The video for the all-star “Forever Country” mash-up opens on a green field, panning to sun-dappled woods and a glimpse of Nashville’s Honky Tonk strip before Brad Paisley appears in a roadside café, singing the words of a classic: “Almost heaven, West Virginia…”
For Paisley, one of the 30 acts lending talent to “Forever Country,” the project was personal. “ ‘Take Me Home Country Roads’ is my state anthem,” Paisley tells PEOPLE of the John Denver tune that was blended with Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” and Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” for the new song and video celebrating this year’s 50th anniversary of the Country Music Association Awards. “It was one of the first things I learned because at any event you did in West Virginia, it works. But it works everywhere. It’s truly boundary-less.”
The video, which was shot in Nashville over three days and directed by Grammy winner Joseph Kahn, makes extensive use of CGI to play with the idea that country music can indeed reach beyond boundaries, putting Nelson beneath the Eiffel Tower and Rascal Flatts in front of London’s Houses of Parliament as they go “On the Road Again.” Reba then takes it to the Mother Church, Nashville’s famed Ryman Auditorium, turning Dolly’s heartbreak tune into a love letter to country fans.
“We wanted to bring artists together from the past and from now and do something that would be really special to them and also to everyone who loves this music,” says Shane McAnally, who produced the song, which features vocals from legends like Ronnie Milsap and Charley Pride alongside the genre’s new stars like Brett Eldredge and Kacey Musgraves. “I hope this is a great timepiece for the legacy of country music.”
“When I went in to record this, I was so nervous,” Eldredge says. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, there’s my voice next to Reba’s! There’s my voice next to Martina’s!’ It was intense. But I love the fact that I get to be a part of this family.”
The music behind the mash-up also triggered precious memories for the artists involved. “I grew up with ‘On the Road Again,’” says Carrie Underwood. “My dad used to take me out on the tractor and let me drive. I’d sit in his lap and he’d sing that as we’d drive out.”
Says Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild, “These songs are treasures. Everything it means to be a country artist are wrapped up in these three songs.”
And with 50 years of country history wrapped into the project, “I hope it brings back memories,” says LBT’s Kimberly Schlapman. “And I hope it opens up people’s eyes to country music.”