» Top Stories Of '11 – Aldean Ascension: For a guy with plenty of hit single and album notches in his belt, calling Jason Aldean's 2011 a breakthrough might be overstating the case. Nevertheless, his My Kinda Party was the best-selling album of the year in country music, and his Album and Musical Event wins at the CMAs were his first major awards. "It's been the most incredible year," Aldean says. "I'm looking forward to some quiet time in the woods over the holidays so I can reflect on how much we accomplished and how grateful I am for all the support I've received from the fans and my peers in the music business." Aldean heads into 2012 with three Grammy nominations: "Dirt Road Anthem" (Best Country Solo Performance), "Don't You Wanna Stay" (Best Country Duo/Group Performance) and My Kinda Party (Best Country Album).
» Top Stories Of '11 – Ol' Wed: Prince William and Kate Middleton may have gotten more headlines, but their wedding wasn't nearly as much fun as the country revelry enjoyed by Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton. Three media helicopters buzzed over the May ceremony as hundreds of family, friends, artists and industry associates gathered in Texas. The ceremony was "exactly what you would expect from Miranda and Blake," one attendee said. The reception featured a rousing two-hour performance from Neal McCoy. Country royalty on-hand included Reba,Martina McBride, Dierks Bentley, Jessi Colter, Charles Kelley, Josh Kelley and the Bellamy Brothers.
» Top Stories Of '11 – McGraw Music Moves: A long and contentious legal battle between Tim McGraw and Curb Records got the first hint of resolution with a Nashville court ruling in November. The upshot: Lots more McGraw music is on the way. First up, the long-awaited Emotional Traffic, his first full-length studio release in three years, drops Jan. 17. "I fought very hard for the release," McGraw posted on his website. "It's an album full of music of which I am very proud. It's extremely unfortunate that it wasn't released earlier this year in conjunction with the Emotional Traffic tour, but all I want to do now is focus on the positive and look to the future ... I am so appreciative of the support I’ve received over the years, and I’m looking forward to this next chapter of my career." Two Traffic songs are already available: "Better Than I Used To Be" and "Right Back Atcha Babe."
» Top Stories Of '11 – Indiana State Fair Tragedy: One gust of wind changed everything. On Aug. 13, the main stage's roof, rigging sound and lights collapsed on a crowd of concertgoers awaiting a Sugarland concert at the Indiana State Fair. Alina Bigjohny (23), Nathan Byrd (51), Glenn Goodrich (49), Chirstina Santiago (29), and Tammy Vandam (42) perished in the collapse. Five days later, Jennifer Haskall (22) passed. Meagan Toothman (24) was taken off life support Aug. 23. Dozens were injured, many of them severely. The duo's weather-cautious delay in taking the stage probably saved lives. The effects — for families, the injured and the 12,000 in attendance — will carry for a lifetime. KristianBush and Jennifer Nettles resumed their Incredible Machine tour in Albuquerque Aug. 18 and returned to Indianapolis Oct. 28 for a free concert at Conseco Fieldhouse. "We are all changed by what happened then," Nettles said. "But we are going to try and give you the best show that we can." In November, the duo dedicated their CMA Vocal Duo of the Year award to those affected.
» Top Stories Of '11 – Songs Of The Year: Two years ago, Thompson Square were slinging drinks and working souvenir shops on Nashville's Lower Broadway. What a difference a song makes. "Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not" is 2011's No. 1 country song based on radio airplay, and the Thompsons are feeling its effects. "We are so thankful to Country radio and our fans for their support," Keifer Thompson says. "We have an amazing team behind us, and their hard work has made a dream come true. It's a pretty awesome feeling." The rest of the top five: Jason Aldean's "Don't You Wanna Stay," Tim McGraw's "Felt Good On My Lips," Billy Currington's "Let Me Down Easy" and Kenny Chesney's "Somewhere With You."
» Top Stories Of '11 – Road Warriors:CMA Entertainer of the Year Taylor Swift was an international sensation with her Speak Now World Tour, surprising crowds in many U.S. cities by bringing out celebrity duet partners including Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw, James Taylor and talkshow host Ellen DeGeneres. Brad Paisley got wet and wild on the H2O II tour, while more than 1.3 million fans turned out for Kenny Chesney's Goin't Coastal trek. Zac Brown Band offered concertgoers affordable gourmet and organic southern cuisine at several tour stops including October's three-day Southern Ground Music Food Festival. Keith Urban worked it so hard during the Get Closer World Tour that he needed surgery in November to remove a polyp on his vocal cords.
» Top Stories Of '11 – Idol Youth: American Idol didn't just offer country music one popular new face, it served up two. Winner Scotty McCreery and runner-up Lauren Alaina seized their opportunities with gusto, quickly making themselves an integral part of the country community and its events. McCreery won his first major award (New Artist of the Year) during December's American Country Awards in Las Vegas. Both released well-received debut albums, and McCreery's has already been certified gold. "Every artist dreams of a gold album and works hard for it, so it’s a major accomplishment," he says. "This is a testament to how great the fans are."
» Top Stories Of '11 – Viral Cup: Having logged more than 7.1 million views since its October debut, the video for Toby Keith's "Red Solo Cup" has been a true pop culture phenomenon. The song continues to be one of iTunes' top downloads, radio airplay has it in the top 20 and Toby's seen a boost in album sales. Even the cast of Glee covered it! Relive the video party of the year here.
» Top Stories Of '11 – Friends And Benefits: One of 2010's top stories was the Nashville flood and the country community's response. Music City stayed dry in '11, but that didn't slow the charitable efforts of its highest profile performers. June 14's Bama Rising concert raised more than $2.1 million for those affected by April tornadoes in the state. Alabama, Rodney Atkins, Dierks Bentley, Luke Bryan, Sara Evans, Little Big Town, Montgomery Gentry, Martina McBride, David Nail, Jake Owen, Brad Paisley, Kellie Pickler, Darius Rucker and Ashton Shepherd were among the performers. And donations are still being accepted here. In Austin, George Strait, the Dixie Chicks, Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett and Asleep at the Wheel performed at Oct. 14's FIRE RELIEF: The Concert For Central Texas, which raised more than $750,000 for wildfire victims.
» Top Stories Of '11 – In Memoriam: The late Charlie Louvin, 83, Ferlin Husky, 85, and "Country" Johnny Mathis, 80, were among the country stars who passed in 2011. Louvin, who lost his battle with pancreatic cancer Jan. 26, began his career as one-half of the Louvin Brothers ("Cash On The Barrelhead," "Knoxville Girl"). Husky, whose first hit was 1953's "A Dear John Letter," passed March 17. Mathis passed Sept. 27 after a career that included the duo Jimmy & Johnny and songwriting credits for George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Johnny Paycheck and Charley Pride.
As for music, look for McBride's Hits And More (Jan. 17), McGraw's Emotional Traffic (1/17), Kellie Pickler's 100 Proof (1/24) and Pat Green's Songs We Wish We'd Written II (2/28). A new Josh Turner record is expected in 2012, and there's potential for new music from Swift, Paisley and Carrie Underwood.
» New Year's T-Eve V: Trace Adkins and Big & Rich will appear on FOX News' All AmericanNew Year (11pm ET). Lauren Alaina, Rodney Atkins, Eli Young Band, Toby Keith and Joe Nichols will perform during FOX-TV's American Country New Year's Eve Live (11pm ET). The Band Perry are slated for ABC-TV's Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve, and Blake Shelton will perform on NBC's New Year's Eve With Carson Daly (10pm ET).
» In Case You Missed It: Wednesday's (12/21) Better TVdocumented Thompson Square's Nov. 19 experience aboard the Santa Train. The 110-mile benefit ride rolled through Appalachia, where the duo delivered 15 tons of presents to rural communities. "There are so many people who don't have anything at all so to get anything — a candy bar or a blanket — they're so excited," Keifer Thompson says. "It makes you thankful for what you have."
» Wedding Belle, Silver Bells: Best wishes are extended to Lady Antebellum's Dave Haywood and Nashville music exec Kelli Cashiola, who were engaged Monday evening (12/19). Haywood popped the question with an over-the-top Christmas light display at the entrance of his fiancé's house. While Cashiola was a work that day, Haywood also transformed the interior of her crib into a sparkling winter wonderland with trees, lights and candles spanning the entire home.
Dierks Bentley, Corey Cox and Darius Rucker will perform on the Verizon Stage in downtown Indianapolis during Super Bowl XLVI week Jan. 27-Feb. 5. Bret Michaels, En Vogue, Edwin McCain and Patti Labelle are among the other performers. A complete lineup and schedule will be announced in January. More here.
Glen Campbell and George Jones are among the Recording Academy's seven Lifetime Achievement Awards recipients, and will be celebrated during a Feb. 11 invitation-only ceremony. The Allman Brothers Band, Antonio Carlos Jorbin, the Memphis Horns, Diana Ross and Gil Scott-Heron will also be honored.
Jimmy Buffett (12/25) Marty Roe (12/28) Jessica Andrews (12/29)
New Year's Eve (12/31): Trace Adkins, All American New Year (FOX News); Lauren Alaina, Rodney Atkins, Eli Young Band, Toby Keith, Joe Nichols, American Country New Year's Eve Live (FOX); The Band Perry, Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve (ABC); Blake Shelton, NBC's New Year's Eve With Carson Daly.
Upcoming Album Releases
Martina McBrideHits And More (1/17) Tim McGrawEmotional Traffic (1/17) Kellie Pickler100 Proof (1/24)
» Nice Ice, Baby:Brad Paisley and Dierks Bentley (l-r) sport matching thermal overcoats at a holiday ice exhibit. Bentley tweeted Tuesday (12/20), "Merry Christmas from Brad Paisley and me. That was special Brad."
» Try Getting This Through Airport Security:Eric Church's son Boone McCoy makes his photographic debut tucked in his dad's guitar case. Eric and wife Katherine released the pic Monday (12/19). "Everybody always tells you what an awesome and unique experience being a parent is," Eric says. "The way our life changed in that 24-hour period after he was born — just putting a little boy in the house — was awesome."