2008: The Year in Review

Awards Aplenty, but Assaults, Lawsuits, CD Sales Slump Darkened Country's Door

The best news in country music for 2008 emanated from Taylor Swift, the keen teen who became America’s sweetheart while selling more records and gracing more magazine covers than anyone else in the hillbilly business. Kenny Chesney was a bright spot as well, packing stadiums to overflowing and continuing to win the top entertainer awards from both the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association.

Then there were the dissonant notes: Shania Twain split from husband Mutt Lange; Mindy McCready apparently attempted suicide; John Rich, Sugarland, Mark Herndon and Natalie Maines got sued; and Billy Joe Shaver and Kid Rock got busted. Sadder still, country music lost some of its finest voices and fiercest advocates. Their deaths are noted in a separate story to run Tuesday (Dec. 30).

January: Here comes the hurt again: Nielsen SoundScan reports another drop in country album sales — from 75 million units in 2006 to 63 million 2007, a 16.3 percent slide. … Rascal Flatts wins People’s Choice awards for favorite group and favorite country song (“Stand”).

February: Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats” becomes first country song to earn double-platinum certification from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for generating 2 million digital downloads. … Rhonda Vincent wins entertainer of the year prize from the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America (SPBGMA). … Vince Gill’s These Days wins Grammy for best country album.

March: Taylor Swift, Jake Owen, Luke Bryan, Jason Michael Carroll and Bucky Covington perform for radio programmers at the Country Radio Seminar New Faces show. … President George W. Bush treats the annual Gridiron Dinner crowd to a self-mocking parody of “Green, Green Grass of Home”

April: Taylor Swift and Kellie Pickler are the big winners at the CMT Awards show. … Richard Fagan, co-writer of John Michael Montgomery’s hit “Sold (The Grundy County Auction Incident),” is charged with killing Tommy Oteri, his manager, music publisher and roommate. Oteri was the father of former Saturday Night Live star Cheri Oteri. … In the first of a two-part ceremony, the late Ernest V. Stoneman and Emmylou Harris are inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

May: Carrie Underwood joins the Grand Ole Opry. … Shania Twain and producer Mutt Lange announce their separation after 14 years of marriage. … Kenny Chesney is voted entertainer of the year for the fourth consecutive time by the Academy of Country Music. . . The late Eddy Arnold’s single, “To Life,” charts in Billboard just days after his death, making him one of the few artists to have charted a record in seven consecutive decades and giving him a grand total of 147 singles charted. … Chris Cagle and his girlfriend are jailed on domestic assault charges. (They are acquitted of the charges in July.)

June: The three founding members of AlabamaRandy Owen, Teddy Gentry and Jeff Cook — sue their long-time drummer, Mark Herndon, to recoup alleged overpayment from merchandise sales. … The CMA Music Festival held in Nashville. … Bonnaroo music festival, which features several country artists, held in Manchester, Tenn. … Loretta Lynn is inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and earns an encore for her performance. … In the second of a two-part ceremony, Tom T. Hall and the Statler Brothers are officially inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

July: Kid Rock fined $1,000 and sentenced to a year of probation on a battery charge growing out of a scuffle at a Waffle House restaurant in Decatur, Ga. … The Black Crowes accuse Gretchen Wilson and co-writers John Rich and Vicky McGehee of copyright infringement, alleging similarities between Wilson’s recording of “Work Hard, Play Harder” and the Crowes’ “Jealous Again.” … Kristen Hall, co-founder of the group Sugarland, sues former bandmates Kristian Bush and Jennifer Nettles for failing to share profits allegedly promised her from the band’s earnings.

August: Brooks & Dunn’s star added to the Hollywood Walk of Fame. … Alan Jackson and the glitterati of Music Row celebrate his career sales of 50 million albums.

September: Billy Joe Shaver indicted for a bar shooting in Texas. … Alison Krauss and Robert Plant win album of the year (for Raising Sand) and duo of the year awards from the Americana Music Association. Levon Helm is named artist of the year, and Hayes Carll and Brian Keane’s “She Left Me for Jesus” is judged song of the year. … The 23rd edition of Farm Aid held at Comcast Center near Boston. … Mindy McCready begins serving a 60-day sentence for probation violation.

October: Dailey & Vincent win seven International Bluegrass Music Awards, including entertainer of the year. … Stonewall Jackson settles his age discrimination suit against the Grand Ole Opry on terms neither party revealed. … The musical, Conway Twitty: The Man, the Music, the Legend opens in Nashville. … ASCAP names Alan Jackson songwriter-artist of the year, Dave Berg songwriter of the year and Rachel Thibodeaux’s “Good Directions” song of the year. … Matraca Berg, Tom Shapiro and John Hiatt are inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. … Craig Morgan becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry. … Duane Eddy, the Memphis Horns, the Crickets, the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, Booker T. & the MGs and producer Billy Sherrill are inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame. … The Academy of Country Music proclaims George Strait its artist of the decade.

November: SESAC honors Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott as songwriter of the year, Travis Hill’s “Better as a Memory” as song of the year and Shaw Enuff Songs as publisher of the year. … BMI declares Hank Williams Jr. its 2008 Icon, Casey Beathard songwriter of the year, Taylor Swift’s “Teardrops on My Guitar” song of the year and Sony ATV Tree as publisher of the year. … Kenny Chesney wins CMA entertainer of the year award for fourth time. … John Rich sued for assault and battery by Jerry Montano, former bassist for the rock band Danzig. … Taylor Swift’s sophomore album, Fearless, tops both Billboard’s country and all-genre charts with first-week sales of nearly 600,000 copies.

December: Roy Rogers and Dale Evans’ 1952 recording of “Happy Trails” selected for the Grammy Hall of Fame. Other recordings induced include Roy Acuff & the Crazy Tennesseans’ “Great Speckled Bird” (1936) and Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys’ “Mule Skinner Blues” (1940) … Natalie Maines, of the Dixie Chicks, sued for defamation by stepfather of boy killed in Arkansas. … Toby Keith donates $500,000 to children’s hospital at Oklahoma University Medical Center. … George Jones presented Kennedy Center Honor. … Mindy McCready was hospitalized in Nashville following an apparent suicide attempt. Police said she severed her wrists and took unspecified pills.

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to CMT.com.