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by Stephen L. Betts/Rolling Stone

Brooks & Dunn, the lauded country duo who called it quits in 2010, are reuniting for an organization that awarded them 27 trophies over the course of their 20-year career together. Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn, who pursued solo careers after their Last Rodeo tour wrapped nearly five years ago, will be among the performers at next month’s 50th ACM Awards at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Their stage reunion comes just ahead of the first dates of their Together in Vegas residency with Reba McEntire, which begins in June at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

ACM Awards Nominations Feature Surprises, Snubs

Also just announced for the ACM’s golden-anniversary celebration are a special duet by The Voice coach Christina Aguilera with surprise artists; the teaming of pop star Nick Jonas with country duo Dan + Shay; and performances by Alan Jackson, Martina McBride, Brad Paisley, Lady Antebellum, Little Big Town and Rascal Flatts.

That latest slate of performers joins previously announced artists Jason Aldean, Dierks Bentley, Garth Brooks, Luke Bryan, Kenny Chesney, Eric Church, Miranda Lambert, Reba, Blake Shelton, George Strait, Keith Urban and Florida Georgia Line, along with ACM New Artist of the Year nominees Sam Hunt, Thomas Rhett and Cole Swindell.

The star-studded awards show will follow the two-day ACM Party for a Cause Festival, April 17th and 18th at Arlington’s Globe Life Park, where Bryan, Lambert, Chesney and Florida Georgia Line join Alabama, Clint Black and Patty Loveless among the acts on the bill. The outdoor music festival will be taped for a two-hour special, ACM Presents: Superstar Duets!, which airs May 15th on CBS. Also on April 17th will be the “One Night, Two Cities, All Music” charity event, hosted by Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood and featuring Lady Antebellum, Keith Urban, Hunter Hayes and Little Big Town. Organized by ACM Lifting Lives, the philanthropic arm of the Academy of Country Music, proceeds from the two simultaneous concerts will be donated to several Texas-based organizations including Garth Brooks’ charity, Teammates for Kids, along with the Child Life Zones in Children’s Health of Dallas and Cook Children’s of Fort Worth.

Co-hosted by Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton, the 50th ACM Awards will be broadcast live from Arlington, Texas, Sunday, April 19th at 8:00 p.m. ET on CBS.

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by Stephen L. Betts/Rolling Stone

In 1973, just four years after Woodstock, the most iconic American music festival of its kind, country star Willie Nelson hosted his first-ever Fourth of July Picnic in Dripping Springs, Texas, just outside the state’s capital city of Austin. In 2015, for the first time in five years, the Independence Day event returns to Austin with Willie Nelson and Family joined by performers Eric Church, Kacey Musgraves, Merle Haggard, Sturgill Simpson, Jamey Johnson, Jason Isbell, Leon Russell, Billy Joe Shaver, Chris Stapleton, Ray Wylie Hubbard and Willie’s sons Lukas Nelson and Micah Nelson, and their respective bands.

Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard Trade Hits in Texas

"I got the idea from Woodstock about how music could bring people from different places together," the 81-year-old says in a statement. "I had just moved to Austin and had come to realize what a great music center it was and could be. I thought it would be a nice idea to this year have it back in Austin."

Tickets for the Fourth of July Picnic, which will take place on two stages at the Austin360 Amphitheater, go on sale Sunday, April 10th, with prices ranging from $35 to $75.

In 2014, Dierks Bentley, Charley Pride, Ryan Bingham and David Allan Coe (who will perform again this year) were among the acts at the annual event, which was held at the Fort Worth Stockyards. The lineup for the first picnic, in 1973, included Nelson and two of his future bandmates in the Highwaymen, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson, along with Tom T. Hall, John Prine and Doug Sahm.

Haggard, who last performed at the Picnic in 2003, when it was staged in Spicewood, Texas, was in New Braunfels with Nelson on Saturday night for the last of a trio of co-headlining shows. Over three nights, the two Country Music Hall of Famers performed with their bands and also traded tunes with each other. The legendary pair will release their fourth duets album, Django & Jimmie, later this year. 

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Need more proof that Dolly Parton’s heart is as big as her hair? Find out the story about the country legend’s sweet duet with a young fan who has Down Syndrome….

After hearing about Gage Blackwell’s wish to meet his idol, one of Dolly’s business associates arranged a meeting between the two at a restaurant in her Dollywood theme park in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Not only did his idol tell Blackwell that she reminded him of a certain dear old friend of hers, they sang  a medley of her biggest hits (“Islands In The Stream,” “Jolene,” “9 to 5,”) together! 

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Gage’s mother, Lynnae told TODAY.com that she was overwhelmed by the amount of love Dolly showed to her son, adding, ”as a mother, that was just an amazing moment, to see how happy she made him.” 

Happy indeed! Gage summed up his reaction to the amazing day with this Facebook post.

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Dwight Yoakam is well-known for not only his musical prowess (his latest album, Second Hand Heart, hits the streets April 14) but for his wide acting range, as evidenced by his equally successful film career. It may come as a surprise, however, that the talented singer/actor has a supreme sense of humor—even if he’s shown a dozen sides on screen. 

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Ram Country host Cornelia Rowe was able to get plenty of jokes out of Yoakam when he visited the studio recently for the Hot Country Minute — in which he kept everyone rolling with his jokes and wry takes on life. Here, he dishes on what he did with his first big paycheck, gives fashion advice for Billy Bob Thornton, and more.

Be sure to check out our full interview with Yoakam, who also blew us out of the water with stellar performances from his new set

(Photo by Neil H Kitson/Redferns via Getty Images)

by Chris Willman

LBT. LGBT. It’s not so hard to tell the difference. Or is it? And if it is, what of it?

These are the kinds of questions that come up in the wake of Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush” having kicked off the Great Country Homophobia Scare of 2015. Theirs is the first real country radio-related controversy to cross over and become a mainstream news media flashpoint since the Dixie Chicks got the boot from a dozen years ago. But in this case, the firestorm is turning out to be more of a glorified brush fire, and Little Big Town may yet get a belated hit song out of the brouhaha instead of a swift kick out the door.

So what lessons are there to be drawn here about media controversies (real or manufactured), heartland homophobia (perceived or actual), and the arguable fluidity of the definition of “crush”? And if the kerfuffle over “Girl Crush” is settling down, is it because we’re Past All That, or because country fans have been successfully assured that they can hold onto any biases they may hold and still love the tune?

As Chely Wright puts it: “Who knows if homophobia has anything to do with why ‘Girl Crush’ is stalling. I don’t know. But too many folks are hung up on defending the true meaning of the song rather than being outraged at the embarrassing mandate of so many country music radio listeners.”

As you may have heard, “Girl Crush” is not actually about a girl crush — which, in the common parlance, has always been understood to mean one straight gal having a platonic fixation on another. Rather, it’s a jealousy ballad in which the female singer doesn’t want to be with the object of the lyric but actually wants to be her, because she wishes she had Jessie’s guy, or words to that effect. The all-star songwriting team of Hillary Lindsey, Lori McKenna, and Liz Rose pause to indulge in a provocative line or two (“I want to taste her lips, yeah, ‘cause they taste like you”), but in essence it’s as straight as anything Aaron Tippin ever recorded.

Yet, as the song performed modestly on the charts, there were whisperings that some listeners thought it was “I Kissed a Girl,” country redux, and that programmers were squashing it as a result. That suspicion seemed to be confirmed when an anonymous guest blogger claiming to be a Texas music director wrote a column for the website For the Country Record saying his station had been forced to lower “Girl Crush” from medium to low rotation because of complaints. “To my surprise,” he wrote, “after explaining the song to more than a handful of people, every one of them responded with basically the same thing (paraphrased): ‘You are just promoting the gay agenda on your station and I am changing the channel and never listening to you ever again!!’… I can understand the conservative viewpoint. I can understand the feeling of ‘Oh no they didn’t!!’ for the first couple lines of the song. What I don’t understand is not listening to the whole song and making a valid argument for your disapproval.”

(Photo by Ron Elkman /Sports Imagery/ Getty Images)

The resistance to the song was no longer strictly anonymous after the Washington Post quoted a Boise radio morning-show host as saying she got “furious” emails and phone calls and boycott threats because the song and station were “promoting the gay agenda.” Nationally syndicated radio host Bobby Bones tweeted out a message he’d gotten in response to his defense of the tune, with listener Jerry Aldini writing in: “You recently said that even if ‘Girl Crush’ was a song about lesbians it shouldn’t matter. It very much matters and you better get back in touch with the values and the people who listen to your show and buy country music… As the country slowly slides into hell, don’t give it another push.” Bones had LBT on his show and asked: “Is it frustrating to you that here is your song — that is one of the Top 10 sellers for weeks and weeks and weeks — and people on the radio are still afraid to play it because they think it’s a ‘lesbian song?’ It would drive me insane!”

A wider frenzy broke out Thursday. “Country music fans are OUTRAGED, but Little Big Town aren’t backing down,” trumpeted Entertainment Tonight. The headline in the Los Angeles Times Friday: “Little Big Town’s ‘Girl Crush’ rankles puritanical country radio.”

Then came the backlash to the backlash to the backlash. On Twitter, USA Today’s country music writer, Brian Mansfield, wrote that he was “beginning to think the legs this story has have more to do with people wanting to think country listeners are homophobic.” In response to the suggestion that “Girl Crush” was moving slowly on the charts because of programmer paranoia about listener reaction, Mansfield pointed to a history of Little Big Town ballads like “Sober” that fared far less well at radio than smashes like the No. 1 “Pontoon” and No. 2 “Day Drinking”: “They do high-risk, high-reward singles. Sometimes, they pay off big. Sometimes, they stall low.”

Billboard also circled the wagon around country radio’s reputation, with a Friday afternoon headline declaring the controversy over the “lesbian theme” was “mostly fabricated.” The industry trade quoted a program director from Bakersfield as saying, “Our research is showing our listeners want this song. We have the occasional caller that is pissed about it playing. The morning guys, Steve & Geoff, will put that call on the air and explain to them it is not a lesbian song, and what it is about, in a quick 30-, 45 second call that is pretty damn entertaining.”

But is doing a full-court press to convince country fans that “Girl Crush” has been vetted as 100 percent heterosexual a case of winning the battle and losing the war? Little Big Town’s label, Capitol Nashville, produced a commercial in which the band explains the content — not wholly unthinkable in a format that loves story-songs, but a pretty transparent move to head off wayward fantasies of lesbian agendas, in this instance. Even singer Karen Fairchild told Bones, “But what if it were [about] same-sex attraction?” — before adding, “It’s just a greater issue of listening to a song for what it is.” And thus a very understandable dance continues: But why should it matter if it were a gay-themed song? But don’t worry, it’s not!

Meanwhile, late Friday afternoon, For the Country Record reacted to Billboard's reaction to the anonymous commentary that set everything off. Billboard “implied our story was fabricated,” the site wrote. “I kept the OP’s anonymity because I… didn’t want his job to be threatened. But now our site’s credibility is being threatened… His name is Lee France. He is the music director for WACO 100 FM and KAGG-FM in Texas. Both are iHeartMedia stations.”

Nothing here leads to a simplistic conclusion. “Girl Crush” currently sits at No. 1 on the iTunes country chart. A result of the controversy? A little bit, but it was already hovering in the No. 4-5 range before the story blew up. The song also sits at a mere No. 32 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart.

An inexcusable disparity? Probably, but it’s not the first time a song blew up in digital track sales and was the talk of the country nation while radio took a cautionary approach. Think of, for example, Kacey Musgrave’s “Follow Your Arrow,” which… oh, yeah… mentions same-sex attraction.

Chely Wright — who came out five years ago, and is still the only female country hitmaker to do so (although she was recently joined on the male side by Ty Herndon) — gave Yahoo her perspective on the flap.

"If we’re talking about real analysis and a barometer that measures how well country music is doing in terms of the equality moment or its level of homophobia, I’d say this: It’s well-established and recognized that our nation is just about evenly divided on LGBT issues — 50/50, legislatively, and the ‘hearts and minds’ facet too," Wright says. "So why anyone would assume that country music fans would fare better, statistically, than the rest of America is sort of naive to me, don’t you think? Our industry plays to its base, just like politicians play to their base. It’s business. Country music is known to have a largely conservative audience. Music Row knows it and country radio knows it. There are progressive folks in our industry and they know who they are. Our country has quite a ways to go in terms of LGBT equality… and so does our country music."

As for “Girl Crush,” you can consider it a thoroughly un-socially conscious jealousy song, or an accidental political barometer. It’s a song that, dare we say it, swings both ways.

She may now be one of the biggest – if not THE biggest – pop star in music these days, but good ole’ Taylor Swift hasn’t forgotten her country roots. 

Last night in Nashville, she made a surprise appearance at Kenny Chesney’s tour kick-off concert! As you can see here in this video posted on YouTube, Taylor joined Kenny on stage for his song ‘Big Star’ and even pulled up a young fan to join them. 

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Also making cameos at the show? Grace Potter and Uncle Kracker, among others. 

But one of the most buzzed-about guests at the gig? DJ Calvin Harris, who’s been photographed this week hanging around Nashville with Taylor. Fans were posting photos of the two as they watched Kenny’s show together from the audience. 

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Perhaps he’ll accompany her next month to the 50th annual Academy of Country Music awards in Dallas? Taylor is being honored along with Garth Brooks, Miranda Lambert, George Strait, Reba McEntire, Brooks and Dunn AND Kenny Chesney with the 50thAnniversary Milestone Award for their achievements in advancing country music. 

So like we said before, she may be a global pop superstar now – but she’ll always have a special place in Nashville and country music.

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Jason Merritt/Getty Images for dcp

by Margaret Littman

One-half of what is arguably the most powerful couple in country music is all about that ranch. When you are the mega-power couple that Miranda Lambert and hubby Blake Shelton are, you need some time away from the madding crowds, be they in Nashville or elsewhere. For native Texan Lambert, that’s meant digging deep roots in Tishomingo, Oklahoma, the town where she and her “The Voice” coach husband live. 

"The first thing I did when I started being successful in music was buy my own farm," she told Food and Wine magazine.

Tishomingo, which had a population of just more than 3,000 people at the last census, has become the heart of Lambert’s ranch lifestyle. She told Cowboys and Indians magazine about her 700-acre working ranch – near Shelton’s own 1,200-acre ranch – where she can shed her red carpet clothes and pull on her riding boots. The prides of her ranch are her horses, chickens, pigs and the authenticity of real farm life. “You’d find me in mud-splattered jeans. And mud all over my boots,” she told Cowboys and Indians. “’Cause it’s a real farm.”

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Lambert has also had more than a few stray dogs on her ranch. So many, in fact, that in December 2014 her MuttNation Foundation opened the five-acre Redemption Ranch, a low-kill animal shelter. MuttNation Foundation is an animal rescue advocacy organization founded by Lambert and her mom in 2007. Per Rolling Stone Country, Redemption Ranch replaced the government-run shelter that used to serve Tishomingo (Lambert rents the land and solicited donations from Pedigree and others to improve the facility). 

Lambert has spread her ranch roots to the rest of the town as well. The “Platinum” singer also has a bed-and-breakfast called Ladysmith and a store called The Pink Pistol, which is housed in a former pharmacy. (Pink is widely reported as Lambert’s favorite color – and some of the walls at Redemption Ranch are even painted that color.)

And while other Grammy-winners may tout their celebrity chefs, Lambert has ranch-style culinary traditions. “Blake taught me how to bow-hunt when we first started dating,” she told People. “Our Thanksgiving tradition is to shoot our own wild turkey and fry it.”

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by Margaret Littman

As you’d expect from a guy whose biggest hit is called “Beachin’” and also sings about “Endless Summer” and being “Barefoot,” Jake Owen loves the sand between his toes.

Owen may be a Nashville star now, but he hails from Vero Beach, Florida, and grew up on a surfboard. His love of the beach and catching a wave are strong themes in his lyrics. Even as he experiments with new directions in his music and works to be acknowledged for more than a good party song, he’s holding tight to his ability to hang 10.

"I’m not downplaying that,” Owen told Rolling Stone Country. “I’ve made a good living and a good career out of doing songs like "Barefoot Blue Jean Night." 

In fact, Owen credits his music career to an epiphany he had after a wakeboarding accident left his shoulder in a sling and his dreams of being on the Florida State University golf team dashed.

"This scar that I have on my shoulder reminds me about the one dark time in my life,” he says on his website. "It took that accident to make me realize that I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing. What I was supposed to be doing was something that fulfilled me. Music.”

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Nashville has plenty of water, but not a lot of surf, so Owen can now been seen embracing inland boating culture. In the video for “Days of Gold” he drives a 2014 Malibu Wakesetter 247 LSV and sings about “Southern summer.” He told CMT Radio that he’s already gotten his 2-year-old daughter Pearl in on the action.

“She’s currently learning to wakesurf,” Owen told CMT Radio. “She’s learning with me right now. She has her own little lifejacket. She loves it. I’m really cool right now as far as being the dad that can allow her to water ski.”

Just when you think things can’t get better for Luke Bryan – he goes and scores another home run.

Or at least, in this case, keeps adding to his batting average.The country star joined the Chicago White Sox this week for Spring training and stepped into the batting cage, as can be seen from a video that the team posted on social media.

Bryan joked to reporters that he realized back in 10th grade he was better suited to handle a guitar over a baseball bat – but if he really wants some pointers, he can get them from his long-time good friend, newly-minted White Sox player Adam LaRoche.

Or even team pitcher John Danks, who is married to Luke’s fellow country music singer – and Miranda Lambert’s BFF – Ashley Monroe!

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If Bryan is too intimidated by the pros, he could always ask his friend Jason Aldean for some practice, who turned down a baseball scholarship in order to pursue music and likely knows a thing or two about the sport’s technique.

White Sox manager Robin Ventura said Luke is always welcome to sing the national anthem at a game.

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Photo: Charles Sykes/AP

NEW YORK (AP) — Even though Taylor Swift has officially gone pop, she still has a special place with the Academy of Country Music, which will be giving her and superstars like Kenny Chesney, George Strait, Miranda Lambert and Garth Brooks a special honor at next month’s ACM Awards.

The Academy is handing out a 50th Anniversary Milestone Award to celebrate seven of their biggest winners, also including Reba McEntire and Brooks & Dunn. The honorees will be given a trophy specially designed by jeweler David Yurman, complete with black diamonds, sterling silver and white gold.

Garth Brooks has gotten the most ACM Entertainer of the Year trophies with six; Chesney has four and also got the first fan-voted Entertainer of the Year. Lambert has 18 ACM Awards, making her the most awarded solo female artist; McEntire has the most female vocalist of the year trophies with seven; Strait has won 21 ACMs over four consecutive decades; Swift was the youngest Entertainer of the Year winner at 21; and Brooks & Dunn have the most ACMs in total with 27.

The Milestone Awards will be presented April 19 at the 50th annual ACMs, to be held at AT&T Stadium outside of Dallas and broadcast live on CBS. 

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by Sophie Schillaci/ET Online

Florida Georgia Line is burning up the Las Vegas desert in their new music video, “Sippin’ on Fire.”

"It’s a hot spot," Brian Kelley tells ET. "The song’s hot, so the video needs to match that." 

WATCH: Beer Bongs and Belly Flops on FGL’s Cruise

FGL burst into the spotlight back in 2012 with “Cruise,” which remains the top-selling country music digital single of all time. “Sippin’ on Fire” is the third single off the boys’ sophomore album Anything Goes, which debuted atop the Billboard 200 albums chart late last year. Kelley and Tyler Hubbard tell ET that they’re “already working on record three” and open up about their recipe for success.

"There’s a lot of great recipes for a great country song, and definitely whiskey is part of that," Kelley says with a laugh. Adds Hubbard, "I think there’s more depth to our music than whiskey, beer, pretty women and big trucks, you know. I mean, that’s part of our lifestyle. We have two beautiful girls in our life and we like to drink and have a good time, and we both have jacked up trucks, so we’re gonna sing about that. But at the same time, our music is deeper than that."

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Speaking of “beautiful girls,” Kelley recently celebrated his first wedding anniversary with wife Brittney Cole and Hubbard is set to wed longtime girlfriend Hayley Stommel this summer.

WATCH: How Jason Aldean Snagged This Sexy FGL Song

"I couldn’t be more excited, it’s gonna be awesome," Hubbard gushed of his upcoming nuptials.

"They’re a great couple, they’re perfect," Kelley adds. "I’m excited about the wedding — pumped! I’ve actually deemed myself the wedding planner, the best man, kinda everything. I’m running the ship here for the wedding," he says with a laugh.

That includes the bachelor party.

"We’re gonna actually kick it at Tyler’s farm," Kelley says. "We’re gonna have all the groomsmen up and I think the recipe for that would be dirt bikes, some whiskey, some cigars, and probably a lot of fires, man. It’s gonna be a good time."

Looks like they’re off to a good start: there’s plenty of fire in their full-length music video, debuting Wednesday on Vevo.


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On a recent stop by the RAM studios, Dwight Yoakam pulled out a guitar and showed off some blazing new tracks from his upcoming new studio album, Second Hand Heart, which hits the streets early next month. 


Although Yoakam’s been rocking Nashville for three decades strong, and has explored myriad styles over those years, his latest set is drawing comparisons to his 1986 debut, Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. Yoakam himself encouraged this line of thinking by treating us to a rendition of a song from that very album, “Miner’s Prayer.” 

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The song is a special composition about Yoakam’s grandfather, who was a Kentucky coal miner. The rare look back to this gem was inspired when, according to Yoakam, a fellow artist (whom he declined to name) expressed interest in the song recently. 

Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member and Grammy nominee Gretchen Peters is one of those can-do-it-all artists; in addition to winning praise from fellow songwriters such as Brandy Clark, the singer has won scores of chart and critical acclaim in the fields of country, pop, and Americana.

Her latest release, Blackbirds, came out last month and features roots luminaries including Jason Isbell and Suzy Bogguss. Yahoo Music is excited to debut the video for the title track for fans to enjoy.

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Additionally, Peters — who writes movingly of such rare subjects such as female aging — has had her songs picked up by artists including Etta James, Bonnie Raitt, the Neville Brothers, Patty Loveless, George Strait, Bryan Adams, Faith Hill and Martina McBride.

For more information on Blackbirds and to keep up with Peters’s schedule, check here.

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by Jessica Roy/ET Online

It’s official: Jason Aldean is off the market!

The country singer and his 26-year-old fiancee Brittany Kerr confirmed to Us Weekly that they got hitched in Mexico on Saturday.

"This is the best day ever — I’ve got my girl here, my friends, my family — it’s the best day ever!" Aldean said in a statement. He RT’d the Us Weekly announcement from his official Twitter account.

The two got engaged in September 2014 after 2 years of dating. Kerr is a former American Idol contestant. Aldean is a country star with five platinum albums and a slew of hit songs on the Hot Country charts.

Their relationship had a bit of a rocky start: They were photographed getting close and personal at a bar in Hollywood in 2012 — while Aldean was still married to his first wife, high school sweetheart Jessica Ussery. They filed for divorce in April 2013, and Aldean and Kerr announced they were officially dating in March 2014.

NEWS: Jason Aldean Tells Relationship Haters to ‘Get Over It’

Several friends and family members were on hand to watch the couple exchange vows, including Duck Dynasty's Willie Robertson, with whom Aldean co-owns a hunting business. Aldean's two daughters from his first marriage, Keeley, 12, and Kendyl, 7, were also in attendance.

Since his debut album Montalvo went straight to the top of the country charts in November, Sam Hunt has become the breakout star of the genre.

The former football player-turned-country artist already has a platinum single, “Leave The Night On,” and has become the talk of Music City for his unique mix of ’90s R&B-infused country music.

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Now, he’s making headlines about the new music video for his song “Take Your Time.” The track itself is a love song, but the video veers into what director Tim Mattia calls “darker, grittier” territory: It features a storyline about domestic violence. In the video, Hunt helps a woman and her child flee an abusive partner.

Hunt’s fellow country artists like Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott and singer Mickey Guyton have praised the video, and music critics are applauding Hunt for not only pushing the envelope, but also bringing country music into the current national dialogue about domestic violence.

It shows that the genre has come a long way since 1991, when Garth Brooks addressed the same subject in his video for the song “The Thunder Rolls.” The clip was banned by CMT - but ultimately, won the CMA trophy for Video of the Year.

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