As 2016 gets fully into gear, there will be myriad opportunities to catch one or more country stars on the road. From superstars Kenny Chesney and Luke Bryan to touring vets like Lee Brice and hot indie performers like Jason Isbell, there is something to please every taste. For maximum bang for the buck, there are also countless multi-day gatherings that package together top-tier talent on one bill, such as country's homecoming party CMA Music Festival in June. Here's the 31 must-see tours and festivals.
Location: Las Vegas
Dates: April 1st – 3rd
Headliners: Carrie Underwood, Dierks Bentley, Kenny Chesney
Why You Should Go: It may kick off on April Fool's Day, but ACM's Party for a Cause is no joke. The music fest boasts some serious star power: Carrie Underwood, Dierks Bentley and Kenny Chesney are atop the bill, with Sam Hunt, Chris Stapleton, Lee Brice and more to be announced in support. Held at the Las Vegas Festival Grounds, a short 15-minute drive from the Strip, the concert and fan experience supports ACM Lifting Lives, the philanthropic arm of the Academy that develops and funds music-related therapy and education programs, and serves military veterans and members of the community who face unexpected hardships. It's country music manifesting the values the genre was based on.
Tickets: $175 for a general-admission three-day pass
Dates: January 30th – May 30th
Openers: Easton Corbin, the Swon Brothers
Why You Should Go: "Storyteller" need not refer to her recent album of the same name. Underwood made it big belting covers on American Idol, but she has since worked with some of Nashville's top tunesmiths to help write some of the most memorable songs of the last decade. This past October, she played a few on them onstage with Brad Paisley, Vince Gill and Paul Simon and nearly stole the show. That was at a small venue in New York. Back in arenas, this tour should allow Underwood to claim the spotlight totally for herself — and sing as loud as she pleases.
Tickets: $45 – $75
Dates: January through May
Why You Should Go: Despite Chris Stapleton's CMA Awards success and whirlwind rise, he actually has yet to embark on his own formal headlining Traveller tour. Instead, he spent the summer at festivals and chose to play the occasional club gig, as well as opening for acts like Jason Isbell. Three nights at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium sold out almost immediately, and he also snagged a coveted spot at Coachella, as the only country artist hitting the Indio desert this year. Longer slots onstage will give that monster of a voice time to slice and simmer through a catalogue of his own songs and covers, and allow for ample grooves with his dynamite band. "We booked shows in what we thought. . . [was] really stretching out there," Stapleton told Rolling Stone Country. "And they sold out really quick. But we don't know what the new reality is as far as people coming to shows or being curious enough to buy a ticket."
Tickets: $30 – $50
Dates: June 9th – June 12th
Why You Should Go: While only top-tier seats remain (at top-tier prices) for the nighttime stadium shows of the ultimate country concert event, the rest of this mega fest is free. That's seven free stages in the heart of downtown Nashville that will include everyone from up-and-comers to mammoth stars. CMA Music Festival used to be called "Fan Fair," and it still has that vibe. More than 87,000 fans will likely be in attendance, queuing up for meet-and-greets, autographs and surprise concerts. Yes, it's crowded, hot and sweaty, but it's the epicenter of the mainstream country music scene.
Tickets: $203.60 – $409.35 for Nissan Stadium nightly concerts; other events are free
Dates: February 18th – March 19th
Opener: "Buy Me a Boat" singer Chris Janson
Why You Should Go: Blake Shelton is entering 2016 with a short, laid-back winter tour — 13 dates spread over two months. The five-time CMA Male Artist of the Year has said that a new album could be released as early as May, so the shows might provide the perfect place for him to test some unreleased material. No worries if not: Shelton is a professional with a catalogue that even an amateur couldn't mess up, and onstage he knows how to work a crowd without going over the top. Opener Chris Janson's set will surely end with a sing-along.
Tickets: $29.75 – $69.75
Dates: June 1st – October 10th
Why You Should Go: Because the DCX MMXVI World Tour is their first American headlining tour in a decade (although they have played select venues here and there and toured with the Eagles). The trio remains the biggest-selling female band of all time in the United States and their female voices are being appreciated again as a counter to bro country. Several European dates have sold out, but there are still tickets available at arena shows across America. With no new album to promote, expect all the hits, from the morbidly comic "Goodbye Earl" to the defiant "Not Ready to Make Nice."
Tickets: $39.50 -$140.00
Dates: June 2nd – November 19th
Openers: Brett Eldredge, Maren Morris
Why You Should Go: Urban's just-announced Ripcord World Tour, his first arena tour in two years, combines the old (Brett Eldredge, with whom Urban has toured in the past) and the new ("My Church" sensation Maren Morris). The Ripcord album hasn't been released yet, but the project has already produced several favorites, including "John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16," one of the best songs of 2015, and new single "Break on Me."
Dates: September 20th — 25th
Why You Should Go: Nashville natives may not think twice about attending the Americana Music Festival and Conference when it's essentially watching everyone from their own backyard perform. But for American roots-music diehards and fans of classic and new artists coming together, the Americana Music Association's annual conference and festival is a zinger. The 2016 AmericanaFest Lineup will be available closer to the event, but the talent is consistently superb. In years past, Buddy Miller, Patty Griffin, Bonnie Raitt, Lucinda Williams, Watkins Family Hour, Shakey Graves, Wanda Jackson and Jason Isbell have all taken stages throughout town.
Date: September TBA, 2016
Headliners: Willie Nelson, more TBA
Why You Should Go: Since 1985, Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews have hosted Farm Aid to bring together music, farmers and fans to raise funds and awareness for family farmers across the country. The one-day festival features live musical performances by Nelson, Mellencamp and Young, along with a diverse lineup of other artists that in the past have included Bob Dylan, Kacey Musgraves, Old Crow Medicine Show and many more. Last year was Farm Aid's 30th anniversary so it's difficult to imagine what they will have in store this year, but attendees can count on the best food offerings that a festival can bring — all of it locally sourced and naturally grown. There are also workshops and activities that promote awareness and education around the Good Food Movement, all within earshot of Willie Nelson.
Dates: April 23rd – August 20th (more TBA)
Openers: Miranda Lambert, Sam Hunt, Old Dominion
Why You Should Go: After clearing his schedule in 2014, Chesney came roaring back to life in 2015 with one of the biggest tours of his career, smashing records left and right with The Big Revival trek. His 2016 jaunt is dubbed the Spread the Love and he will be doing just that with openers Miranda Lambert, the red-hot Sam Hunt and returning tourmates Old Dominion, who watched their career crest a wave on Chesney's last tour. The shirt-shirking, shoe-averse star normally brings his openers onstage for a grand finale singalong of a couple of covers so it'll be fun to watch Lambert mix it up with the guys.
Location: Daytona, Florida @ Daytona International Speedway
Dates: May 27th — 29th
Headliners: Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Lady Antebellum, Kid Rock, Florida Georgia Line, Willie Nelson
Why You Should Go: NASCAR and country music — has anyone mentioned that the two go well together? Three months after the biggest drivers in the world spin 200 laps on Daytona's 2.5-mile track, 40 of the genre's biggest singers roar into the infield for a three-day, three-stage music festival where camping takes place not just under the stars, but below the stands. Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, Lady Antebellum, Willie Nelson, Kid Rock and Little Big Town headline a 40-act bill that is good down to the last alphabetical name — cheerful young 'un Charlie Worsham.
Tickets: $199 for a three-day weekend pass
Location: Grand Junction, Colorado
Dates: June 16th — 19th
Headliners: Zac Brown Band, Blake Shelton, Brad Paisley and Lee Brice
Why You Should Go: Celebrating its 25th year, this fest boasts the beautiful backdrop of Grand Junction, Colorado, and a testosterone-heavy line-up. The disparate quartet of headliners — from the jam-friendly ZBB to the shredding and joking of Paisley — will be supported by such veteran artists as Trace Adkins, Big & Rich, Neal McCoy and Joe Nichols, as well as newer faces Tyler Farr, Easton Corbin and Chase Bryant. Annie Bosko holds it down for the ladies.
Tickets: $135 for a general admission four-day pass
Dates: February 11th — September 18th
Opener: Shovels & Rope
Why You Should Go: Apart from his sophisticated new stage design (complete with Ryman Auditorium-inspired stained glass visuals), Jason Isbell's 2016 tour will continue in the same vein of no-frills Southern rock and acoustic country-folk that the Alabama-bred singer has been perfecting on the road for the past decade. With his impeccable backing band, the 400 Unit, accompanying him on all dates, Isbell can switch gracefully from the blistering blues boogie of "Palmetto Rose" to stark, near solo-acoustic meditations like "Speed Trap Town." Both those songs are off his 2015 album Something More Than Free, which will flesh out the tour's sets.
Dates: April 29th — May 1st
Headliners: Eric Church, Carrie Underwood, Luke Bryan
Why You Should Go: The biggest celebration of country music in the U.S. outdid itself with this year's line-up. In addition to its superstar trio of headliners, the weekend-long fest in Indio, California — held on the same site as hipster extravaganza Coachella — includes a terrific mix of pop and alt-country, Americana and classic rock acts including Chris Stapleton, Amanda Shires, Eric Paslay, John Fogerty, Lee Ann Womack, Little Big Town, the Band Perry, Nashville's Sam Palladio, the Marshall Tucker Band, Turnpike Troubadours, the Doobie Brothers and Marty Stuart.
Tickets: $299 – $899
Dates: January 15th — April 28th
Openers: Brandy Clark, Lindsay Ell, Tara Thompson
Why You Should Go: While female artists are sprinkled about in some of the other festivals like so much garnish — we aren't going there — this one, CMT's Next Women of Country, is all about the ladies. Sugarland's Nettles toplines a bill that includes her buddy, acclaimed singer-songwriter Brandy Clark. Both women have albums coming in 2016 and have been writing together, so expect to hear new songs from each, as well as a duet or two. They are joined by two new faces: Canadian songstress Lindsay Ell and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, native Tara Thompson.
Location: Austin, Texas
Date: April 30th
Why You Should Go: iHeartCountry broadcasts over more than 140 radio stations across the country, but it brings its airwaves to life in Austin with this lineup. The roster already includes some serious country street cred: Florida Georgia Line, Miranda Lambert, Brett Eldredge, Sam Hunt, Thomas Rhett, Cole Swindell, Lee Brice, Chris Young, Keith Urban and Zac Brown Band. All that is crammed into just one day, and the team promises more are to be announced. The one-day fest is hosted by the syndicated Bobby Bones, just like you'd hear if you were listening to the radio at home.
Tickets: $75 – $375
Dates: February 18th – October 29th
Opening Acts: Little Big Town, Dustin Lynch
Why You Should Go: Luke Bryan's most recent That's My Kind of Night Tour featured everything from Bryan singing atop a truck surrounded in flames to elaborate graphic visual displays. Expect even more theatrics as Bryan kicks off the Kill the Lights Tour in 2016 with a slew of arena dates throughout the spring, culminating with a run of outdoor amphitheater and high-profile stadium shows this summer. Opening acts Little Big Town and Dustin Lynch round out one of this year's biggest tours, offering a wide-range of opportunities for possible collaborations, unexpected covers and even a special guest or two during encores.
Dates: January 15th – September 3rd
Openers: Thomas Rhett, A Thousand Horses
Why You Should Go: Many of Jason Aldean's songs concern small-town kids looking to have the night of their lives, and his concerts provide the perfect occasion for such revelry: His touring ensemble is one of the best straight-up rock bands on the road, and his pyrotechnics crew is as active as anyone onstage. Thomas Rhett, a pop-leaning powerhouse the same age as those small-town kids, thus makes the perfect opener. If you caught Aldean's Kenny Chesney-assisted summer tour in a sold-out football stadium, you may even find the We Were Here Tour venues — mere basketball stadiums, mostly — almost intimate.
Tickets: $31.75 – $61.75
Dates: January 28th — July 14th
Openers: Canaan Smith, Michael Ray
Why You Should Go: Gilbert warmed up for the BlackOut Tour — built his tolerance, you might say — last fall in Europe, where he covered Skynyrd's "Simple Man" for Germany and showed the Nethlerands what it means to kick it in the sticks. When his band begins their American dates at the end of the month, they should be at their head-banging best, bringing their country grunge to the cities most artists usually miss. When residents of Tupelo, Rapid City, Bozeman and Bismarck wonder where all the noise is coming from, a fellow citizen will likely explain: the Brantley Gilbert concert.
Tickets: $31.90 – $36.90
Location: Cookeville, Tennessee
Dates: September 2nd – 5th
Headliners: Del McCoury Band, the Melvins, Bonnie Prince Billy
Why You Should Go: There are lots of camp-in-the-mud-and-hear-epic-music kind of fests, but Muddy Roots draws people to tiny Cookeville, Tennessee, for three days of hillbilly, bluegrass and punk (Seriously. Black Flag played in 2013). The lineup this year includes the Del McCoury Band, Calamity Cubes and blues great L.C. Ulmer, along with psychobilly pioneer J.D. Wilkes (pictured). People come the first time for the eclectic music, but like a Bonnaroo for the country set, they come back again for the community.
Tickets: Pre-sales will be capped at 1,000 to try to keep crowds manageable. $75-$150; lower rates available for kids' tickets; higher including cabin rental
Location: London, Glasgow, Dublin
Dates: March 11th — 13th
Headliners: Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood, Eric Church
Why You Should Go: We may think of country music as mainly the province of the U.S., but the genre has experienced exploding popularity overseas and this U.K. festival — held over three days in London, Glasgow and Dublin with offshoots in Sweden and Norway — has become the premiere showcase for superstars, up-and-comers like Andrew Combs and Maddie and Tae, and legacy acts like Dwight Yoakam. For country fans who've always wanted to travel to the U.K., this is a bloody good reason to head across the pond.
Tickets: Much of the event is sold out with daily and weekend packages varying from £45 to 422.50.
Location: Charleston, South Carolina
Dates: April 16th — 17th
Headliners: Zac Brown Band
Why You Should Go: Zac Brown's delicious two-day event highlights Charleston's remarkable food scene with an equally remarkable lineup. Music for this hybrid event includes Cam, Hunter Hayes, Marshall Tucker Band, Thomas Rhett, Kacey Musgraves and others. As is the Southern Ground tradition, the Zac Brown Band plays a "Super Set" at the end of each night, with other headliners from the lineup coming in to jam. It's all good, but the Super Set is the kind of thing you'll tell your grandkids about.
Tickets: $115 — $666
Dates: January 29th through June 16th
Why You Should Go: John Prine may have been suffering from cancer in recent years, but it hasn't kept the folk troubadour off the road for long. Known for shows that often push well past the two-hour mark, he's a wizard at balancing the heartbeat of a performance — softly fluttering one moment with ballads like "Sam Stone" and racing towards redemption with "Sweet Revenge" and "Please Don't Bury Me" the next. The luckiest will get to see him with opener Iris Dement, who will hopefully join Prine on stage to revive their classic raunchy love-struck duet "In Spite of Ourselves."
Tickets: $49.50 – $79.50
Location: Las Vegas
Dates: September 30th – October 2nd
Why You Should Go: Most people come to Las Vegas to gamble on the high life, but as far as jam-packed country festivals go, this one is a pretty sure bet. Sin City is all about larger-than-life moments, and Route 91 lives up to the promise with a big lineup (last year boasted party-appropriate Florida Georgia Line, Jake Owen and Keith Urban), a supercharged experience like 2015's onsite beach house and carnival rides, and plenty of opportunities to hit the craps tables between sets. Country's been a new king in Vegas of late, hosting the ACMs and boasting superstar residencies from Reba to Shania Twain. Route 91's a rowdy celebration of just how well blackjack and Jack Daniels go together.
Dates: February 4th – April 23rd
Why You Should Go: The Life Off My Years Tour pairs longtime friends Lee Brice and Tyler Farr, which should be one of the year's rowdiest live music offerings at a bargain price. Brice and Farr excel at belting sincere ballads, but both have an energetic performance style derived from Garth Brooks' arena-sized presentation that should keep the momentum rolling. Speaking of Brooks, Brice's set typically includes his from-the-gut version of the G-man's Number One "More Than a Memory" and Eli Young Band's "Crazy Girl," in addition to his own hits like "Hard to Love" and "I Drive Your Truck."
Tickets: $31.75 – $41.75
Dates: January 20th – September 3rd
Why You Should Go: Old Dominion will spend the bulk of their summer with Kenny Chesney on his Spread the Love Tour, but in between they'll headline their own club shows. While the Chesney slot will put them in front of the most eyes, it's the close quarters of sweaty bars where the band best shines. With cuts from their debut album Meat & Candy, like the hit "Break Up With Him" and new single "Snapback," along with songs they wrote for country A-listsers from Chesney to Blake Shelton, Old Dominion certainly have an impressive catalog — but it's their energy and everyguy charisma that makes them a must-see.
Tickets: $18 – $25
Dates: June 17th – June 19th
Why You Should Go: Despite its powerhouse country station US 99.5 and funky club Joe's on Weed Street, Chicago isn't necessarily known for its country music scene, but as LakeShake returns for a second year, that may change. The epic views of both Lake Michigan and the city from Chicago's Northerly Island, combined with a giant inflatable slide, a boathouse and carnival rides were awesome in 2015, as was the lineup: Dierks Bentley, Florida Georgia Line and Brad Paisley. The 2016 lineup has yet to be released, but expect an equally strong roster.
Location: Bristol, Tennessee
Dates: September 16th – 18th
Why You Should Go: Tiny Bristol, Tennessee-Virginia (the state line runs through town) is considered by many to live up to its nickname of "The Birthplace of Country Music," thanks to the 1927 Bristol Sessions that were recorded here. Bristol Rhythm and Roots is a music festival held in that same spot, now managed by the Birthplace of Country Music nonprofit, which also manages the local Birthplace of Country Music Museum and Radio Bristol. There are 20 stages on the historic city's closed streets, making it easy to sample. With names like John Anderson, Josh Ritter and Mike Farris on last year's line-up, there's ample opportunity to dig deep into bluegrass, country, roots and Appalachian mountain music.
Tickets: weekend passes start at $60
Dates: June 3rd — June 5th
Why You Should Go: Historically, Cincinnati has hosted two summer music fests, Buckle Up, which was all country (think: Willie Nelson, Marty Stuart, Emmy Lou Harris) and Bunbury, which was everything but. In 2015 the two were combined, offering a well-organized riverfront festival where Kacey Musgraves played one of her best shows of the year, along with a host of other acts, including Old Crow Medicine Show and Shakey Graves on well-spaced stages. This was a music fest for grown-ups, with decent food, decent drink, decent sightlines and enthusiastic acts. The festivals will be separate again in 2016, enabling Buckle Up to offer more country than it could as part of Bunbury, plus camping, so you can immerse yourself in the experience. Lineups have not yet been released for either festival. Buckle Up dates and ticket prices are still forthcoming.
Tickets: For Bunbury, starting at $135
Update: According to a statement on the festival's website, the event has since been canceled. No further details were available, but full refunds will be provided.
Location: Dover, Delaware
Dates: June 24th — 26th
Headliners: Brad Paisley, Sam Hunt, Eric Church, along with Hank Williams Jr., Martina McBride, Kristian Bush and more
Why You Should Go: Delaware is a hotbed for country music, and this festival, held on the site of the eclectic rock Firefly Festival, boasts an especially varied lineup for fans in the DelMarVa area. Paisley, Hunt and Church bring radio hits and their own unique personalities as headliners, with an impressive allotment of country vets scattered about the weekend in Hank Williams Jr., Martina McBride, Mark Chesnutt and Dwight Yoakam. Jason Isbell is also on the bill, lending an air of Americana to the decidedly twangy proceedings.
Tickets: $149 for a general admission pass
Location: New York City
Dates: June 17th – 19th
Why You Should Go: Last year was FarmBorough's first rodeo, which transformed New York's Randall's Island into the home of this major-league country festival, which hosted everyone from marquee names like Luke Bryan and Brad Paisley to then up-and-comers Chris Stapleton and Maddie & Tae. And despite some unseasonable downpours, 2015's inaugural run was a thrilling, if not very wet, display of talent and twang both old and new — and solid proof of the Big Apple's growing taste for all things southern. This year's lineup has yet to be announced, but expect to see a diverse representation of the genre including both indie kings and mainstream crooners.