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Country Music Sales Fall in 2005, Industry Still Has Much to Celebrate

Although record sales fell slightly from last year, the Country music industry had a lot to celebrate in 2005. Radio welcomed back Garth Brooks, who announced his retirement in 2000; a Country singer won the popular "American Idol" talent competition for the first time; and several newcomers were added to Nashville's record company rosters.

Rascal Flatts was one of only four acts that topped Billboard's Country chart more than once in 2005. "Bless The Broken Road" spent a total of five weeks at Number One, and "Fast Cars and Freedom" held the pinnacle for three weeks. Also reaching Number One twice during the past year were Brooks and Dunn, Keith Urban, and Craig Morgan.

But, the year wasn't completely dominated by male artists. The Country industry released successful new albums by top-selling female singers Jo Dee Messina, Trisha Yearwood, Gretchen Wilson and Faith Hill.

Faith Hill's Fireflies album was two years in the making. She explains what prompted the delay of her latest studio project. "It was because of a songwriter by the name of Lori McKenna who has the title track on the album Fireflies, and a couple of other ones that are on the album. I just heard a song of hers and said 'I have to hear everything she's ever written.' [I] included it and went back in and delayed the process, but it was well, well worth it," she said.

Faith Hill was one of five artists that had songs debut inside the Top 30 on Billboard's Country Singles chart during 2005. The others were Toby Keith, Kenny Chesney, George Strait and Garth Brooks.

Garth Brooks came out of retirement to record a tribute to singer and rodeo champion Chris LeDoux. LeDoux died of cancer in March 2005. The Country community also said goodbye this year to singers Sammi Smith and Jimmy Martin, bluegrass fiddler Vassar Clements, and singer and artist manager Merle Kilgore.

Newcomers played a vital role in Country's commercial success in 2005. Among them, Carrie Underwood, Blaine Larsen, Julie Roberts and Miranda Lambert. Miranda, who came to Nashville from Texas, is not influenced by music trends. Instead, she lives by this career goal. "I definitely want to be recognized as a singer-songwriter. You know, I'm an artist. I write my songs, I sing my songs. I want to be known as that," she said.

One of the most promising new acts of 2005 was the Georgia-based trio Sugarland.

Sugarland's debut single, "Baby Girl," set a new record in 2005 by spending 46 weeks on Billboard's Country chart. The trio followed its success with two more hits from its album, Twice The Speed of Life.

News highlights in Country music during 2005 included the 80th birthday of the Grand Ole Opry. The anniversary was celebrated with many events throughout the year. The Country Music Association held its annual awards show in New York City for the first time in its 39 year history. Garth Brooks left Capitol Records and signed an exclusive deal with the Walmart department store chain for the release of his new Limited Series box set compilation. In other Garth Brooks news, the Country superstar proposed to Trisha Yearwood in May, and the couple was married on December 10. Other high profile unions in 2005 included the brief marriage of Kenny Chesney to actress Renee Zellweger. The two exchanged vows at a small ceremony on a Caribbean island in May, but Renee had the marriage annulled just four months later.

One of the most surprising Country news items of 2005 was the closing of DreamWorks Records in Nashville. The company opened in 1998, and one year later, Toby Keith joined the label, which guided his career to superstardom. Their relationship soured in 2004, however, when DreamWorks merged with Universal Music. Toby left the label in August 2005, and just one week after his departure, DreamWorks closed its doors. Toby then made the surprise announcement that he was launching his own record company, named Show Dog Records.

Toby Keith spent six weeks at Number One on the Country chart with "As Good As I Once Was." That tied him for most weeks in the top spot during 2005 with Keith Urban, who earned equal success with his ballad, "Making Memories Of Us."

Several Country music stars, including Toby Keith, continued to show their support for U.S. military troops by traveling to the Middle East. Toby says he saw a different response from the Iraqi people on his latest trip.

"I was over there for 11 or 12 days, Baghdad, all over Iraq, all over Afghanistan. Last year when I went, I didn't feel like it was anything we could ever win. And, this year, in flying over the whole northern and central part of Iraq, the Iraqi people, 4 out of 5 would wave at the choppers that would fly over. So, the Iraqi people want our great boys and girls over there," he said.

And, speaking of tours, Billboard Boxscore's Top 10 list of highest-grossing concerts for 2005 includes only one Country artist. For the second year in a row, Kenny Chesney was the Number One concert performer in Country music. His Somewhere In The Sun tour brought in $63 million during the past year. Kenny placed fourth overall, but ranked second in attendance by drawing 1.1 million fans to his shows. Irish rock group U2 was the only act to top that number. Kenny ended 2005 with the release of his new album The Road and the Radio, which includes his current hit, "Who You'd Be Today."