When summer rolls around, you almost never see the country stars hanging out in Nashville. That’s because they’re out working. Sounds like a pretty cool gig to me. Whether you prefer a tailgate party in the parking lot or a comfy seat in an air-conditioned arena, here — in alphabetical order — are 10 top summer tours for country fans.
Jason Aldean, Chris Young and Thompson Square
With undeniably big anthems like “She’s Country,” Jason Aldean is a natural fit to headline arenas and sheds. The latest wave of his My Kinda Party tour starts at Summerfest in Milwaukee on July 8 with guests Chris Young and new duo Thompson Square on most dates. And thanks to technology (and a really big screen), Kelly Clarkson will lend her powerhouse pipes to “Don’t You Wanna Stay.” The tour will also visit California and Florida, with Midwest stops in Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska and Ohio.
Kenny Chesney, Billy Currington and Uncle Kracker
A summer staple, Kenny Chesney and his crew kicked off the summer season early, which is all right with us. It can get hot in Florida in March, right? Since 2002, Chesney’s tours have grossed nearly $500 million, according to Billboard. After staying off the road (mostly) in 2010, Chesney is back in a big way with the Goin’ Coastal tour. He’s teaming with the Zac Brown Band on a series of stadium dates that conclude on Aug. 27-28 in Foxboro, Mass. Meanwhile, Billy Currington and Uncle Kracker are the supporting acts in the stadiums as well as the arenas.
Toby Keith and Eric Church
If you like a little attitude in your country music, don’t miss Toby Keith and opening act Eric Church. Keith’s Locked & Loaded tour launches on June 30 in Mt. Pleasant, Mich., with 44 cities on the calendar, spanning from Seattle to West Palm Beach, Fla. In the meantime, Keith will spend Memorial Day weekend playing at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala., on Saturday (May 28) and Fort Benning in Columbus, Ga., on Sunday (May 29). After the Locked & Loaded tour ends in October, he will head to Europe for a 12-city tour.
Tim McGraw, Luke Bryan and The Band Perry
Tim McGraw is already two months into his Emotional Traffic tour, introducing fans to new material that may eventually see the light of day. (He and his label are suing each other pertaining to the suspended release of his Emotional Traffic album.) On Saturday (May 28), McGraw will appear at Bayou Country Superfest in Baton Rouge, La., about three hours south of his hometown. With Luke Bryan and The Band Perry in tow, Emotional Traffic tour dates are currently scheduled through mid-August.
Willie Nelson’s Country Throwdown Tour
For Willie Nelson, the road goes on forever. And on this year’s Country Throwdown tour, his well-worn tour bus will be followed by admirers like Jamey Johnson, Randy Houser and Lee Brice. They’re making the most of Memorial Day weekend with a four-night run through Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Vermont. The package tour will conclude on July 4 when everybody throws down at Willie’s famous Fourth of July Picnic at Billy Bob’s Texas in Fort Worth. When you go, take time to discover a stable of aspiring songwriters on the Bluebird Café stage.
Brad Paisley, Blake Shelton and Jerrod Niemann
As perhaps the two funniest guys in country music, Brad Paisley and Blake Shelton are sure to provide plenty of comic relief on tour this summer. (If you wonder what they talk about when they get together, check out their comical duet, “Don’t Drink the Water,” on Paisley’s new album.) Paisley’s H2O II tour launches on June 4 in Virginia Beach, Va., and circles back to Raleigh, N.C., on Sept. 25, with newcomer Jerrod Niemann also on the bill. Midstream, Paisley will cross the pond for August dates in the U.K., Sweden, Norway and Denmark.
Rascal Flatts, Sara Evans, Justin Moore and Easton Corbin
With “Why Wait” and “I Won’t Let Go” dominating country radio over the past year, Rascal Flatts will spend many of their summer nights on the road, starting June 18 in Bristow, Va. The first half of the tour is mostly in the eastern U.S., along with two Canadian festivals. After Labor Day, they’ll wrap up their schedule in Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and California. Get there early for Sara Evans, whose career is a little bit stronger after a No. 1 comeback album this year. Promising newcomers Justin Moore and Easton Corbin are on the ticket, too.
The energetic duo will crank up the Incredible Machine tour for dozens of summer tour dates, stretching from the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles to the New York State Fair in Syracuse. Little Big Town and pop stars Sara Bareilles and Matt Nathanson will take turns opening on various dates. Amid the arenas and amphitheaters, Sugarland will make numerous festival appearances, including stops at Summerfest in Milwaukee, WE Fest in Detroit Lakes, Minn., and the Calgary Stampede in Calgary, Alberta.
Taylor Swift and Needtobreathe
This young phenomenon has already carried her Speak Now World Tour to Europe and Asia. Now she’ll conquer the great American highways, along with three Canadian cities. While the rest of us are taking it easy over Memorial Day weekend, Swift will launch the domestic leg of the tour in Omaha, Neb., on Friday and Saturday (May 27-28). Remarkably, she sold out four nights apiece in Los Angeles and Newark, N.J. Rock group Needtobreathe will appear on all shows, while a rotating cast of country newcomers will take the opening slot.
Keith Urban and Jake Owen
Keith Urban aims to electrify his fans on his Get Closer 2011 tour that kicks off June 16 in Biloxi, Miss. The 44-city tour will conclude on Oct. 15 in Minneapolis. Jake Owen will tag along. Urban may speak for everyone above when he stated, “Playing live is what it’s always been about for me. It’s creating in the moment. It’s the joy, the electricity, the unexpected, the passion and the unknown journey that we’re all taking together. I’ve always felt that the best live concert experiences tap into a deep need in all of us to feel a part of something … to belong. I’m bringing the big boom box, and an arsenal of songs and I can’t wait to throw this party!”