The 47th annual Country Music Association Awards were broadcast on ABC this week and, as in the past, the show was a pleasant blend of music, banter between the affable hosts Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood, as well as some awards being handed out. The CMA Awards are country music’s big night, the equivalent of the Academy Awards in Nashville. The music is usually great, the jokes take a swipe at everyone (but all in good fun… supposedly) and the awards generally go to the right winners.
Florida Georgia Line, the Bon Jovi of country music, opened the show with a version of their smash hit, “Cruise,” this time sharing the stage with their good buddy, Luke Bryan. Bryan then segued into “That’s My Kind of Night,” one of his many party anthems, to the passionate crowd of music fans and industry insiders. “Cruise” would go on to win Single of the Year, which is well deserved considering it spent 24 weeks sitting at number one on the Billboard Hot Country Songs. FGL also won for Vocal Duo of the Year. Bryan didn’t win any awards, but he did return to the stage to sing the ballad, “Drink a Beer” and pay tribute to his brother and sister, both deceased.
The CMA Awards don’t have many categories. They’re plain and simple- real country, you might say. One thing I appreciate about these awards is that they recognize radio stations for their contributions to making country music so popular. The telecast lasts three hours, which allows for a lot of music to be performed. Music was more important than the awards, as the winners were played off stage when their speeches ran too long. See, the CMA Awards really are like the Academy Awards.
Blake Shelton won twice, once as Male Performer of the Year, and also for Album of the Year. Blake has a nice voice and given the right songs, he really captures the spirit of traditional country. That said, “Boys Round Here,” the enormous hit single from his winning album, Based on a True Story, is one of the most ridiculous songs ever recorded. Thankfully, instead of performing that earworm, Shelton chose to sing his fine new single, “Mine Would Be You.”
The Shelton house had a lot to celebrate, as Miranda Lambert, Shelton’s wife, won Female Vocalist of the Year. I’m really happy about Lambert winning. She’s a real independent spirit and has one of the greatest voices in country music. Her albums celebrate the genre in all its forms. Lambert gave a hell of a performance at the show, singing her new duet with Keith Urban, “We Were Us.” Stripped of the pop sheen that the studio version of this song (which can be found on Urban’s latest), the performance by Urban and Lambert was one of the night’s highlights.
Other live highlights included Jason Aldean singing his song, “Night Train,” Brad Paisley tearing through “Mona Lisa,” and Eric Church embracing outlaw country with his blistering new single, “The Outsiders.”
Not to be outdone, Jimmy Buffet heir, Zac Brown, decided to prove that Dave Grohl can do just about anything by having the Foo Fighters frontman and former Nirvana drummer guest behind the drum kit for a rocking version of Brown’s new single, “Day of the Dead.”
Kasey Musgraves performed her great song, “Follow Your Arrow,” exposing this up and coming artist to millions of TV viewers who’ve never heard of her. Musgraves is one of several young singer-songwriters who may not be lighting up country radio, but are certainly exciting Nashville. She won the Best New Artist Award, which had to surprise more people than just me. She beat out Florida Georgia Line, who seemed destined to win that award.
The Kenny Rogers Lifetime Achievement Award segment was sweet, with Rascal Flatts, Darius Rucker and Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland singing some of Rogers’ best known songs. Was it me, or did it seem like Rogers couldn’t keep his eyes from drifting to Nettles’ breasts. Can you blame him, though, she was practically falling out of the top she was wearing.
The most sincere moment of these awards was the beautiful tribute to the late George Jones. Considered the greatest voice ever in country music, Jones passed away this year, leaving a hole in the music world. Alan Jackson and George Strait, part of the 90s country revival and now elder statesmen of the genre, delivered a respectful rendition of Jones’ classic, “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”
The least sincere moment of the night was the Pinnacle Award given to Taylor Swift. Swift certainly qualifies for the merit of this award, which is “an artist who has achieved both national and international prominence through concert performances and record sales at levels unique in country music,” but her gaping mouth surprised act came across as false and disingenuous. I may suffer the wrath of Swift fans around the world, but I’ve felt for a long time that Swift is a camera hog, always aware when she’s being filmed and goes out of her way to claim the spotlight.
I’m not going to deny that Swift writes great songs, but that she would receive this kind of career achievement award before so many deserving veteran acts, especially Rascal Flatts, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, Brad Paisley and George frickin’ Strait (aka, the stars that presented her with her award) is preposterous. I have to tell you, from the looks of disbelief on the faces of those presenters and some of the others in the audience, I don’t think I’m the only one who feels this way.
Swift did not win Entertainer of the Year. That award went to Strait, a shock to almost everyone at the awards ceremony. Sure, maybe Strait may just be recognized for his body of work, and he’s been in the press because he’s retiring from the road, but I have no problem with it. The man still delivers and is a class act.
The night ended with Darius Rucker singing his cover of “Wagon Wheel,” the Bob Dylan/Ketch Secor song originally recorded by Old Crow Medicine Show. As the crowd cheered and the former Hootie frontman sang, the network feed cut out before the song was complete.