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Mainstream and Country Join Hands, Sing 'God Bless America'

To that end, it's made him a huge deal in mainstream circles. As the 10th largest touring act of 2013, Chesney and company took in $90 million, drew nearly 1.2 million fans and sold out 31 of 44 shows. Granted, Beyonce and Rihanna did better -- as did long-dormant Depeche Mode -- but he outdrew One Direction, Justin Bieber and Fleetwood Mac in fewer gigs.

Since any good thing is worth repeating, country acts like Jason Aldean (No. 21 with $47.8 million in box office receipts last year) and Luke Bryan (No. 24, $45.5 million) have followed in Chesney's footsteps and found success with what's become known as "bro country." In fact, Bryan's album Crash My Party was the No. 8 best-selling album of any kind in 2013, according to Nielsen, with only fellow bro-country act Florida Georgia Line selling more country albums by taking Here's To The Good Times to No. 6 on the year.

Sensing a theme here? It's not exactly new ground -- Toby Keith settled any Bush-era backlash with party anthems like Red Solo Cup and I Love This Bar while Alan Jackson brought in Buffett himself for It's 5 O'Clock Somewhere -- but it's made country palatable to a broader audience. It's also received a huge hand from rock music, which seems to be doing its best to alienate that same crowd.

As we noted earlier, country isn't taking over just yet. It's growing at the same rate as electronic dance music and with only 15% of the radio listening audience, according to Nielsen, it isn't quite at pop or rock levels. However, we'll note that Chesney (48), Bryan (37) and Aldean (37) are significantly younger than rockers including Bruce Springsteen (64), Mick Jagger (70), Keith Richards (70), Jon Bon Jovi (52), Roger Waters (70), Madonna (55) and Fleetwood Mac (with an entire lineup 64 and older).

Playing to the Middle

Rock made the decision to abandon the mainstream and go diving into its niches sometime around Napster, effectively abdicating its long-held pop music throne. As a result, it's seen its share of digital music sales dwindle 12.2% to 22.6% of all music sold in 2013. Even pop saw sales drop more than 15% and its share of digital sales drop to about 20% of the total. Country's share, meanwhile, is at 12.6%, but rising.

You know who that probably surprises least? Last year's top-grossing touring act: Bon Jovi. That Jersey-based rock band hadn't had an album go to No. 1 in U.S. sales since New Jersey was released in 1988, but has had its last three albums accomplish that feat after releasing the country-flavored song Who Says You Can't Go Home featuring Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles in 2005. That spawned the 2007 country-rock album Lost Highway, a collaboration between Island Records and Mercury Nashville that featured guest spots from country stars LeeAnn Rimes and Big and Rich.

What both country and older rock and pop musicians have learned is that it's incredibly foolish to close off avenues and turn off fans when everyone can get in on the party. It's why folks who were into Hootie and The Blowfish in the '90s made a seamless transition to Darius Rucker's country career and to country festivals with him on the bill. It's why Brad Paisley could even attempt his ill-fated Accidental Racist collaboration with LL Cool J. It's why Lionel Richie's 2012 album Tuskeegee featuring his hit songs performed as duets with Chesney, Nettles, Aldean, McGraw, Rucker, Buffett, Blake Shelton, Rascal Flatts, Billy Currington, Little Big Town, Shania Twain, Kenny Rogers and Willie Nelson was his first No. 1 since 1986's Dancing On The Ceiling.

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