Top 10 Country Tours to Catch in Early ’06

Urban, Wilson, Flatts, Others Return to the Road

This winter, country stars are offering a sure cure for cabin fever as nearly every top artist will put rubber to the road in the first few months of 2006. Here, in alphabetical order, are 10 tours worth bundling up for.

Trace Adkins: Just as “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” is shaping up to be his biggest hit yet, Adkins is heading to the Midwest. For his first four dates — starting Jan. 19 in Burlington, Iowa — he will be joined by Josh Gracin as his opening act. After a run along the East Coast, Adkins will head west for a string of shows in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and California in mid-March.

Dierks Bentley: He had a huge year in 2005 — including a surprise marriage, two platinum albums, induction into the Grand Ole Opry and a CMA Horizon Award — and now Bentley comes a little closer to his fans overseas. He’ll play Belfast, Northern Ireland, on Jan. 15, with additional gigs in Dublin, Ireland; Glasgow, Scotland; and London, Manchester and Newcastle, England — all in eight days time. Newcomer Jace Everett tags along for a few nights.

Toby Keith: With a new album on the way, Keith is once again ready to throw down, launching the Big Throwdown II tour on Jan. 20 in Portland, Ore. Over the next five weeks, he’ll work his way to Peoria, Ill., where he plays on Feb. 22. Expect new songs from his upcoming album, White Trash With Money. Joe Nichols will warm up the crowd, along with Scotty Emerick and newcomer Danielle Peck.

Martina McBride: Blessed with an abundance of hits and a popular album of country classics, McBride will take to the road without an opening act. That’s right — all Martina, all the time. State College, Pa., will be the first to help her make it through the night, on Jan. 13, although she can surely expect some familiar faces in Kansas City — close to her hometown of Sharon, Kan. — on Jan. 28. She plays Radio City Music Hall in New York on Feb. 18.

Willie Nelson: Has Willie Nelson ever not toured? He’s settling in long enough for a four-night stand at the Fillmore, the famed music hall in San Francisco, on Jan. 23-26. After several weeks in California, he’ll hit a few Texas stages before eight shows in Florida starting in late February. At the end of April, he’ll make his way through Eastern Canada, all the way to St. John’s, Newfoundland — pretty much the tip of the continent.

Brad Paisley: When he gets where he’s going — that would be Duluth, Minn., on Jan. 25 — he’ll resume his Time Well Wasted tour with Sara Evans. He’s also scheduled for two dates in his home state of West Virginia in the middle of February. After playing at the Gaylord Entertainment Center in downtown Nashville on March 31, he wraps the tour the following night near Memphis. Rising star Billy Currington opens the shows.

Rascal Flatts: In 2005, Rascal Flatts played for 807,899 fans — second only to Kenny Chesney in the country genre. With a new album to preview, they’ll return to the road in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Feb. 2 for their Me and My Gang tour. This time around, the gang includes Blake Shelton on all dates, while newcomers Jason Aldean (“Hicktown”) and Keith Anderson (“Pickin’ Wildflowers”) will alternate as openers.

George Strait: Usually, Strait has the road to himself in the early months of a new year. Undeterred, he’s playing far-flung arenas throughout early March — 19 shows across 17 different states, starting Jan. 12 in Des Moines, Iowa. As for all those screaming women in the crowd? They let themselves go. Arrive early for Tracy Lawrence and fellow Texan Miranda Lambert.

Keith Urban: How would you like to spend Valentine’s Day with the CMA’s reigning entertainer of the year? All you need is a ticket to his concert that night in Huntsville, Ala. Now healed from vocal trouble, he makes up a canceled date in Evansville, Ind., on Feb. 1 and concludes his run with a block of dates in the Southeast. Pat Green (“Wave on Wave”) joins him for most of the shows.

Gretchen Wilson: Let me hear a big “Hell yeah!” for the Redneck Revolution tour, Wilson’s first jaunt as a headliner. Kicking off in Dallas on Jan. 18, the tour loads in at 30 cities, with only two dates west of the Mississippi River. She’ll be joined by good-timing brother duo Van Zant and fresh-faced Blaine Larsen (“How Do You Get That Lonely”). And as Wilson sings in “Here for the Party,” they ain’t leavin’ till you throw them out.