(Country Music Association)
The big winner at last night’s Country Music Association Awards show in Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena was American Idol, what with co-host and former AI winner Carrie Underwood getting her fifth CMA Female Vocalist award, a “Vote Your Favorite American Idol CMA Contest Finalist” promotion run throughout the broadcast, and “American Idol star” Lionel Richie presenting Entertainer of the Year award.
Dancing With the Stars did put up a late challenge, however, with CMA award-winning air personality Bobby Bones and DWTS partner Sharna Burgess also presenting—though Bones is now joining AI as “in-house mentor.”
Alcohol did well last night, too, with Dan + Shay performing their big hit “Tequila,” Jason Aldean and Miranda Lambert singing their “Drowns the Whiskey,” and Crown Royal Canadian whiskey getting a lot of play with its Thomas Rhett-fronted “Purple Bag Project” of sending out trademark purple Crown Royal fabric bags filled with useful items to troops overseas.
Musically, meanwhile, Rhett’s performance of “Life Changes” became a big production deal with the assistance of nearby Ravenwood High School’s marching band, which essentially marched around in circles for no apparent reason.
Kelsea Ballerini’s “Miss You More” likewise made little sense in surrounding her with kids writhing around on chairs before circling her and lifting her up. So the lackluster but ironically right-on “A Star is Bored” bit from Underwood and perpetual hosting partner Brad Paisley made perfect sense through the first half, at least, of the bloated three-hour affair.
Paisley didn’t help matters by greeting The Nutcracker and the Four Realms actress/presenter Mackenzie Foy with painfully predictable jokes, and by serving hot chicken to some of the stars in the front while the accompanying polka music bed sounded better than anything heard thus far. But some of the later performances—Paisley’s “Bucked Off,” Kacey Musgraves’ “Slow Burn,” Dierks Bentley & Brothers Osborne’s “Burning Man” and Pistol Annies’ “Got My Name Changed Back” were quite good.
Midland’s version of Jerry Reed’s Smokey and the Bandit theme “East Bound and Down” was noteworthy as a tribute to both the late Reed and recently deceased Burt Reynolds. But one of the night’s best performances was easily the tribute to newly-inducted Country Music Hall of Famer Ricky Skaggs, who was accompanied by his bluegrass band Kentucky Thunder on “Black Eyed Susie,” with Keith Urban joining on Skaggs’ 1983 hit “Highway 40 Blues,” and Paisley and Marty Stuart (who should be in the Hall himself) coming out for his 1985 chart-topper “Country Boy.”
Another multi-star turn—featuring Stewart, Mavis Staples, Maren Morris and Chris and Morgane Stapleton blending Chris Stapleton’s “Friendship” and the Staples Singers’ “I’ll Take You There” fared less well--the time being better spent had it been turned over to a proper tribute to new Hall of Fame inductee Dottie West, instead of just a snippet of the late West’s “A Lesson in Leavin’” from Lauren Alaina.
But the opening all-star take on Luke Bryan’s hit “What Makes You Country,” with Ashley McBryde, Luke Combs, Chris Janson, Cole Swindell, Lindsay Ell and Jon Pardi, was telling: Like other songs that pop up periodically over the years (among the most notable, 2001’s Song of the Year “Murder on Music Row,” written by Larry Cordle and Larry Shell and made famous by George Strait and Alan Jackson), it essentially addresses what constitutes not only traditional country music but the traditional country music audience.
Sadly, a new tradition seems to have taken hold at the CMA Awards, as for the second straight year a massacre of young country music fans was acknowledged upfront, this time by Garth Brooks. Brooks later returned with a solo acoustic rendering of “Stronger Than Me,” that almost by default was one of the night’s best moments.