Country Tour Buses Are Revving Up

Strait, Jackson and Twain Among Those Returning to the Road in 2004

With the holidays now behind them, country artists are wasting little time in returning to work.

Most of country’s biggest acts — including George Strait, Alan Jackson, Toby Keith, Brooks & Dunn, Shania Twain and Kenny Chesney — are back on the road. Even Reba McEntire will be hitting the fair and festival circuit after an absence that found her concentrating on her TV sitcom.

Among the hottest tickets will be Jackson’s tour with Martina McBride. Pairing two of country’s most successful acts provides a solid value for ticket buyers. It’s also a rare tour when a single ticket provides performances by the Country Music Association’s reigning male vocalist of the year and female vocalist of the year. Their 30-date tour launches Jan. 29 in Moline, Ill., and closes May 22 in Nashville.

Strait’s tour kicks off Jan. 15 in Atlanta. Utilizing the in-the-round staging he’s used to strong effect in the past, Strait’s roadwork takes him to Canada in July. Four of the six Canadian dates sold out almost immediately when tickets went on sale recently. Strait has invited newcomers Dierks Bentley and Kellie Coffey to join him on the dates that continue through August.

Bentley won’t be home much in 2004. In addition to touring with Strait, he’ll also be joining Chesney on the Guitars, Tiki Bars & Whole Lotta Love tour. Set to launch March 17 at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, Chesney’s tour will also feature Keith Urban.

After touring extensively in 2003, Keith has scheduled another 16 dates for his Shock’n Y’all tour. The latest leg of the tour kicks off Jan. 15 in Tupelo, Miss. With Blake Shelton opening the shows, dates are confirmed through Feb. 22 in Portland, Maine.

Twain’s Up! tour hit several U.S. markets in 2003, but she’ll be visiting even more cities in the months to come. The European portion of Twain’s tour begins Feb. 11 in Paris. She’ll perform in the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, Norway, Austria and Belgium before playing her first U.S. date of the year — an April 6 show in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. With some Canadian dates interspersed, Twain’s tour is booked through the middle of June.

Carrying several other major acts and elaborate staging for the past three years on their Neon Circus & Wild West Show tours, Brooks & Dunn found it necessary to bypass many smaller markets that nonetheless provide the backbone of country music. They’re rectifying the situation with the Red Dirt Road tour. With Joe Nichols and newcomer Josh Turner on the tour, the dates begin Feb. 12 in Reading, Pa., before closing April 25 in Evansville, Ind. Later in the year, Brooks & Dunn will return to the road for a series of shows at festivals.

Alabama is extending its American Farewell tour after stops in 40 markets during 2003. This year’s roadwork begins with a Feb. 7 appearance at the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo. They’ll hit more than 20 other cities before the tour buses roll to a stop in June.

Rascal Flatts found considerable success when they headlined last year’s CMT Most Wanted Live tour. They reunite with Chris Cagle and Brian McComas when the I Melt tour launches with a Jan. 22 show in Kalamazoo, Mich. The band’s CMT-sponsored tour played to 150,000 fans during its 29-city run.

Calvin Gilbert has served as’s managing editor since 2002. His background includes stints at the Nashville Banner, Radio & Records and Westwood One.