10 Monumental Stories From 10 Years of Taste of Country
Taste of Country has been a leader in country music news for 10 years. To date, we've published more than 43,000 news articles, lists, reviews and profiles since we were born in December of 2010 — think of this Top 10 list as a reflection on a decade of music, tragedy, pop culture and redemption.
Our editorial and radio teams across the country were uniquely positioned to offer blanket coverage of the moments below from start to finish. This isn't always the case — the Route 91 Harvest Festival shooting is one example where we had no one on the ground to report the news firsthand, so like the rest of America, we relied on what television networks and local newspapers were reporting. It doesn't make this list for that reason, even though it's undeniably the single biggest country music news story of the last decade.
National outlets pop in and out of our genre, but leave the legacies to specialized, format specific news outlets like ToC and our contemporaries. Follow-up interviews, music inspired by tragedy and the aftermath of love and loss get buried by the next headline on CNN. Not here. Troy Gentry's death was personal for us, because we knew him. So, we embraced every opportunity to hear from Eddie Montgomery in the hard months that followed the loss of his duo partner and friend.
Our focus on Randy Travis' redemption was exhaustive because we were around for all of it, and because his fans — and our readers — deserved to know the details, delivered with care and objectivity. The same can be said of Garth Brooks' comeback and the many feel-good moments from this list. Below, find 10 stories that shook us and shaped us and perhaps led you to us. They're not ranked in any particular order. Each offers a moment and emotion frozen in time that comes back to center as you parse through details.
Jerry Greer’s Death + the Stories That Followed
The gravest tragedies always seem to happen during the summer months, and too often they involve children. Walker Hayes lost a child in the month of June. Granger Smith and Randy Rogers did, too. The death of a child always stings sharpest — Jerry Greer was just having fun with friends when he lost his life. His father, country hittmaker Craig Morgan, certainly did not deserve the pain. If anyone had built up good karma through a life of service, it was him.
Jerry was just 19 years old when he drowned on Kentucky Lake in mid-2016. It felt like weeks passed before his body was uncovered (really it was only days), and then Morgan disappeared to grieve with his wife and other children. What has happened since has been most remarkable: The singer has embraced telling Jerry's story and leaned into emotional moments that found him writing and attempting to perform "The Father, My Son and the Holy Ghost," a song inspired by it all. To hear this song is to be overcome with emotion in an almost spiritual way. Few songs in country music history are as honest.
You'll often find Morgan breaking down, as he did on multiple occasions in talking to Taste of Country, but it's rare he waves a question away. The above video package is among the most consumed stories on this topic available.
Randy Travis' Recovery and Redemption
Few have had as difficult a decade as Randy Travis, but he might tell you he's better for it. The country icon would surely love to have his singing voice back, but one senses a certain peace about him as he and wife Mary bop around to interview after interview. The arrests, the life-threatening stroke and the torture that often comes with early recovery are behind him now, but he's unique in that he embraces it all as part of what made him the man he is today. You can ask Randy Travis the hard questions.
At age 61, Travis is still invested in his music and the music of others. He's a man of faith and a man who loves his wife. When the pair stopped by to talk to Taste of Country in 2019, their inseparable bond was palpable. Mass media focused on the 2013 stroke — which came just 11 months after an embarrassing arrest — and the immediate aftermath, but moved onto the next story as soon as it presented itself. We've tried to show that a man with diminished mobility is still a man with a story to tell. If his memoir Forever and Ever, Amen taught us anything, it's that there is plenty of life left to live after a stroke, as Travis has shown.
Troy Gentry's Death and Eddie Montgomery's Life
Late summer into early fall of 2017 was the darkest season in Taste of Country's 10-year history. The Route 91 Harvest Festival shooting felt like the September 11 terrorist attacks, but maybe worse for our community, because people we knew and worked alongside for years were targets of a mass shooter who left dozens dead. The #MeToo movement and substantiated claims of sexual assault and harassment in the music industry made you wonder who to trust — that is if you weren't going through your own personal reckoning.
Troy Gentry’s death in early September came first, however. It felt like someone had fallen to Goliath, as Gentry's body and spirit were larger than any one room. He was the quieter of the two Montgomery Gentry men, but often the one who led in interviews. Eddie Montgomery would bring the show, while T-Roy would ground the interview with heartfelt stories from the road or a push to support a charity.
As part of Townsquare Media, Taste of Country has dozens of local radio affiliates we work with when news breaks. Typically, it's the death of a local hero or a touching moment between a fan and artist onstage. One of our news stations let us know of trouble at the Flying W Airport in Medford, N.J., on Sept. 8, 2017, and a curious interest turned to dread in the hours that followed as we braced for the worst possible outcome. There was no looking away from this accident, because the details kept shedding themselves one at a time like layers of an onion.
Four months later, Eddie Montgomery showed up in our studio to talk about it and — aside from a few details protected for legal reasons — he sure did talk about it. Mostly, he talked about his longtime friend, Gentry, and the future of Montgomery Gentry. Perhaps it was part of his healing process. It certainly was part of ours.
The Voice and Everyone That Came With It
Season 1 of The Voice debuted just five months after Taste of Country, and we went all-in on this new reality television series. The show didn't begin to take off until Season 2, when RaeLynn appeared (Fun fact: We set up one of her first interviews by sliding into her Twitter DMs!).
A country singer finally won in Season 3 and again in Season 4 (Cassadee Pope and Danielle Bradbery), and it has been appointment viewing for country fans since. Hardly a year has passed without a finalist heading to Music City after the credits roll. There have been six to eight country winners (depending on how you define artists like Brynn Cartelli), and the show's biggest star is country's own Blake Shelton.
Perhaps more important than what happened on the show is the good-natured drama off-camera. Shelton and Adam Levine's relationship merited many headlines over the show's first eight years, and Shelton and Gwen Stefani's love story has done the same since, albeit for different reasons. The pranks, the trash talk, the promo clips and the way it all spills over into the social media universe — it's all fun.
Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani's Budding Romance
Looking back, it’s amazing how many times Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani have tortured us with rumors. Their romance officially started in late 2015, but there was plenty of smoke on that fire leading up to their first public appearance together. In 2019 and early 2020 it seemed a marriage proposal was imminent, but the couple kept us waiting ... and waiting ... and waiting … They'd lean into it with cheeky comments, but not unit October 2020 would we finally learn a ring had been bought and delivered.
It's hard to believe a slowdown is coming. Heck, when we suggested a third-straight duet and the haters went berserk, Shelton said this:
Garth Brooks' 2014 Comeback
No one knows how to hype a tour quite like Garth Brooks, and millions of his fans found Taste of Country in searching for dates, setlists and video highlights. The comeback began in Sept. 2014, after Brooks let a fan reveal the first stop (Chicago). From there he announced new cities individually, with multiple press releases letting media know of on-sale dates, how many tickets had been sold and when additional shows were added.
Quickly, Brooks figured out that viral moments from his shows could do as much to hype the tour as media bulletins, so while he'd long strived to keep his music off YouTube, he did little to dissuade fan moments, like the woman who was battling cancer in Minnesota that brought Brooks to tears during "The Dance."
The World Tour ended in 2017, but he moved on to stadiums next, using the same strategy (plus a few major television appearances) to stoke excitement. It worked, and the shows delivered on his promise. Taste of Country caught no fewer than three arena and stadium concerts and several intimate performances during this time. We also talked to Brooks and brought exclusive content to readers on a regular basis. He may give Robin Roberts all the big news, but country fans know that for the details, they need to dial up Taste of Country.
Country Music and the Ice Bucket Challenge
The Ice Bucket Challenge was a celebrity-driven fundraiser for ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, and it was wildly viral in the summer of 2014. Country artists took to it quickly and in large numbers, with everyone from Blake Shelton to Chris Young to Shania Twain dumping buckets of ice cold water on their heads. Sometimes it was a group effort. Sometimes heavy machinery (think tractors) were brought in.
Fans may recall Dolly Parton’s Ice Bucket Challenge most vividly. The country queen took to it like a fish in winter, but shrieked like an Antarctic gull.
The Joy and Heartbreak of Miranda Lambert + Blake Shelton
The abrupt end to Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton's romance overshadows how good it was and how much fun it was to read about before it fizzled. After several years of dating, they married in May 2011 and seemed the perfect country couple. He was outgoing and a little bit bawdy. She was sassy but quieter, and always extremely proud of his forays into television. The shared — maybe even overshared — details of their private life and hugged and kissed on television. It was such a simple, happy time.
No one saw their separation and divorce coming in 2015. Just months before the summer announcement, Lambert talked to Taste of Country about Shelton and his role on The Voice like any supportive wife would. There wasn’t a single crack in the facade that we could see, but something changed. To this day, we don't know what it was.
The months that followed were strange, as they came together to support friend Ashley Monroe's album release, but haven't uttered one another's name since. Lambert went into something of a spiral that shaped her The Weight of These Wings album. Shelton started dating Gwen Stefani.
Eventually both would find love again, as Lambert married Brendan McLoughlin in January 2019. A young fan of the genre and its celebrities may not even know of this union and how it took over country pop culture for nearly half a decade.
The Life and Death of Joey Martin Feek
Joey Feek was just 41 years old when she died in March 2016, leaving behind husband and Joey + Rory partner Rory Feek and their young daughter Indiana. The final few years of her life were tragic and inspirational. Many found faith again through Rory's words as his wife's time on Earth came to an end. All of us found a reason to appreciate the little blessings we've been given.
Joey was first diagnosed with cancer in 2014, and successful surgery led to a clean bill of health at the time. One year later, she learned the cervical cancer had not only returned, but had metastasized to her colon. Additional surgery, chemotherapy and radiation would not be enough this time, and in October of 2015, the couple announced that Joey's cancer was terminal and she was stopping all treatment. Rory documented ever step of their journey on his This Life I Live blog, a journal he kept active until 2018. His book further told their story of love and redemption, and fans fell in love with his small family.
There hasn’t been a news story that captivated the country music audience in this kind of way since. It was a months long commitment to their journey and the lessons learned from it. Taste of Country talked to Rory one time in November 2016, when the duo was nominated for a CMA Award. He said all of the accolades weren't necessarily enjoyed given the circumstances, but they were appreciated.
The Pandemic and Everything That Came With It
It's only a slight exaggeration to say that every story Taste of Country has published in 2020 has been touched by the coronavirus pandemic. In the spring, the consensus was that all events planned for April would be canceled, but by May and June, things would be rolling again. Wow, were we ever naive!
COVID-19 deaths (John Prine, Joe Diffie, Charley Pride) made it easy to keep the pains of a socially-distanced life in perspective. It's hard not to look back and think that so many deaths were avoidable, had we known a little bit more or been a little more diligent. An early rash of festival cancelations (SXSW was particularly bitter about canceling, you may recall) led to a full-on flood of tour and festival closures to the point that it ceased qualifying as news.
Next up came covering quarantine lifestyle and how dramatically people had changed in just a few short months. Soon it became clear some artists needed to get back to work, so we as a community began to argue about whether or not it was safe. Music was delayed. Relationships ended. Babies were made (we see ya, Gabby Barrett!). A new way of life was created, and frankly, it won't ever be the same even when things return to normal. Some form of streaming concert seems likely to stick around (why the heck not?), and the old way of doing things (like radio tours) seem likely to be lost forever.
The pandemic wraps this list because it touched a full year of coverage on Taste of Country. That can't be said about any of the others that made this list of the top coverage over the past 10 years. Congratulations, coronavirus, you win again.
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