Is Luke Bryan the Next Garth Brooks?: Meet Country Music’s New Guard of Entertainers

Garth Brooks and Luke Bryan

Frank Micelotta/Getty;Rick Diamond/Getty

updated 03/31/2014 AT 5:25 PM ET

originally published 03/26/2014 AT 3:00 PM ET

The Academy of Country Music awards are just a banjo solo away, broadcasting on Sunday, April 6th on CBS.

This year’s show is hosted by solo stars and best buddies Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan – sorry Adam Levine, looks like you have competition. Along with steering the 2014 ACMs, both cohosts are also up for the show’s Entertainer of the Year award.

These nominations place the pair on country music’s A-list, but all Southern crooners learn from the best. Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson, George Strait and other members of the genre’s old guard were the ones to shape today’s top artists.

Before the ACMs arrive, study up on country’s greatest legends and see how 2014’s nominees and stars are stepping into their boots.

Dolly Parton and Kellie Pickler

Garth Brooks and Luke Bryan

Frank Micelotta/Getty;Rick Diamond/Getty
Nearly as famous for their over-sized personalities as much as their considerable musical talents, Dolly Parton and Kellie Pickler are both skilled at putting life’s troubles to song, while still keeping it catchy. Pickler must see the similarities, too. The American Idol alum counts Parton as one of her inspirations, and met the legend in 2007.

George Strait and Blake Shelton

These Entertainer of the Year nominees may hail from different states, but Texas’s George Strait and Oklahoma’s Blake Shelton have the same goal: Keeping Nashville close to its roots. With their pure-country personas and sexy drawls, these guys prove traditional country is hotter than ever.

Garth Brooks and Luke Bryan

Garth Brooks’s friends may be in low places, but they all turned out to fill up his sold-out stadium shows in the 1990s. Back then, Brooks’s blend of rock-powered country was unstoppable. Today, Luke Bryan has stepped into Garth’s boots, selling out arenas and stadiums with his aw-shucks charisma and bro country sound.

Willie Nelson and Eric Church

What would country music be without outlaws? Willie Nelson was breaking all the rules back in the 1970s. Now Eric Church has continued the trend – check out the lyrics to “Smoke a Little Smoke” – just swap out Nelson’s braids and bandana for Church’s signature sunglasses and Von Dutch hat.

Loretta Lynn and Miranda Lambert

Loretta Lynn’s rise from coal miner’s daughter to country music legend inspired many of today’s female musicians, including Miranda Lambert. The ladies share much in common: They both started their careers at a young age and rose to fame with no-holds barred songs about cheating husbands, crazy ex-girlfriends and the perils of love.

Patsy Cline and Carrie Underwood

Patsy Cline and Carrie Underwood are both known for their powerful pipes. And boy, do these women know about the evils of love. Between “She’s Got You” and “Before He Cheats,” their song catalog is large enough to guide us through every stage of a break up and then some.

Alabama and Zac Brown Band

Fiddles, bearded frontmen, and a new take on old-school country music took Alabama to the top of the pop and country charts in the 1980s. Nowadays, the Zac Brown Band has achieved similar success by mixing that same formula with jam band stylings. The results are chicken-fried good.

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