Country Music Boom Stretches Beyond Red States

Even without mega-star Keith Urban, the ever-growing world of country music has a lot to celebrate next week, when the CMA awards show returns to Nashville.

The Country Music Association Awards held their festivities in New York City last year, so this year's show, the 40th, is something of a homecoming.

Urban, who took the top entertainer of the year honors last year as well at best male vocalist, entered a rehab clinic late last month. The 39-year-old husband of Nicole Kidman is up for four awards, and had been expected to perform.

But a veritable who's who of country stars will be on hand, with Brooks & Dunn once again serving as host when the show airs live on ABC-TV.

And right now, country music has a lot to celebrate. Perhaps rap, classic rock and R&B get more airplay in New York and a few other cities. But the country music boom stretches way beyond the red states and is one of the recording industries most robust category for new sales.

Here's a top 10 list of why, in the words of nominee Alan Jackson, "the whole world's gone country":

1. SALES: Through the first six months of 2006, country music CD sales were up 18% over the same period last year while sales in the general marketplace declined 6.1%.

2. AIRPLAY: There are over 10,000 commercial radio stations in the US. Country music is the most popular format with 2000 stations. Talk radio is second with 1,300 stations.

3. GEOGRAPHY: Country music's appeal is no longer geographically relegated to the South. The two biggest selling markets are NY and LA even though neither city has a country music radio station on the FM dial.

4. RATINGS: The CMAs is the highest-rated music awards show on TV followed by the Grammy Awards.

5. CHICKS: Despite the hullabaloo over their political stance, the Dixie Chicks remain the biggest selling female group in music history.

6. GARTH: Garth Brooks' record 51 weeks at #1 in the albums charts remains unbroken. His groundbreaking "Ropin' the Wind" spent 18 weeks at #1 - a feat that has yet to be matched by any other country act.

7. FLATTS: Rascal Flatts who are nominated for three CMAs scored 2006's biggest first week sales with 722,000 CDs sold. Justin Timberlake's "Future Sex/Love Sounds" holds the second slot with 684,000 copies.

8. ROAD WARRIORS: Five country acts (Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw & Faith Hill, Brad Paisley, George Strait, Rascal Flatts) are included in the top 20 list of top grossing tours for the first half of 2006.

9. DOLLY With a career that spans four decades and 73 albums with 25 #1 singles including what has been hailed as the #1 greatest country love song, "I'll Always Love You", Dolly Parton, who's nominated for 3 CMAs, will receive Kennedy Center Honors this December alongside Steven Spielberg, Smokey Robinson, Andrew Lloyd Weber and Zubin Mehta.

10. FEAR NO 'PAIN': Urban -- last year's Entertainer of the Year and Male Vocalist of the Year -- releases "Love, Pain and the whole Crazy Thing," one of the year's most anticipated CDs, just one day after the CMA awards. Despite all he's been through in the past few months, it's almost a sure thing that the CD will debut at No. 1.