2013 in Review: Big Tours, More Awards and Sad Farewells

Benefits, Tributes, TV Specials Keep Fans Humming

The year 2013 will be remembered by country fans for the extraordinary tours from Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan and more modern superstars, the long musical goodbye to the late George Jones and major league benefit concerts following the devastating May tornadoes in Oklahoma.

Over the summer, Carrie Underwood claimed the top prize at the CMT Music Awards, while Taylor Swift dazzled and delighted the homefolks with a three-night stand at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena in the fall. As the year drew to a close, the CMT Artists of the Year trophies were presented to Aldean, Bryan, Florida Georgia Line, Hunter Hayes and Tim McGraw.

Predictably, a relentless and widening circle of awards shows spewed out more entertainers and songwriters of the year than one could keep shake a scepter at. But that’s just show biz.

CMT.com will be running a separate story about the year’s notable deaths, but here are the other country music news highlights of 2013:

January
Nielsen Soundscan reports that country music sales in 2012 were up substantially over those of the year before, with Taylor Swift being the prime beneficiary. … Kelly Clarkson is tapped to join James Taylor and Beyonc√© to sing at Barack Obama’s second inauguration. … Tim McGraw announces his Two Lanes of Freedom tour will commence May 2 in Birmingham, Ala. … Jason Aldean sells out his March 2 concert at Madison Square Garden in 10 minutes. … New York City welcomes its first country music radio station since 1996 with the launch of WRXP by Cumulus Media. … Brandy Clark, Ashley Monroe and Kacey Musgraves are among the inaugural members of CMT’s new platform, Next Women of Country .

February
George Jones announces he will hold his final concert Nov. 22 at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena with an all-star supporting cast. … Carrie Underwood, the Zac Brown Band, Taylor Swift and Little Big Town are among the country performers winning Grammys at the Recording Academy’s annual awards show. … Dixie Chick Natalie Maines jokes with CMT’s Katie Cook that returning to country music would be “like going back to your abusive husband.” … Now a trio, the band Alabama announce they will tour for the first time in more than a decade. … Tim McGraw wins court fight in his battle to divorce himself from Curb Records. … Billboard declares Kenny Chesney (with a total of nearly $20 million earned), McGraw (over $18 million) and Jason Aldean (over $17 million) were the top country music moneymakers of the previous year.

March
Blake Shelton, a household name thanks to his role on The Voice, offers a new album, Based on a True Story …. Vince Gill and T Bone Burnett are singled out for honors at T. J. Martell’s fifth annual gala in Nashville. … In honor of the album’s 40th anniversary, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Will the Circle Be Unbroken is remastered from the original analog tapes and re-released on vinyl. … Kacey Musgraves debuts at the top of Billboard‘s country albums chart with Same Trailer Different Park.

April
Luke Bryan is voted the Academy of Country Music’s entertainer of the year. … Jason Aldean delivers the first-ever concert at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga. … Tim McGraw headlines an all-star CBS-TV special taped in Las Vegas for the Academy. … Kenny Rogers, Bobby Bare and Jack Clement are announced as the 2013 inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame. … Keith Urban and Vince Gill host the fourth annual We’re All for the Hall concert at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena to benefit the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. The event raises nearly $650,000. … Billy Currington is indicted by a Georgia grand jury on charges of “terroristic threats” and elder abuse growing out of a nautical incident near the singer’s home. Five months later, Currington pleaded no contest.

May
Services honoring George Jones, who died April 26, are held at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville in front of an overflow crowd. Among those performing or speaking at the service are Brad Paisley, Kenny Chesney, Kid Rock, Ronnie Milsap, Vince Gill, Charlie Daniels, Randy Travis, Tanya Tucker, Barbara Mandrell and former first lady Laura Bush. … Kellie Pickler claims the mirror ball trophy by winning Dancing With the Stars. She lends it to the Country Music Hall of Fame to display. … Propelled by the inescapable “Wagon Wheel,” Darius Rucker releases the album, True Believers. … Randy Travis sues to prevent the release of a patrol car video of his 2012 drunken-driving arrest near his home in Tioga, Texas. … Blake Shelton hosts a May 29 telethon, broadcast on NBC-TV and various cable channels, and raises more than $6 million for the citizens of Moore, Okla., whose town was devastated by a tornado on May 20. Miranda Lambert, Reba McEntire, Vince Gill, Luke Bryan, Darius Rucker and Rascal Flatts are among the performers.

June
Carrie Underwood wins the CMT Music Awards video of the year prize for “Blown Away.” Florida Georgia Line cop breakthrough and duo video trophies for “Cruise.” … Taylor Swift, Eric Church, Luke Bryan, Miranda Lambert, the Zac Brown Band, Tracy Lawrence, Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, Kenny Rogers, Kid Rock and the Oak Ridge Boys perform at the opening concert for the annual CMA Music Festival at Nashville’s LP Field. Subsequent nights yielded Lady Antebellum, Little Big Town, Sheryl Crow, Hunter Hayes, Jason Mraz, Randy Travis, Kip Moore, Blake Shelton, Kelly Clarkson, Lenny Kravitz, Keith Urban, Dierks Bentley, Florida Georgia Line, Brett Eldredge, Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley, Gary Allan, The Band Perry, Jake Owen and more. … The Pistol Annies cancel their June concert dates without saying why, although Ashley Monroe later cited the lack of rehearsal time. … Ralph Stanley announces plans for his farewell tour, set to end in December 2014.

July
Toby Keith stages a tornado-relief show in Norman, Okla., that draws 60,000 fans to hear Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, Ronnie Dunn, Willie Nelson, Mel Tillis, John Anderson, Wade Hayes, Sammy Hagar and others. … Figures amassed by Nielsen SoundScan reveal that sales of recorded music declined during the first half of 2013. In the country and Americana categories, Taylor Swift, Blake Shelton, Florida Georgia Line, Mumford & Son and the Lumineers were the biggest sellers.

August
Reba McEntire discusses her career before a capacity crowd at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s Ford Theater in conjunction with her newly opened exhibit at the Hall. … Luke Bryan releases the smash album, Crash My Party. … George Strait, MCA unveil a five-album contract renewal. … Keith Urban confirms that he’ll return as a judge on American Idol. … Ricky Skaggs does a live radio interview at the Barnes & Noble bookstore in Nashville to promote his new autobiography, Kentucky Traveler: My Life in Music. … Brantley Gilbert and Jana Kramer call off their engagement.

September
Prior to his Kansas City, Mo. concert, Vince Gill confronts protesters from the notorious Westboro Baptist Church who showed up to draw attention to the fact that Gill divorced and remarried, supposedly a sin in the church’s eye. … Zac Brown tells a Canadian radio interviewer, “If I hear one more tailgate-in-the-moonlight, Daisy Duke song, I’m gonna throw up,” thereby igniting a minor feud within the country music community. … Old Crow Medicine Show is formally inducted into Grand Ole Opry membership. … The duos Shovels & Rope and Rodney Crowell and Emmylou Harris score big wins at the Americana Music Honors and Awards show. . . . Taylor Swift sizzles with three sold-out shows at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena. … The Gibson Brothers win the entertainer of the year award at the International Bluegrass Music Awards ceremony in Raleigh, N.C.

October
Hunter Hayes launches his CMT on Tour in Knoxville, Tenn., with many of the shows selling out well in advance. … Jeffrey Steele, Layng Martine Jr., Will Jennings and Alabama’s Randy Owen are inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. … Kenny Rogers, Bobby Bare and the late Jack Clement officially become members of the Country Music Hall of Fame. … Jason Aldean captures the experience of his live show with the concert DVD, Night Train to Georgia. … Joe Nichols makes a comeback after signing to a new label with the album Crickets, which features the No. 1 single, “Sunny and 75.”

November
Thompson Square’s Keifer Thompson wins SESAC’s songwriter of the year award, while Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” is named the performance rights organization’s top song. … ASCAP crowns Josh Kear its songwriter of the year and “How Country Feels” and “Drunk on You” its premier songs. George Strait is presented the Founder’s Award. … BMI taps Rodney Clawson and “Wanted” as its songwriter and song of the year. Dean Dillon receives BMI’s Icon Award. … Strait wins the Country Music Association’s entertainer of the year award. … Loretta Lynn is among 16 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom conferred by President Barack Obama. … Jennifer Nettles and Eric Church announce new albums for early 2014. … Nearly 100 singers and musicians — including Strait, Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks, Blake Shelton, Brad Paisley and Miranda Lambert — take the stage to pay tribute to George Jones on the date and at the place the late singer had scheduled his final concert. … Garth Brooks performs live from Las Vegas on a CBS-TV special.

December
The CMT Artists of the Year awards are presented during a live telecast at Nashville’s brand-new Music City Center. … Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and Kris Kristofferson’s self-titled 1970 debut album and Doc Watson’s 1964 self-titled album are added to the Grammy Hall of Fame. … Carrie Underwood portrays Maria von Trapp in a live NBC-TV broadcast of The Sound of Music, which receives record-breaking ratings. … Garth Brooks confirms he will embark on a world tour in 2014. … Kacey Musgraves receives four Grammy nominations, including one for best new artist. … Country music says farewell to “For the Good Times” legend Ray Price.