03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Learning To Love My Country: A Playlist to Prepare Rock Newbies Watching the CMA Awards

I grew up in Northern New Jersey, which last time I looked is slightly north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Yet thanks to my late great dad -- an early and vocal proponent of Jewgrass -- my first ever concert was seeing the still brilliant Nitty Gritty Dirt Band at Carnegie Hall. Thanks to Mom and Dad, there were also a few Johnny Cash 8-tracks laying around our house for me to discover and treasure alongside those of the Beatles and Neil Diamond. So I suppose I come by my lifelong love of country music pretty naturally.

For the past seven years, I've spent a few weeks a year in Nashville writing the script for the CMA Awards, also known for good reason as Country Music's Biggest Night. And while I hate being away from home so long, I love Nashville and its music community with all my heart. Nashville is my kind of town because in the end, my life has been shaped and graced by songs. And Nashville is all about songs -- and the people who sing them, write them and play on them.

This year I had time to attend and stand onstage during the Grand Ole Opry show, thanks to Vince Gill, who performed along with Keith Urban and too many other great artists to mention. And I got a personal tour of the amazing Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum by its founder Joe Chambers. The place is a glorious labor of love that any true music fan should visit - and soon.

As I write these words, I am watching rehearsals, and making last minute changes to the script for our fantastic and lovely hosts, Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood, and our presenters. I'm sitting here thinking about other people like me who grew up in rock territory, but might be tempted to tune in due to the fact that Taylor Swift -- probably the biggest star in music right now -- is opening up our show.

So do yourself a favor, and check out this playlist to get a better sense of the surprisingly wide world of country music today. No, it's not your mother's and father's country, but that's okay. Times change, and so too should music. Country music radio today goes from Taylor Swift to Jamey Johnson, from Zac Brown Band to Sugarland -- and I'm right at home with that kind of range.

"Welcome To The Future" - Brad Paisley
"In Color" - Jamey Johnson
"I Run To You" - Lady Antebellum
"Toes" - Zac Brown Band
"Footsteps Of Our Father" - Pat Green
"White Liar" - Miranda Lambert
"Joey" - Sugarland
"She's Country" - Jason Aldean
"Sooner Or Later" - Michelle Branch
"Standing Right In Front Of You" - Keith Urban
"Cowboy Casanova" - Carrie Underwood
"You Had To Be There" - Tim McGraw
""Cheater, Cheater" - Jory + Rory
"Solitary Thinkin'" - Lee Ann Womack
"White Horse" - Taylor Swift

So please tune in to see Taylor Swift kick off the show Wednesday night, then kick back relax a while and see Brad and Carrie, Jamey Johnson sing with Kid Rock and Kenny Chesney sing with Dave Matthews and Vince Gill sing with Daughtry. Bless all of your liberal, Huffington Post hearts, I think you'll have a good time.

While we're talking, what country songs today speak to you?

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