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The Story Behind Country Music’s Epic Mash-Up! Plus: Hear Blake, Carrie, Miranda and 27 Other Stars Sing ‘Forever Country’


Shane McAnally was nothing short of terrified when he stepped into the studio to begin a project that, on paper, looked a little crazy.

The challenge of melding three iconic country song – John Denver’s “Country Roads, Take Me Home,” Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” and Willie Nelson’s “On The Road Again” – into one new piece of music to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Country Music Association Awards, was “a very scary process,” McAnally tells People.

In fact, when a mash-up was first proposed as a way of marking the anniversary, McAnally, who’s written hit songs for Kenny Chesney, Luke Bryan and Kacey Musgraves among others, argued against it.

“I didn’t think it would work in our genre,” he says. “I said, ‘Maybe in pop music you can just take a piece of a song, but we tell stories. And we can’t just cut into them and take a piece.'”

But as McAnally, a CMA board member as well as a top producer in town (he’s behind albums by Sam Hunt and Musgraves), and other CMA members began to consider what songs could work, the idea took shape.

“I Will Always Love You” was a song that everyone felt like needed to be a part of it but I was having a hard time with the story – it’s such a personal song. It’s to one person,” he says. “But when you play that song over, ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’, they somehow take on a life together and it feels almost like you’re speaking more to the music, and to country music specifically, when you say, ‘I will always love you.’ It feels meant to be.”

An ode to the life of a traveling musician, Nelson’s classic seemed a natural addition to the mix.

“The line ‘The life I love is making music with my friends,’ kept coming into my mind and ‘On the Road Again’ felt essential,” McAnally says.

The result, dubbed “Forever Country,” was born and McAnally took on the task of producing the recording, a monumental undertaking with 30 artists, including one whom he especially wanted to impress.

“I was very scared when Dolly heard it that it might seem like a bit of a compromise to the integrity of the original song,” he says. “The song is such a simple, perfect sentiment. It was really important for her to know we handled it with care. She just listened and said, ‘Wow. That really works!’ It was really hard not to cry in front of her. I’ve cried a lot since then!”

The tune begins with West Virginia native Brad Paisley singing the opening lines of “Country Roads” (“Almost heaven, West Virginia) followed by a host of stars – Keith Urban, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, Little Big Town, Luke Bryan, Miranda Lambert, Shelton”, George Strait – adding line after line until Musgraves begins “I Will Always Love You” (“If I should stay/I Would only be in your way”). Lyrics from the two songs weave in and out with different Nashville voices as Jason Aldean begins “On the Road Again,” joined by Rascal Flatts and many more.

The song premiered on country radio stations around the country Friday, but you’ll have to wait ’til Tuesday for the video, directed by Joseph Kahn, who won a VMA Award for Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood”.

“The responsibility of this feels greater than anything I’ve done,” McAnally says of the project. “I hope this is a great timepiece for the legacy of country music.”

Profits from the sales and streaming of “Forever Country” will go toward music education causes supported by the CMA Foundation.

ACM Honors Packed with Performances and Tributes to The Best of the Best

acm honors

Last night artists, songwriters, industry folks and fans gathered at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium to celebrate the off-camera awards from the 51st Annual Academy of Country Music Awards at the ACM Honors. Normally a low-key gathering, this year’s show pulled out the big guns with a performance packed show fit for television. Ironically enough, the show will air September 9th on CBS at 9PM ET/PT.


Musicians, songwriters, artists honored each other with one-of-a-kind covers of songs made famous by those before them. Paying tribute to those that paved the way. Without giving it all away, stand-out performances include Maren Morris’ “Delta Dawn,” Kelsea Ballerini’s tribute to Crystal Gayle with “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue,” Luke Bryan and Cole Swindell’s “Love a Rainy Night” tribute to Eddie Rabbit… but the performance of the night goes to Alicia Keys and Cam absolutely killing Little Big Town‘s “Girl Crush.” Seriously. Those girls can sing.

keith kelsea

Winners of the evening include:

ACM Triple Crown Award: Jason Aldean

ACM Mae Boren Axton Award: Keith Urban

ACM Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award:
Tanya Tucker
The Statler Brothers
Crystal Gayle

ACM Poets Award:
Jimmy Webb
Eddie Rabbitt

ACM Merle Haggard Spirit Award: Miranda Lambert

ACM Songwriter of the Year: Ross Copperman

ACM Gary Haber Lifting Lives Award: Carrie Underwood

ACM Crystal Milestone Award: Little Big Town

ACM Jim Reeves International Award: Jeff Walker

ACM Career Achievement Award: Glen Campbell

The ACM Honors will air September 9th on CBS.
You can see all our photos here.

Luke Bryan Overwhelmed with First Gillette Stadium Show

Luke Bryan is currently on the road for his Kill the Lights tour along with tourmates Little Big Town.

Luke seems a little overwhelmed by playing the massive stadium.

“It takes a few years to wrap your head around it…” Luke says wistfully.

Keith Urban and Little Big Town to “Stand Up To Cancer”

lbt keith

Keith Urban and Little Big Town are pledging to “Stand Up to Cancer.”

They will perform during the live fundraising special on September 9th.  The celebrity-powered telethon will broadcast from The Music Center’s Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.  Celine Dion is also scheduled to perform.

“Stand Up to Cancer” launched in 2008 with a mission to enlist the entertainment industry in the fight for a cure.  In its first four-years, $370 million have been pledged to support cancer research programs.


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