Top News Stories of 2011

Stage Collapse Kills Seven Fans Before Sugarland Show in Indianapolis

As 2011 ends, reverberations are still being felt from the stage collapse just before the start of a Sugarland concert in Indianapolis that ultimately killed seven people and injured several dozen more. The Aug. 13 accident, precipitated by high winds, spawned a series of yet-to-be-settled lawsuits and prompted industry-wide discussions on the need for higher safety standards for outdoor stages and for more rigorous enforcement of the rules.

On the brighter side, Lady Antebellum and Taylor Swift, in particular, continued to lure hordes of younger and more urban fans to country music. Wedding bells rang for such mono-monikered celebs as Shania, Miranda, Kellie, LeAnn and Chely. Hank Williams Jr. lost his Monday Night Football contract by making imprudent political remarks, and Tim McGraw finally jettisoned his long-contested contract with Curb Records by having the more persuasive argument during a court hearing.

Here are the country music highlights of 2011:

January
Shania Twain marries Swiss businessman Frederic Thiebaud on New Year’s Day in Rincon, Puerto Rico . … Kellie Pickler and songwriter Kyle Jacobs tie the knot the same day on a private island in the Caribbean. … Nielsen SoundScan announces that sales of country music albums dropped 5 percent in 2010 from those of the year before — sagging from 46,130,000 units to 43,718,000. … Grand Ole Opry star Little Jimmy Dickens celebrates his 90th birthday with a party on Nashville’s Lower Broadway. … Alan Jackson reveals he’s left Arista Records after 22 years with the label. … “Coming Home,” the Tom Douglas-Hillary Lindsey-Troy Verges song from the movie Country Strong, is nominated for an Academy Award in the best original song category.

February
Dailey & Vincent win a combined total of seven trophies at the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America awards ceremony, chief among them the entertaining group of the year prize. … Lady Antebellum cop five Grammy awards, including the all-genre record and song of the year honors, plus those for best country album, best country song and best country performance by a duo or group.

March
Blake Shelton is named one of the four celebrity coaches for the NBC-TV series, The Voice. … Lee Brice, Steel Magnolia, The Band Perry, Josh Thompson and Jerrod Niemann perform at Country Radio Seminar’s New Faces show . … Steve Martin releases a new bluegrass album, Rare Bird Alert, which features guest performances by Paul McCartney and the Dixie Chicks. … Alan Jackson signs with EMI Records.

April
Taylor Swift wins the Academy of Country Music’s entertainer of the year award. … Tammy Wynette‘s 1968 recording of “Stand by Your Man” is added to the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry. … Rascal Flatts are sued by former management company for allegedly failing to pay agreed-upon commissions. … LeAnn Rimes marries actor Eddie Cibrian April 22 in California.

May
Music Builds: The CMT Relief Concert airs to raise funds for victims of a series of floods and tornadoes that recently devastated the South. … Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert marry May 14 in Texas. … Curb Records sues Tim McGraw for breach of contract. … John Rich wins Celebrity Apprentice competition on NBC. … Taylor Swift’s Nashville performance at Bridgestone Arena raises more than $750,000 for tornado relief. Additional funds are generated across the nation by Kenny Chesney, Reba McEntire, Blake Shelton, LeAnn Rimes and Sugarland. … Tim McGraw countersues Curb Records for right to leave label. … Reba McEntire, Jean Shepard, Bobby Braddock are inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

June
Trace Adkins‘ Nashville-area home burns. … Ronnie Dunn releases self-titled solo album. … Taylor Swift, The Band Perry, Blake Shelton are the big winners at 2011 CMT Music Awards. … Four-day CMA Music Festival showcases broad spectrum of country acts, draws 65,000 fans and generates approximately $30 million for Nashville. … Garth Brooks inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. … Glen Campbell reveals he has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and will begin a final tour in the fall.

July
The Dixie Chicks, John Mayer, Maroon 5 and others acts form the nonprofit Fans First Coalition to protect fans from fraudulent and unscrupulous ticket pricing. … Forbes magazine rates Carrie Underwood the top-earning American Idol winner, estimating she earned $20 million between May 2010 and May 2011. … Patsy Cline‘s former home in Winchester, Va., opens for tours. … Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum announces $75 million fund drive.

August
Stage collapses at Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis just before Sugarland comes on, ultimately killing seven people and injuring dozens more. … Country singer Chely Wright marries gay activist Lauren Blitzer on Aug. 20 in Connecticut.

September
Randy Houser and singer-songwriter Jessa Lee Yantz marry Sept. 2 in the Dominican Republic. … George Jones celebrates his 80th birthday with fans prior to Grand Ole Opry performance. … Forbes magazine lists Toby Keith as the highest-paid country star, estimating he earned $50 million between May 2010 and May 2011. … Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers win International Bluegrass Music Association’s entertainer of the year award.

October
ESPN drops Hank Williams Jr. from Monday Night Football because of disparaging remarks he made about President Barack Obama during an interview on Fox & Friends. … Rascal Flatts join Grand Ole Opry. … Buddy Miller wins artist of the year kudos at Americana Music Awards. … Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Thom Schuyler, John Bettis and Allen Shamblin inducted into Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. … Charlie Daniels celebrates 75th birthday at Grand Ole Opry and Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

November
Don Williams presented ASCAP’s Golden Note trophy and performs at organization’s country music awards celebration. Ben Hayslip named ASCAP songwriter of the year. … Hillary Scott wins SESAC’s songwriter of the year honor. … BMI proclaims Dallas Davidson and Rhett Akins its top songwriters of the year. … Taylor Swift wins CMA entertainer of the year prize. … Sunny Sweeney marries Jeff Hellmer in Las Vegas Nov. 11. … Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw announce they will reunite for the 20-date Brothers of the Sun stadium tour next spring and summer. … The three founding members of Alabama — sans longtime drummer Mark Herndon — announce plans to reunite for a series of concerts in 2012. … Taylor Swift wins all-genre artist of the year prize at the American Music Awards. … The Recording Academy announces it will induct Gene Autry‘s recording of “Deep in the Heart of Texas,” Freddy Fender‘s “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights” and Flatt & ScruggsFoggy Mountain Jamboree album into its Grammy Hall of Fame. … Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles weds former model Justin Miller Nov. 26 in Tennessee. . . . Nashville court frees Tim McGraw to leave Curb Records and seek other label deal. … Keith Urban has vocal cord polyp removed.

December
Billboard names Taylor Swift its woman of the year. … Tim McGraw releases “Christmas All Over the World,” his first single since departing Curb Records. … Mindy McCready, pregnant with twins, continues custody tug-of-war for 5-year-old son. … Taylor Swift presented Nashville Symphony’s Harmony Award. … Country Music Association pledges $10 million to Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s $75 million fund drive. … Rodney Atkins files for divorce following wife’s accusation of domestic abuse. … Former husband and wife Rodney Crowell and Rosanne Cash reunite to perform at anti-death penalty benefit. … Recording Academy announces George Jones and Glen Campbell will be presented Grammy Lifetime Achievement Awards.