a woman to win again — Brooks took it home, for a record seventh time.
But he didn’t hog the spotlight. Brooks used the moment to call out his favorite performances of the night, heaping praise on Kelsea Ballerini and Luke Combs who he predicted would one day take the same accolade.
Dolly Parton takeover
Was 2019 the year of Dolly Parton?
We think yes. Parton kicked off 2019 by being honored as MusiCares Person of the Year and she performed on the Grammy Awards for the first time since 2001 a few days later. Parton launched her Netflix series “Heartstrings,” filmed a Hallmark Christmas movie at her Dollywood theme park and co-hosted the CMA Awards. But, she wasn’t finished. Parton celebrated her 50th anniversary as a member of the Grand Ole Opry with a whole week of programming dedicated to her and anchored an NBC television special based on her relationship with the Opry.
“I’m just grateful for all of it,” Parton said. “Who knows when you’re starting how you’re going to turn out? Now, here I am at 73 years old looking back on my life and thinking, ‘I’m still here, and they’re still allowing me to feel like I’m important in the business.’ It’s a beautiful wonderful thing.”
Taylor Swift battles Big Machine
An age-old music industry battle bubbled to a boil this year in Nashville. In one corner: The world’s reigning pop powerhouse, raising her voice in defense of culturally-shaping songs she wrote and recorded. In the other corner: Music mogul Scooter Braun and his newly-acquired Swift catalog as part of a reported $300 million Big Machine Records purchase. A legal sparring that showed neither side willing to pull punches, Swift and her former label appear bound for a continued battle in 2020.
Nashville takes a trip down the ‘Old Town Road’
No song — in 2019 or this decade — transcended music to dominate popular culture quite like Lil Nas X and his genreless breakout “Old Town Road.” The longest-running No.1 hit in Billboard Hot 100 history begged listeners to define country music in April, stole the show at CMA Fest in June and kept most wondering “what remix will be released next?” in July.
Not too bad for a 20-year-kid with a SoundCloud account.
Fall in love again with ‘Country Music’
Millions — nearly 35 million, per one report — turned to PBS this fall for “Country Music,” Ken Burns’ 16-hour take on “a story of America … one song at a time.” Burns and documentary writer Dayton Duncan reminded viewers of Hank Williams’ tragic death, Dolly Parton’s timeless charm, Merle Haggard’s bond with Johnny Cash, and, most of all, that all these stories fuel why so many love Nashville’s most-celebrated export.
Ashley McBryde is a girl goin’ everywhere
The self-proclaimed “Girl Goin’ Nowhere” is anything but stuck in a rut. Ashley McBryde swept her respective newcomer categories at the CMAs and ACMs, winning New Female Vocalist and New Artist of the Year in 2019, a result of her excellent debut LP and crushing live show. She’s established a dedicated following and continues to release significant music — will radio finally take notice in 2020?
Luke Combs’ beautiful, crazy Opry invite
Overwhelmed to tears and gasping for air, one of Nashville’s biggest stars stood in country music’s most formidable circle and accepted a lifelong invite to the Grand Ole Opry. Luke Combs’ unimaginable run of success — each of his first seven singles reaching No. 1 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart, an unmatched record in Nashville — reached new heights in June as the Opry welcomed him as a member to the heralded group of entertainers.
The Highwomen harmonize with Dolly
At the start of the year, a female country supergroup called The Highwomen was just an idea. Seven months later, Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris and Amanda Shires were harmonizing with the legendary Dolly Parton at the Newport Folk Festival – as part of Carlile’s epic all-female “Collaboration” for the 50th annual event. It was a thoroughly triumphant year for The Highwomen, but nothing can top that transcendent performance.
Tanya Tucker is celebrated while she’s ‘Livin’
“Bring my flowers now, while I’m living,” Tanya Tucker sang on her first album in a decade. “I won’t need your love when I’m gone.”
Her fans, critics and industry peers got the message. In December, Tucker emerged as the top country nominee at the Grammy Awards, with nods including Best Country Album and Song of the Year (for “Bring My Flowers Now”).
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