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The World's Highest-Paid Country Music Stars Of 2017

Forbes logo Forbes 7/11/2017 Zack O'Malley Greenburg, Forbes Staff
Garth Brooks accepts the award for entertainer of the year at the 50th annual CMA Awards at the Bridgestone Arena on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP) © The Associated Press Garth Brooks accepts the award for entertainer of the year at the 50th annual CMA Awards at the Bridgestone Arena on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

Garth Brooks played six shows in eight days this winter in Edmonton, Canada. In April, he performed four consecutive concerts at the United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock, Texas. Last month brought back-to-back-to-back nights in the Rimrock Auto Arena in Billings, Montana. And in each city, Brooks believes there were a handful of fans who came to every gig.

“Those are what you build the whole show around,” he recently told FORBES. “That’s the person I want to walk out of here every night going, ‘You know what, they didn’t do that song [last] night.’”

This philosophy has proven to be a lucrative one: Brooks tops our list of highest-paid country music stars, with $60 million in pretax pay, most of it coming on the road. The King of Country’s comeback tour began in 2014 and is still going strong after 300 dates. Brooks often plays multiple arena shows in a single day—part of the reason there’s a steep drop between the first and second spot in our rankings.

Coming in at No. 2 is Kenny Chesney ($42.5 million). The leader of the No Shoes Nation continues to fill up stadiums around the U.S. while cashing in on deals with brands from Apple to Corona, as well as his own rum, Blue Chair Bay. Third-ranked Luke Bryan ($42 million) makes the bulk of his bucks on the road, but also pads his coffers with Outdoor Channel reality show Buck Commander, named after the company he co-owns with Willie Robertson of Duck Dynasty.

Perhaps the most surprising name on the list is No. 4 Dolly Parton ($37 million). The septuagenarian star grossed a healthy six figures per city across 63 dates during our scoring period; she also cashes in on publishing paychecks and her Dollywood theme park. Rounding out the top five are Toby Keith and Florida Georgia Line (tied at $34.5 million).

Both acts have crossed over into the mainstream—Keith has been doing it since the turn of the Millennium with songs like the pop country hit “How Do You Like Me Now.” Florida Georgia Line is taking that approach to new levels on its most recent album, Dig Your Roots, which features acts from Ziggy Marley to the Backstreet Boys.

Florida Georgia Line: Tyler Hubbard (left) and Brian Kelley are blurring genre boundaries--and making millions in the process. © Florida Georgia Line: Tyler Hubbard (left) and Brian Kelley are blurring genre boundaries–and making... Florida Georgia Line: Tyler Hubbard (left) and Brian Kelley are blurring genre boundaries--and making millions in the process.

“It’s hard to put a name on the sound,” explained Brian Kelley, one half of the Florida Georgia Line along with bandmate Tyler Hubbard, in a prescient interview with FORBES several years ago. “I think country is more of a lifestyle … the music’s always going to evolve, the stories are always going to evolve.”

In order to create our list of the world’s highest-paid country music acts, we evaluate touring numbers from Pollstar and record sales data from Nielsen while performing independent research on outside business ventures and endorsement deals. Our estimates represent pretax income from June 1, 2016 through June 1, 2017; fees for managers, agents and lawyers are not deducted.

All in all, earnings are down a tick across the top ten acts in the genre—from $393 million last year to $366 million this year—though that difference can be attributed to Chesney, Bryan and Jason Aldean playing fewer shows in our scoring period this year than last. But income is more evenly distributed of late: in 2016, only five acts topped the $30 million mark; this year, nine did.

Brooks, for one, should be a lock to repeat the feat next year. His tour is slated to stretch at least through the summer, and perhaps longer. Might he and his wife, the singer Trisha Yearwood (the tour’s undercard), stay on the road another year?

“We’re gonna see,” Brooks told FORBES. “I hate admitting this, but this tour took a lot more out of me than I thought it would.”

It may have taken a lot out of Brooks, but it certainly put quite a bit back into his bank account.

Additional reporting by Rebecca Lerner.

Related slideshow: Check out the top 10 highest-paid country-music performers (via USA Today)  Garth Brooks, 55, took the lead as the number one highest paid country music star ($60 million) on 'Forbes' list released Tuesday. Check out who else scored a spot. 'Forbes' highest-paid country music stars list


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