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When I was 13 it wasn't cool to hang out with my parents and it was even less cool to listen to country music. Imagine my adolescent horror when I found myself at a Garth Brooks concert with my mom and her friends at such an impressionable age. My only hope for that night was that none of my friends from school would find out. Fast-forward to the third song of Brooks' set and I actually caught myself dancing and singing along to songs that I didn't even know the words to! I tried to stop myself — I remember looking down and seeing my leg tap along to the music and I physically tried to stop — but there was no use. I was hooked…obviously on the music itself, but more importantly, I was hooked on the feeling of live music.

Clearly, Brooks influenced me and opened my eyes to the world of country music. Today, I think artists such as Taylor Swift offer that same inspiration to those who may not already be in love with the country genre. Swift's live shows are incredible, her reputation is flawless and she gives young girls everywhere hope that they can fulfill their own dreams. As cheesy as that may sound, there's no denying it.

When Swift first came into the spotlight, many die-hard country music fans were turned off because her music isn't "traditional country." I can't begin to count the times I've heard people dismiss new country artists and their music because some may not have the southern twang, banjos and steel guitars that defined the genre for so long. While I love and wholeheartedly respect the history of country music, the genre has progressed.

Luckily, Swift isn't the only artist to break this stereotype. Kenny Chesney filled stadiums across the United States on his award-winning summer 2011 tour. Lady Antebellum has collectively taken home six GRAMMY Awards. The Band Perry found success on the country and pop charts with their smash hit "If I Die Young."

Looking ahead, I am excited to see Jason Aldean in the midst of turning into a superstar. I've always been a fan of his music and I remember reading an article many years ago that predicted his path to greatness — one that began by laying a solid foundation to support his future success. His time has come and I can't wait to see fans from all genres really embrace a talent that country fans have known for years.

We're also in the midst of the breakouts of husband-and-wife superstars, GRAMMY winner Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton. Similar to Aldean, these two have been laying a successful foundation individually, yet simultaneously, for years, and are finally seeing their hard work propel them into superstar status that is beginning to mirror that of fellow husband-and-wife stars Faith Hill and Tim McGraw.

David Nail and Eric Church are two artists currently in that same "building" stage that Aldean once was. They're developing their fan base and attracting people to their live shows, and soon enough their immense talent will see the bright spotlight.

Simply put, I'm really proud of country music. I'm proud of the music itself, the concerts that allow us to let go of reality for a few hours and just feel music at its best, and the connection that these artists have with their fans. Most of all, I'm proud to be a fan. And while so many things have changed since my first experience with country music 19 years ago, there's also a few that haven't — I still hang out with my parents, I still love Garth Brooks and I still love the euphoria of live shows.
 

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