During the past year, Country music record sales remained strong for its major stars. Along with traditional and pop-influenced artists, the field saw a renewed interest in bluegrass and old-time Country music.

Tim McGraw's Greatest Hits collection ranked at Number One on Billboard's year-end Country album charts. Along with his double-platinum anthology, Tim dominated the Country charts in 2001 with the million-selling studio collection, Set This Circus Down.

When asked about the secret to his success, Tim said, "Trust your instincts. I think that's the biggest advantage to have, to be successful, is trusting your instincts. I don't know where I heard the quote, but I heard this quote somewhere, that 'success is a choice.' And I truly believe that." Surprisingly, Tim McGraw's name did not appear among the Top 10 Country singles of 2001.

Only two female artists made the list - newcomer Cyndi Thomson and 18-year-old Jessica Andrews. The Number One spot was claimed by Brooks and Dunn for the duo's long-running chart-topping hit, "Ain't Nothing 'Bout You" from their multi-million-selling comeback album Steers and Stripes.

After two mediocre albums that threatened their career, Steers and Stripes earned the duo its 9th Vocal Duo of the Year Award at the 2001 Country Music Association Awards.

Kix Brooks tells us what winning industry awards means to the duo. He said, "You always want to be accepted by your peers. The fans really give you the job. But, it's nice to have a pat on the back from the people in the industry. It's kind of a culmination of those things. It makes you feel good."

Late last year, Garth Brooks announced his retirement from the concert circuit, but promised to record one more album before ending his career in music. Expectations ran high for Scarecrow, Brooks' 14th album for Capitol Records. The expectation was due, in part, to Garth's duet with Country legend George Jones, called "Beer Run."

Although Country fans are disappointed at the news of Garth Brooks' retirement, he says the time has come to focus on his family life. "I'm in a really good place," he said. "We've been living in Oklahoma now for a year-and-a-half. Scarecrow is now out, which we promised at our retirement that we would try to do for ourselves and for our people. And, I'm very proud of where we're at with it, very proud of where I'm at with my girls, and I feel good right now."

Within three weeks of its release, Brooks' new album, Scarecrow, was certified triple platinum by the Recording Academy, signifying shipment of more than three-million copies, making it the best-selling album of 2001. The collection lengthened Garth's career sales to an astounding 104 million albums.

The Country music community mourned the deaths of several prominent performers during the past year. They included guitar legend Chet Atkins, who died of cancer at age 77. We also lost singer and actress Dale Evans, Grand Ole Opry Star Johnny Russell, singer-songwriters Van Stephenson and John Hartford, and noted musicians Eddy Shaver, Benny Martin, Roy Nichols, Gene Wooten and Grady Martin.

The 2001 International Country Music Fan Fair set a record for attendance. Reduced to a weekend event, Fan Fair still drew 124,000 people to Nashville.

And, Country artists rallied to aid the victims of the September 11 terror attacks. Along with donations from record sales, they staged the Country Freedom Concert, which raised more than five million dollars for the Salvation Army Disaster Relief Fund.

Reba McEntire was among the Country stars who appeared at the benefit concert. "We're Americans," she said. "We were joined together to help fellow Americans. It was a wonderful experience and I was very proud to be a part of it to do anything I could to help."

Reba felt particularly close to New York after spending the year there starring in her first Broadway musical. Her leading role in "Annie Get Your Gun" drew rave reviews and led to her own weekly television comedy series on a national cable network.

The increase in popularity of bluegrass and old-time Country music was apparent during the past year. Groups such as Nickle Creek and Alison Krauss and Union Station dominated the bluegrass field.

The biggest commercial surprise came from the soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou?, which sold three million copies, and spent 24 weeks at the top of Billboard's Country Albums chart in 2001. The collection also won numerous industry awards, and several artists featured on the soundtrack will take part in the "Down From The Mountain" concert tour, set to open on January 25.