Music award shows can go either way – they can be an exciting display of accolades and performances from the best in the business or they can be a three-hour snooze fest that makes the viewer glad they have a fast forward function. For example, while I enjoy watching the Grammys, sometimes the variety of genres makes the show feel like its disjointed while other times the mix of pop, rap, country, blues, etc. makes for a captivating presentation of today’s music business.
That being said, the Country Music Association awards are different because everyone in attendance either plays country music or is a fan – and it shows. People are genuinely excited to be there and the sense of camaraderie is undeniable. Also, the powers that be have found two effective hosts in Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood. They are fun, quirky, approachable, and talented – a formula that those in charge have wisely chosen not to mess with in the last decade. Last night, the CMAs once again demonstrated how to put on a successful show. Here are the highlights:
- In an effort to pay tribute to the lives lost in the tragic Las Vegas shooting, the show began with Eric Church playing the first few bars of “Amazing Grace.” What I thought was going to be a beautifully somber tribute quickly transitioned into an uplifting country version of “Hold My Hand.” Whether you are a Hootie and the Blowfish fan or not, this song hit home. Featuring Darius Rucker, and seemingly everyone else in the country music business, it was exciting to see an awards show start with an ensemble song rather than saving it for the end. Side note: last night’s version of that song needs to be released on iTunes as soon as possible.
- It was mentioned several times that Paisley and Underwood have been hosting for ten years which is probably some kind of record. The two of them bring the humor and the glamor and whimsically treat each award show like their annual variety show. People love the duo because they are topical, clever, and their wardrobe changes are unparalleled i.e. Underwood’s Cher-worthy sparkles and Paisley’s iridescent camo jacket.
- Parodying Underwood’s song by turning it into “Before He Tweets” was perfection – especially since they mocked Trump after they were explicitly told not to by the CMA committee. Also, the two of them making fun of Church for wearing sunglasses inside, while they were wearing eclipse glasses and singing a satire of “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” was comedic brilliance.
- Watching Garth Brooks perform was a clear reminder of why he is one of the best-selling artists of all time. He is quite the showman.
- Chris Stapleton won Album of the Year and, humble as always, thanked his wife and the fans. He is the epitome of a class act.
- So interesting to learn that Jason Ritter’s family played a role in country music history; especially his grandfather’s role in the Country Music Hall of Fame.
- While I’m not exactly sure why Pink was at this event, I enjoyed her stripped-down, string-accompanied version of her new song “Barbies.”
- Watching Brothers Osborne win Vocal Duo of the Year was also exciting. I was introduced to them earlier this year when they opened for Chris Stapleton at Red Rocks.
- Speaking of Stapleton – his performance of “Broken Halos” was a highlight as it was one of the tracks he played at said Red Rocks show. He even used a similar stage set.
- It was so weird hearing Taylor Swift’s name announced as the winner of Song of the Year and then realizing Little Big Town accepted the award because they recorded the song. When the band said “thank you Taylor, wherever you are” it made it sound like they were embarrassed to receive the award.
- I love Underwood’s voice but her poufy white, diamond encrusted dress was too much. Just way too much. She does know how to sing a tribute but I wish she had sung “I Won’t Back Down.” It would have been extremely appropriate and I’m confident that her version would have garnered one hell of a standing ovation.
- Church’s performance of “Chattanooga Lucy” was awesome – a little bayou, a little rock and roll, and completely unexpected.
- Stapleton won Male Vocalist of the Year – yes! As always, he showed grace and humility as he pointed out that every other male singer nominated in the category had something to do with him winning the award.
- Congratulations to Alan Jackson for his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. His performance was on point and so was his fringe jacket.
- Exciting that Garth Brooks won Entertainer of the Year. He looked and sounded genuinely thrilled to receive the award. Another class act.
One of the most fun (and noticeable) aspects of the CMAs is that everyone knows everyone else’s songs and they always sing along to the performances. You won’t see that kind of support at the Grammys, the American Music Awards, or the Billboard Awards, and definitely not at the MTV Awards. Although this is a small detail, I think it speaks to the country music community’s growing appeal and popularity – and the fact that the CMAs have become my favorite awards show.