There’s no denying that 2017 was a year that will long be remembered as one of the most eventful in country music history. There’s so much great music to look back on and there were a slew of amazing new artists that broke through and found their place among the genre’s current pantheon of stars. Yet 2017 was also a year that saw people from all over the world shaken to their core by the horrific tragedy in Las Vegas when a gunman opened fire on a crowd of country music fans, leaving 58 dead and hundreds injured.
Through it all, members of the country music community pulled together to celebrate the accomplishments of their peers as well as to grieve incomprehensible loss. Each artist has continued to move forward, connect with fans and create music. After all, music reminds us we are never truly alone and provides solace in times of healing.
Here’s a look at some of the more memorable moments and movements of 2017.
New Faces, New Sounds
Though consistent hitmakers like Keith Urban, Florida Georgia Line, Miranda Lambert, Thomas Rhett and Luke Bryan continued to dominate in 2017, a bevy of new faces earned their place on the charts and in the hearts of fans. Brett Young, Luke Combs and Kane Brown scored chart-topping hits with Combs being named Billboard’s Top New Country Artist of the Year. Other new acts such as Russell Dickerson, Devin Dawson, Jordan Davis and Ryan Hurd are steadily gaining traction. Female artists were also making their voices heard this year. Carly Pearce had a monster hit with the poignant ballad “Every Little Thing,” while Lindsay Ell’s debut album left a last impact with fans and industry alike. Keep an ear open in 2018 for Jillian Jacqueline, Kassi Ashton, Ashley McBryde, Bailey Bryan, Jo Smith, Kalie Shorr, and The Sisterhood.
Kelsea Ballerini’s Legendary Year
Having debuted in 2015, Kelsea Ballerini has surpassed newcomer status and her career has continued to gain momentum. Her debut album, The First Time, spawned three consecutive platinum-certified No. 1 hits — “Love Me Like You Mean It,” “Peter Pan,” and “Dibs” – making her the only female artist in country music history, including female duos and groups, to achieve such a feat. This year, Ballerini released her acclaimed sophomore album, Unapologetically, embarked on a headlining tour and became a bride when she said “I Do” to fellow singer Morgan Evans. She also had a chance to share the stage with several “Legends,” including Reba McEntire, Shania Twain, and Trisha Yearwood.
Bands on the Run
One of the positive trends emerging in 2017 was the breakthrough of so many great new bands, including Midland, Old Dominion, LANCO, A Thousand Horses, The Last Bandoleros and Delta Rae. Old Dominion scored a No. 1 in 2015 with “Break Up with Him” and continued the momentum this year when their sophomore album, Happy Endings, released in August buoyed by the compelling ballad “Written in the Sand.” Just a little over a year after releasing their debut EP in 2016, Midland was celebrating two Grammy nominations— one for best country song for their breakthrough hit, “Drinkin’ Problem,” and one for best country duo/group performance. LANco is closing out the year celebrating a No. 1 hit with “Greatest Love Story.”
Jason Aldean and wife Brittany got an early gift this holiday season with the Dec. 1 arrival of their baby boy Memphis Aldean. “So blessed today to see my little man come into the world,” he wrote on Instagram. The stork has been busy in country music this year as Aldean isn’t the only artist gaining a new family member. Rodney Atkins and his wife, Rose Falcon, welcomed Ryder Falcon Atkins on Dec. 14, weighing in at 8lbs 13 oz and 20 inches long. Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard and his wife, Hayley, are expecting their first child by end of the year. Lady Antebellum’s Dave Haywood and his wife, Kelli Cashiola, are expecting their second child, a girl, due this month. Earlier in the year, Thomas Rhett and wife Lauren were doubly blessed with two new daughters—Willa Gray, who they adopted from Uganda in May, and Ada James, born in Nashville on Aug. 12. Little Big Town’s Kimberly Schlapman, her husband Steven and daughter Daisy welcomed a new member at the beginning of 2017 when adopted daughter Dolly Grace joined their family.
The Sam Hunt Juggernaut Continues
No word yet on when Sam Hunt will release the highly anticipated follow up to his 2014 breakout album Montevallo, but the first taste of new music came in 2017 with “Body Like a Back Road.” Penned by Zach Crowell, Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne and Hunt, the playful R&B influenced song, inspired by his wife Hannah, made chart history this year. In June when it reached its 20th week at the summit, it surpassed Leroy Van Dyke’s 19 weeks at No. 1 in 1961 with “Walk on By,” making Hunt the solo country artist with the longest reign at the top. It broke records again when it claimed its 25th week at the peak of the Hot Country Songs chart, surpassing Florida Georgia Line’s breakout hit “Cruise,” which reigned for 24 weeks. “Body Like a Back Road” went on to spend an unprecedented 34 weeks at the top of Hot Country Songs and also found crossover success, peaking at No. 6 on the Hot 100. Billboard named it Country Song of the Year Hunt as Country Artist of the Year.
In the wake of the explosive sexual harassment scandals involving Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer and other high profile individuals, many women began using the hashtag #MeToo to share their experiences and support other victims of harassment and abuse. Current hits by Keith Urban and Chris Janson share their support for women and the movement. Urban debuted “Female” on the Country Music Association Awards on Nov. 8, and though one late night talk show host lambasted the song with a cheesy parody, country music fans have embraced Urban’s celebration of women and all their gifts. And though the title of Chris Janson’s current single, Drunk Girl,” might suggest a party song; in truth it’s a bold statement of compassion and morality with lyrics that state: “Take a drunk girl home/Let her sleep all alone/Leave her keys on the counter your number by her phone/Pick up her life she threw on the floor/Leave the hall lights on walk out and lock the door/That’s how she knows the difference between a boy and man.” Well said!
In recent years, there have been far too many headlines involving terrorists and mass shootings, but tragedy hit close to home for the country music community on October 1 when a 64-year-old Stephen Paddock, perched in his Mandalay Bay Hotel room, opened fire on thousands of attendees at the Route 91 Harvest Festival, killing 58 and wounding hundreds more in the worst mass shooting in our nation’s modern history. Jason Aldean was on stage when the shooting began and ran from the stage to find and protect his pregnant wife Brittany. A week later, the couple returned to Vegas to visit with the survivors at the University Medical Center of Southern Nevada. He shared this message on Instagram: “Feels surreal being back in Vegas today. Visiting some of the strongest people we have ever met… fighting the toughest battle of them all… for their lives. You have helped us try to begin the healing process by seeing the strength each one of you have. Thank you for today. We will never forget. #vegasstrong”
Shania Twain returned this year with her fifth studio album, Now, her first new record in nearly 15 years. Now debuted at No. 1 on the all genre Billboard 200 chart. It also hit No. 1 in the U.S., U.K., Zimbabwe, Australia and her native Canada as well as in the top five in Ireland and New Zealand. After surviving a messy divorce and battle with Lyme Disease, Twain has remarried and is enjoying a career resurgence. She recently filmed the upcoming movie, Trading Paint, with John Travolta and is currently prepping for her 2018 world tour.
It’s rather hard to call Garth Brooks a comeback kid because somehow it just doesn’t feel like he ever really left. But since returning from a self-imposed hiatus to raise his three daughters, Brooks has reclaimed his place at country music’s pinnacle. In November he won his sixth CMA Entertainer of the Year title. His new memoir/CD set commemorating his early career topped the charts and his North American tour set a sales record with 6.4 million tickets sold. His latest single, “Ask Me How I Know,” just became his 20th No. 1 hit. He’s wrapping his three-year tour this week with seven shows in Nashville, but it’s doubtful Mr. Brooks will be idle in 2018. Stay tuned!