Whole Lotta Country In 2011

(For a complete list of 54th GRAMMY Awards nominees, click here.)

As each year passes, we all share a common goal in that we hope to grow from the previous year. We strive to become a better person, meet specific goals and ultimately end up in a better position than the year before. Music is no different. As I reflect back on 2011, I realize how much country music stayed grounded in its roots, yet grew so much.

It all starts with the music. Over the past year country fans were lucky enough to have new releases from favorites such as Glen Campbell, Vince Gill, Martina McBride, Brad Paisley, and George Strait. Sara Evans brought us a new album for the first time in six years and showed country fans that, even though newer superstars have emerged in the spotlight in recent months, there's still plenty of room for veteran artists. Lady Antebellum brought us their highly anticipated Own The Night album, which sold more than 1 million copies and is up for Best Country Album. From the newer crop of artists, 2011 saw new albums from Jake Owen, Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Thompson Square, Chris Young, Justin Moore, and David Nail; and we can't forget about our newest stars, "American Idol" runner-up and winner, Lauren Alaina and Scotty McCreery. Country music shows no signs of slowing down as we look forward to new albums from Dierks Bentley, Rascal Flatts, Faith Hill, Kellie Pickler, and Carrie Underwood, among many others, in 2012.

Live music continued to be a great way for fans to break free from everyday life. In these tough economic times, country's top artists put together tours that gave fans plenty of entertainment for their hard-earned money. Tour packages included George Strait and Reba McEntire; and Rascal Flatts, Luke Bryan and Chris Young. Taylor Swift scored the No. 4 position on Pollstar's 2011 Top Tours list. Kenny Chesney returned to the touring circuit and brought along Zac Brown Band for the ride. Tim McGraw packed a powerful show all summer long as Bryan and the Band Perry accompanied him. And Keith Urban brought his hot tour all over the United States and Canada, as well as Australia.

Looking outside the actual music, the relationship between fans and artists flourished in 2011. Social media deserves most, if not all, the credit. Gone are the days of mailing a fan letter and hoping for an autograph or picture in return. Now, fans can hop on Twitter and get immediate access to many of their favorite stars. Fans also get to share in the daily lives of artists by following their status updates and occasionally shared photos. Because of social media, fans are now able to develop a deeper connection with artists.

Country music's most important work is also the least publicized, yet it continued to expand in 2011. As they always do in times of crisis, artists came to the aid of those in need. After the devastating tornado that ravaged Alabama in early 2011, Bentley, Brad Paisley, Evans, Bryan, Montgomery Gentry, and legendary country group Alabama banded together for the "Bama Rising" benefit concert, which raised more than $2 million for the area. At a stop in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on his summer tour, Chesney and his management group donated all of their concert fees to the region. McEntire and Shelton's home state of Oklahoma was also devastated by a tornado and the two stars raised more than $500,000 during a tornado relief concert. Jason Aldean held his annual Concert for the Cure, raising $315,000 in a single night for the fight against breast cancer. Bentley held his sixth installment of the Miles and Music for Kids benefit, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for children's hospitals around the country. Rascal Flatts continued their tireless work for the Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville by raising money for the unit and visiting children throughout the year. These are just a few examples of country music's philanthropic efforts.

Looking at all we've accomplished in the last year, fans have a right to be proud of their favorite artists. They also have the right to look ahead to 2012 in complete confidence knowing that they'll receive moving new music, entertaining live shows, more personal interaction from the stars, and that if there's ever a region in need, the country music community will come calling.

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