2008 was a big year in country

Before 2009 gets too far gone, let's take a look at some highlights of 2008 in country and gospel music:


RISING STAR: What a great surprise when one of the hottest acts of 2008 came from Augusta. Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood, graduates of Lakeside High School (Class of 2000), joined up with Hillary Scott, of Nashville, Tenn. (daughter of singer Linda Davis),, to form Lady Antebellum in summer 2006.

Their debut single, Love Don't Live Here (Anymore) , hit strong in October 2007 followed by their self-titled debut CD on April 15

Before 2008 was out, they had another hit single, (I'm Just) Lookin' for a Good Time , and major awards from the Academy of Country and the Country Music Association.

They open 2009 with Grammy Award nominations.

OTHER HOT NEWCOMERS: Taylor Swift, Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Zac Brown Band, Darius Rucker, Jamey Johnson, Julianne Hough, Jack Ingram, Randy Houser, Carrie Underwood, Kellie Pickler, Bucky Covington, James Otto, Sugarland, Dailey and Vincent, Rodney Atkins.

AWARDS: Entertainer of the Year: Kenny Chesney (Academy of Country Music, Country Music Association); Best Album: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend , Miranda Lambert (ACM), Troubadour , George Strait (CMA; Best Single: Stay , Sugarland (ACM), I Saw God Today , George Strait (CMA); Best Male Vocalist: Brad Paisley (both groups); Best Female Vocalist: Carrie Underwood (both groups); Best Group: Rascal Flatts (both groups); and Best Duo: Brooks & Dunn (ACM), Sugarland (CMA).

GRAMMY WINNERS: Best Country Song: Before He Cheats , Carrie Underwood; Best Country Album: These Days , Vince Gill; Best Bluegrass Album: The Bluegrass Diaries , Jim Lauderdale; Best Southern, Country or Bluegrass Gospel Album: Salt of the Earth , Ricky Skaggs; Best Female Country Vocal Performance: Before He Cheats , Carrie Underwood; Best Male Country Vocal Performance: Stupid Boy , Keith Urban; Best Country Performance Duo or Group With Vocal: How Long , Eagles; Best Country Collaboration With Vocals: Lost Highway , Willie Nelson and Ray Price.

live and local: Thanks for the 23rd annual A Day in the Country Festival, 21st annual Lewis Family Homecoming & Bluegrass Festival, 15th annual Blind Willie McTell Bluegrass Festival and 10th annual WKXC-FM Guitar Pull, in addition to the Aiken Bluegrass Festival, Elijah Clark Bluegrass Festival, Morris Museum of Art/Imperial Theatre's Southern Soul and Song series and the new USC Aiken Etherredge Center songwriters show.

Don Rhodes has written about country music for 38 years. He can be reached at (706) 823-3214 or at don.rhodes@morris.com.