Top Country News of 2006

A Look Back at D-I-V-O-R-C-E-S and Other Hillbilly Highlights

Sara Evans Divorces Husband, Keith Urban Urban Seeks Rehab, Troy Gentry Pleads Guilty, Willie Nelson Busted for Pot. The country music headlines of 2006 read a lot like the lyrics of a country song. Anyway, here are the hillbilly highlights of the past 12 months.

January: Happy New ... Ouch! The annual Nielsen Soundscan count revealed country album sales for 2005 were down 3.3 percent from those of the previous year. But if you figured in Garth Brooks' albums -- which were sold only through Wal-Mart and not tallied -- then maybe 2005 wasn't so bad after all. ... Sugarland announced that founding member Kristen Hall was leaving the group to concentrate on songwriting.

February: Alison Krauss copped three Grammys, bringing her career total to 20. Merle Haggard and the late producer Owen Bradley won lifetime achievement Grammys.

March: Irish-born singer-songwriter Van Morrison made his first visit to Nashville and performed songs from his country album, Pay the Devil, during a sold-out show at the Ryman Auditorium.

April: Joe Galante assumed control of all Sony BMG country labels in a move that dislodged Sony Nashville chieftain John Grady.

May: Kenny Chesney won the Academy of Country Music's entertainer of the year award, while Little Jimmy Dickens, Kris Kristofferson, Earl Scruggs and the late Bill Monroe were each tapped for ACM's Pioneer prize.

June: The Musicians Hall of Fame opened in downtown Nashville. ... The Country Music Association declared that the four-day 2006 CMA Music Festival had attracted an "aggregate total" of 161,590 paying fans. ... Keith Urban married Nicole Kidman in Australia.

July: Billboard announced it was buying its major music business competitor, Radio & Records.

August: Toby Keith's theatrical film, Broken Bridges, was shown to U.S. troops in Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Qatar, marking the first time a new movie has been screened in a remote military location prior to its theatrical debut. ... John Michael Montgomery reached a plea agreement with authorities in Lexington, Ky., in connection with his February 2006 arrest on DUI charges. Montgomery did not admit guilt but acknowledged there was enough evidence to convict him. ... Darryl Worley and his wife of five years, Beverly, filed for divorce. ... After previous marriage ceremonies near St. Tropez, France, and Los Angeles, Kid Rock and Pamela Anderson tied the night for a third time at Tootsie's Orchid Lounge in downtown Nashville. They filed for divorce four months later.

September: Tim McGraw and Faith Hill wrapped up their 73-show Soul2Soul II tour, an undertaking that grossed nearly $89 million. ... McGraw and his producer, Byron Gallimore, established Stylesonic Records and disclosed that the new label's first album would be the soundtrack to McGraw's movie, Flicka. ... Willie Nelson was busted on his bus in Louisiana for possession of marijuana and hallucinogenic mushrooms. ... Neil Young was voted the Americana Music Association's artist of the year. ... The Grascals won the International Bluegrass Music Association's entertainer of the year prize. ... A historical marker was dedicated at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium proclaiming that venue the "Birthplace of Bluegrass."

October: While participating as a contestant on TV's Dancing With the Stars, Sara Evans gained even more national media attention after filing for divorce from husband Craig Schelske, alleging irreconcilable differences, inappropriate marital conduct and adultery. ... Keith Urban checked himself into the Betty Ford Center for treatment of alcohol abuse. ... Jimmy Buffett, Hugh Prestwood and Jim Weatherly were inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. ... ASCAP named "Jesus, Take the Wheel" as its song of the year and presented songwriter Jimmy Webb its Voice of Music award.

November: Tony Brown and Tim DuBois exited Universal South, the label they founded, and surrendered the office keys to producer Mark Wright. ... BMI feted "As Good as I Once Was" as its song of the year and honored Merle Haggard with its Icon award. ... SESAC tagged "If You're Going Through Hell (Before the Devil Even Knows)" as its song of the year. ... Kenny Chesney won the Country Music Association's entertainer of the year award. ... George Strait, Sonny James and Harold Bradley were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. ... Faith Hill was widely excoriated for making a gesture of incredulity when Carrie Underwood won the CMA's female vocalist trophy. Hill said she was just joking and apologized. ... Montgomery Gentry's Troy Gentry pleaded guilty to a federal misdemeanor charge stemming from the 2004 death of Cubby, a domesticated, trophy-caliber black bear. In exchange for admitting he falsely registered a captive bear, Gentry was fined $15,000 and barred from hunting, fishing or trapping in Minnesota, where the kill took place, for five years.

December: Dolly Parton was awarded a Kennedy Center Honor. After two separate attempts at singing "9 to 5," Jessica Simpson asked that her musical tribute be deleted from the CBS telecast.

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