The past few years has seen an explosion in the popularity of country music. In the 90's it was "alternative" music, the aughts saw the rise of hip hop as the mainstream's biggest music genre, and if the first few years of the teens hold up, this could be the decade of country music. If you need further proof, Rolling Stone just launched RollingStoneCountry.com.
Sure, there were some big country music stars in the past, but with the rise of Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean and Miranda Lambert, plus a cadre of young guns coming up behind them, there's no reason to think this country revival is going anywhere anytime soon.
I did my best to ignore the onslaught of country music but at a certain point, you need to get with the times (especially when your job depends on knowing what the hot artists are).
So I decided to get to know the big names in country music, and share my findings to help others like me who need to play a little catchup with their country music acts.
So here it is, The Non-country Fan's Guide To Country Music:
Currently Touring with Lee Brice & Cole Swindell
At the moment, Luke Bryan is the top dog in country music. You'll hear country fans admire his playful and fun side, but also make it clear he's got a serious, sensitive side as well. He's dealt with some tragedy in his life, as both his older brother and sister died suddenly while in their 20s. This son of a peanut farmer started out as a country music ghost writer before releasing I'll Stay Me in 2007.
Luke Bryan - That's My Kind Of Night
One of Bryan's bigger hits is That's My Kind of Night, which details Bryan's escapades in his van, i mean truck, with a pretty girl that likes having catfish for dinner and gettin' loved right.
You could make the argument that the difference between what's labeled as "country music" is not all that removed from the pop and hip hop music of the mainstream (Wikipedia even has a page on "Country Pop"). Listen to the first few seconds of this track to see what I mean. The first few sounds are Bryan going "Uh uh uh" just like a lot of hip hop acts go before they start rapping. Bryan also lets us know his truck rolls on 35s, and even samples T-Pain's "make it rain" for a second. The best part of the song is when Bryan starts breaking it down without any musical accompaniment and instead sings to the sound of clapping.
You look like the kind that likes to take it way out
Out where the corn rows grow, row, row my boat
Floatin’ down the Flint River,
Catch us up a little catfish dinner
Gonna sound like a winner winner
When I lay you down and love you right
Yeah, that’s my kind of night!
No doubt about it, Bryan is at the top of his game, and you'll likely be hearing all about him for years to come.
Top Summer Tour Stops:
- Hollywood Bowl 10/25
- Darien Center 8/16
- Lincoln Financial Center 8/15
Currently touring with The Band Perry & Neal McCoy
Blake Shelton is currently one of the biggest names in country music, his popularity no doubt being bolstered by his wife, country's leading lady Miranda Lambert (more about her in a sec). He gained attention with his cover of Michael Baublé's Home and has gone on to put out 11 #1 singles. He's been a judge on The Voice since its inception.
You should also know:
- He picked up and drove to Nashville to chase his dreams.
- Older brother died in a car accident at 24.
- Shelton and Lambert have matching his and hers shotguns.
- Was People's Sexiest Man Alive.
Blake Shelton - Boys 'Round Here feat. Pistol Annies & Friends
In another example of country and rap culture melding, for the video Shelton has fitted his red truck with hydraulics Snoop Dogg would be proud of, hittin switches and impressing the fellas driving by in the Cadillac.
"Chew tobacco, chew tobacco, chew tobacco, spit"
- Shoreline Amphitheater 9/13
- Mandalay Bay Las Vegas 10/03
- Wrigley Field 7/19
- Hollywood Bowl 10/04
Currently touring with Jerrod Niemann & Brett Eldredge
Keith Urban has been one of the titans of country music since 1999's self-titled Keith Urban. The Australian-born singer has had 16 hits reach the top of the country charts. Urban, whose middle name is Lionel, is married to Nicole Kidman and has been a judge on American Idol since 2013.
Keith Urban - Somebody Like You
- Mansfield, MA 7/26
- Holmdel, NJ 8/15
- Englewood, CO 8/29
- Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View 9/6
Touring with Justin Moore & Thomas Rhett
As we talked about earlier, Miranda Lambert is married to Blake Shelton. She got her start as a finalist on Nashville Star (a reality show that aired on NBC for five seasons). In 2006 she released the single "Kerosene," in which she burns down her ex's house, so Blakeyboy better behave himself. She recently released the album Platinum, with the first single "Automatic" lamenting the new-fangled tech society. "it all just seems so good the way we had it, back before everything became ... automatic."
Miranda Lambert - Automatic
- Progressive Field 7/18
- PNC Park 7/26
- Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine 8/10
The following chart comes from Google and shows search interested in the couple since 2005. You can tell Shelton had an early start but Lambert really gained a lot of ground from 2009 - 2011, while their popularity stayed about the same (interestingly going up and down together) until Miranda pulled ahead the past few weeks, like because of Platinum.
Florida Georgia Line
Currently Touring with Jason Aldean
This country duo, comprised of Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard, is one of the newer acts on this list, dropping their first studio album Here's to Good Times in 2012. They make me think of what would happen if there were two Kid Rocks, and they were trying to be country stars rather than rappers. They worked with rapper Nelly in one version of their hit Cruise. They've also worked with Joey Moi, best known for working with Nickelback.
Here's the full extent of Wikipedia's info on their personal life: "In February 2014, Hubbard sustained a back injury in a dirt bike accident. On December 16, 2013 Brian married his girlfriend of seven months, Brittney Marie Cole." Looks like Hubbard had some catching up to do.
You know I love it when you get your shine on,
Cuz you and me be rockin all night long
Their current tour is the "This is How We Roll" tour, and from their video they roll by partying in the trailer of a big rig truck.
Florida Georgia Line - This Is How We Roll ft. Luke Bryan
- Xfinity Theater, Hartford CT 8/2
- Xfinity Center, Mansfield 7/11
- Progressive Field, Cleveland 7/18
His actual name is Jason Williams but he incorporated an adoption of his middle name as a performer because there were two Jason Williams in the NBA at the time. He's had 11 singles that have reached #1 on the Hot Country Songs. His first single was "Hicktown," which has since become his signature song, serving as the closer for most of his shows. In it he talks about jacking up Bronco's (the car), getting rowdy at the football game, going muddin', and all the other ways people "get down, in a hicktown."
We knew he was going to be big when he came out of nowhere to win our "concert madness" competition
, presumably on the back of the Aldean Army
Jason Aldean - Hicktown
- Xfinity Theater, Hartford CT 8/2
- Xfinity Center, Mansfield 7/11
- Progressive Field, Cleveland 7/18
From the little research I've done it seems like there would be a lot of people upset to see George Strait on this list. The "King of Country" first came on scene in 1981 and just finished up his career with what is supposed to be his final show at AT&T Stadium. He's won more CMA and ACM awards than any other artist, and it seems like if you consider yourself a fan of country music you should give this feller a listen.
George Strait-I Got a Car
Tim McGraw & Faith Hill
Currently touring with Kip Moore & Cassadee Pope
Husband and wife Tim McGraw and Faith Hill comprise the power couple in country, being able to claim the highest grossing country tour ever, 2006's Sould2Soul II Tour. Tim's had 11 consecutive albums debut number one on Billboard and 25 singles #1 on the Hot Country Songs, while Hill has won five Grammy Awards, 14 Academy of Country Music Awards and four American Music Awards. You probably know her from the old intro to Sunday Night Football ("Waitin' All Day for Sunday Night").
What's crazy about McGraw is that he grew up not knowing who his real father was, until he discovered it was baseball player Tug McGraw. Apparently his mother and the baseball player had a bit of a thing, but when she became pregnant her parents shipped her off to Louisiana, where she had baby Tim. Until he was 11, McGraw believed his stepfather was his biological father, until he came across his birth certificate. Tim met his father shortly thereafter, but Tug denied being the dad until their resemblance could not be denied. Wikipedia says they remained close until Tug's death in 2004.
Tim McGraw - Lookin' For That Girl
- Cheyenne Frontier Days
- Rimrock Auto Arena, Billings MT
- Minnesota State Fair Grandstand, Saint Paul, MN
Zac Brown Band
These guys seem to be really talented musicians eager to draw on a number of sounds to their repertoire. They're a country band that incorporates aspects of bluegrass, Caribbean and reggae music, and most recently worked with Dave Grohl (of the Foo Fighters and Nirvana) to produce a "harder" sound. When I played Chicken Fried I was familiar with it, and actually thought it was pretty catchy.
Zac Brown Band - Chicken Fried
- Jones Beach
- Fenway Park
- PNC Bank Arena
Brad Paisley is known for using humor as well as pop culture references in his songs. His music sounds like what you'd expect from country music, fun and twangy. Born and raised in West Virginia, he's had 18 tracks teach No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart and, perhaps more impressively, he's the youngest person inducted into the Jamboree USA Hall of Fame. Paisley had his first #1 hit in 1999 with "He Didn't Have to Be," a heartfelt song about the difficulty single mothers and their children face when trying to complete a nuclear family.
Brad Paisley - River Bank
Currently touring with Dwight Yoakam
It seems like Eric Church is caught in a bind. As he told FoxNews, he misses the substance lacking in current country music, saying it's feel good, forget your worries music. But he also credits himself, specifically his song "Guys Like Me," with ushering in the new era. Church leans a little closer to what you might call traditional rock 'n roll. He takes his songwriting pretty seriously, and while in the writing process grows his beard until an album is done. Also, his fan club is called the "Church Choir."
He also doesn't mince any words when it comes to the current state of country: "True red-white-blue American rock & roll fans have gone more toward country," Church told Rolling Stone. "Hip-hop has gone down. Rock's down. People are kidding themselves if they think there's a bigger format than country. It's an interesting time."
Eric Church - Give Me Back My Hometown
- Target Center, MN 9/16
- CenturyLink Center Omaha NE, 9/18
- Resh Center, Green Bay WI 11/20
Currently touring with Eric Church
Wikipedia credits Yoakam with "pioneering country music," with more than 21 albums under his belt, five of which have landed on the Billboard #1. He's been honing his craft since the 80's, when he moved to LA to become a star after failing to gain traction in Nashville. At the time, Yoakam was writing what would eventually be labeled "honky tonk" or "hillbilly" music, which didn't have much of a market in the traditional country music sense. With Church's passion for country music, it's little wonder he jumped at the opportunity to tour with the country legend.
Dwight Yoakam - Guitars Cadillacs
Another ole' timer, Alan Jackson recently performed at George Straight's last concert. I just listened to a few of his tracks and it's what I expect country to be, just light and fun kind of nonsense talking, with lyrics like "way down yonder on the Chattahochee, It gets hotter than a hoochie coochie." (Apparently the hoochie coochie was a provocative bellydance that caused all kinds of commotion back in the late 19th century.) Jackson's had 35 number one hits, and in his video for "Chattahoochee" (which has almost 15 million views), he's water skiing with a cowboy hat on. Also, the video for "Good Time" set the world record for the world longest line dance.
Alan Jackson - Chattahoochee
- Hersheypark 8/30
- Casino Rama 8/14
- Mohegan Sun 8/9
Toby Keith has been a country music institution for more than 2 decades and has sold more than 40 million albums worldwide. He is perhaps best known for his single "Should've Been a Cowboy," which Broadcast Music Incorporated says has been spun more than three million times as well as "Beer for My Horses," a duet with Willie Nelson. No doubt he's influenced a lot of the music out there today, and not just music. Keith has been outspoken in his political views, coining "Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue," which was inspired by his father's patriotism as well as the September 11 attacks. You might also recall his tussle with the Dixie Chicks over the song and "ignorant Americans."
Courtesy Of The Red, White And Blue (The Angry American)
- PNC Bank Holmdel, NJ 7/25
- Blossom Music Center Cuyahoga Falls, OH 6/29
- Jiffy Lube Live Bristow, VA 6/28
So there you have it, a totally incomplete, perhaps a little inaccurate look at the country music scene today. I've learned a lot researching this piece, and admit a little better understanding of where country music is coming from. But for my money, these young guns have a ways to catch up to the greatest country song ever made: