What Makes You Country — that's the name of the biggest country-music tour of summer 2018, put on by the bro-kings of mainstream country: Luke Bryan, Sam Hunt, Jon Pardi and more. But the question of what makes you country is changing in the wake of shifting political/social norms (however slight or submerged these shifts may be), and many of the major country acts today look and sound different. This year, the biggest names to hit Colorado stadiums and amphitheaters include several artists who aren't afraid to challenge outdated traditions and who take no shit — and they do it all with a twang.
Friday, May 25
We can assume Taylor Swift's return to Denver (after winning her case against the local DJ who groped her) will be triumphant, but it may not be technically "country." Swift launches her world stadium tour in May, in support of Reputation, her poppiest album to date, and is bringing along decidedly dance-pop opening acts Camila Cabello and Charli XCX. Still, Swift is known for putting on a good show, and let's be honest: You never bought her albums for her pickin' skills.
Country Jam Colorado
Thursday, June 14, to Saturday, June 16
Country Jam Ranch, Mack
This mainstream-country festival is in Mack, outside Grand Junction, but its lineup of big-name stars is enough to get you over the mountains. This year the three-day camping fest is calling itself the "biggest party in Colorado," with headliners Florida Georgia Line, Miranda Lambert, Brantley Gilbert, Brett Eldridge, Big & Rich, Dustin Lynch and many more.
Thursday, June 21
Fiddler's Green Amphitheatre
In the seven years since Sugarland's last hit single, singer Jennifer Nettles released three solo projects and started an acting career and a family, while Kristian Bush has served as a successful producer for other artists. But now Sugarland has reunited and is hitting the road together again. Though the duo released a new single, "Still the Same," it has yet to give details on the forthcoming album. The show includes openers Clare Bowen (of Nashville) and Brandy Clark.
Friday, June 22
Dustin Lynch has made a name for himself with pop-rock-inflected country hits like "Seein' Red" and "Small Town Boy," and by opening for heavyweights including Luke Bryan and Brad Paisley. Lynch recently released his third album, Current Mood, and makes no bones about his non-country pop influences, citing Sugar Ray, Imagine Dragons and even millennial EDM. He will headline one of the nights of the Greeley Stampede's concert series.
Saturday, June 23
In 2008, Darius Rucker surprised general audiences when he re-emerged following his ’90s alt-pop stardom with Hootie and the Blowfish — as a cowboy-hatted mainstream country act. He's beaten the odds, churning out hit after hit, including most recently "If I Told You," which reached number one in 2016. That was the lead single off When Was the Last Time, his seventh studio album as a country artist. Now it's hard to imagine country radio without Rucker's signature voice.
Roots & Boots Tour: Sammy Kershaw, Collin Raye, Aaron Tippin
Saturday, June 30
Know how you're always saying that country music doesn't sound, well, country anymore? This is the nostalgia trip for you! The Greeley Stampede will host the Roots & Boots Tour, spotlighting country artists that hew to more traditional sounds — or at least sound like ’90s country radio. Sammy Kershaw has released sixteen albums but is still best known for his perennial hit "She Don't Know She's Beautiful." Other performers include Collin Raye, best known for the heart-rending ballad "Love, Me," and Aaron Tippin, known for his neo-traditional songs focused on working-class and patriotic narratives, such as "You've Got to Stand for Something" and "Where the Stars and Stripes and the Eagle Fly."
Saturday, June 30
Mile High Stadium
Kenny Chesney will bring his patented toes-in-the-sand country anthems to Denver this summer with his Trip Around the Sun stadium tour. When not serving as one of pop-country's veteran megastars, Chesney has been funding the rescue of pets abandoned in the Virgin Islands after Hurricane Irma. Popular up-and-comers Thomas Rhett and Old Dominion will serve as opening acts.
Read on for six more big country concerts of summer 2018.
Tuesday, July 3
Since Kacey Musgraves' Grammy-winning major-label debut, Same Trailer, Different Park, she has approached country music with boldness, progressive politics, loyalty to country roots, and an overwhelming sense of fun. Her third (non-holiday) album, Golden Hour, will be released at the end of March, but this summer she's hitting arenas as an opening act for an unlikely headliner: Harry Styles, formerly of One Direction.
Saturday, July 14
Fiddler's Green Amphitheatre
The award-winning Aussie has dominated American country music for twenty years — even judging American Idol — and Keith Urban is still at it, touring in support of his zillionth studio album, Graffiti U. Pop-country star Kelsea Ballerini will open the show.
Friday, July 27
What does impress us much? Shania Twain. The Queen of Country Pop (you're welcome, Taylor) came out of many years of retirement to release Now in 2017. If her recent TV appearances are any indication, the iconic Canadian country star is still the one.
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Luke Bryan, Sam Hunt
Saturday, August 4
Mile High Stadium
Luke Bryan has been the leader of the "tailgates and tan lines" bro-country wave of the past decade, and can't seem to record a song that's not a hit. (Case in point: The lead single for sixth studio album What Makes You Country went to No. 1 on the Country Airplay chart.) For his latest stadium tour, Bryan is bringing along Sam Hunt, who is at the vanguard of a slightly different wave: bro-country that draws from the cadences of R&B and broader pop culture.
Chris Stapleton's "All American Road Show"
Friday, August 10
Chris Stapleton has been Nashville's breakout star of recent years, representing a mash-up of soul and traditional outlaw country. Stapleton's "All American Road Show" spent two nights at Red Rocks last summer, and the tour rolls on, this time stopping at Denver's Pepsi Center. The bearded songwriter continues to collect awards and new collaborators, recently teaming up with Justin Timberlake for the single "Say Something."
Sunday, August 12
Red Rocks Amphitheatre
Brandi Carlile may not be played on country radio, but she remains one of today's strongest storytellers and singular voices in acoustic-based music. Her new album, By the Way, I Forgive You, is her sixth, and was produced by Nashville heavyweight Dave Cobb and Shooter Jennings, who makes outlaw country music like his dad, Waylon.