Way back in 1967, 41 years ago, the first ‘CMA Awards Banquet and Show’ was a low key affair. There was no great lead-up and no television coverage. Sonny James and Bobbie Gentry hosted the inaugural gala, Eddy Arnold was named Entertainer of the Year, and Red Foley and Jim Reeves was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. It wasn’t until 1969 that television producers started to consider that they might have an audience for this kind of event and it was the beginning of a love affair with television audiences that continues to this day. The 2007 CMA Awards last year ranked behind only the Academy Awards and Grammy Awards Shows that season. Those early television producers without a doubt made a wise decision.
With their reputation at stake so publicly, the CMA (Country Music Association) goes to great pains to assure country music fans that they have set up rigorous nominating and voting procedures for their awards. The initial nominees and subsequent winners are chosen by their peers, industry professional members of the CMA, in a three step process. Such a show of respect and admiration by their peers has made the awards highly treasured by the winners.
The line-up of stars set to perform this year in Nashville was an honor role of country music artists that included both household names and debut artists of great promise. The reigning female and male vocalists of the year, Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood, were the co-hosts. Brad was the guy next door; we felt as if we were sitting in his living room as he introduced us to his talented mates!! Brad is a most likeable, understated artist who seems totally unaffected by his fame. Meanwhile a glamorous Carrie sparkled in her jewels and demonstrated her ability as a quick change artist appearing during the show in no less than 7 different outfits! It was hard to believe that it is only just three years ago that this mature, natural young woman was catapulted to fame with her win on American Idol. She referred to it at one point, acknowledging that she had reached this position through a rather unconventional route and thanking those in the country music world for accepting her so readily.
As well as the awards themselves, there were some great performances including Brad and Keith Urban who started the night off with a rockin’ good number, ‘Start a Band’. The two are incredibly talented guitarists and it was a treat to see them play off each other. We had Miranda Lambert sitting comfortably on a stool strumming her guitar taking us back to our country roots while Kellie Pickler would have seemed more at home in a night club in her tiny black dress, high heeled tall black slinky pointed toe boots which made her legs seem to go on forever!
There was a stunning stage set for young singer/songwriter Taylor Smith’s performance of ‘Love Story’ (we were told she had a maths test the very next day!). We were transported back to the 16th Century with female dancers in beautiful ball gowns and men in doublets. I should add here that our dance community had a major role to play as the dancers were in fact UCWDC (United Western Country Dance Council) dancers Rex & Rachel Jones, Toby & Harmony Monroe and Nicola Royston. (Robert Royston also choreographed the excellent dance routines in Kellie Pickler and Sugarland’s performances.) I was very proud to watch their terrific performances.
But back to Taylor who looked gorgeous in a deep purple gown with her hair plaited and twisted behind her head Renaissance style. The highlight of the number was when she was briefly surrounded by the dancers who then stepped aside to reveal her in a simple but striking wedding dress. Enter stage right (to the collective sigh of all the women in the audience) she was approached by her handsome Romeo!!!
In terms of newcomers, I was very impressed with the new country trio Lady Antebellum. The lead singer Charles Kelly’s gritty voice was terrific for Love Don’t Live Here Anymore. The group was very professional and totally unawed by the occasion. I am sure we will see a lot more of this group.
Of course, there were also excellent performances by country household names who had appeared on this stage to accept awards many times before. They included Martina McBride and George Strait who were clearly held in high regard by the audience. Multiple Award winners, Brookes and Dunn and Reba Macintyre performed ‘CowGirls Don’t Cry’. The Eagles, of course, were very well received. It still takes a few seconds to digest seeing them in suits and ties but regardless their country roots are strong and they sure know how to tell a story through their lyrics. Another Award Winner and one of my personal favourites, Keith Urban, brought the house down. Wow, can that man sing and play guitar – he sure is cute as well!! Good job Nicole Kidman was around to keep an eye on him!
There was a noticeable rustle of excitement when Kenny Chesney took to the stage. He had a chance of topping Johnny Cash’s record of winning five Awards on a single night, so there was anticipation in the air. Kenny sure loves the Islands and he teamed up with the Wailers (the late Bob Marley’s band) to perform ‘Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven’ sung under palms trees!
One of the most well received performances of the evening was ‘All Summer Long’ by Kid Rock which was introduced as one of the most sung songs in the US this past summer. Last time I looked there were 30 line dances to this song! With his long hair tied back in a pony tail, Kid Rock looked just the part and with his gruff, gravelly voice (no doubt from smokin’ funny things!) he did a great rendition of the song to a standing ovation.
We had terrific performances by our Presenters, Brad and Carrie. ‘Waiting On A Woman’ written and sung by Brad brought tears to many eyes as did Carrie’s emotional and powerful performance of her No. 1 single “Just a Dream’. Carrie was introduced by Leslie Ponder, a young woman who lost her husband in Afghanistan in 2005. There was not a dry eye in the audience when she finished her speech.
However, the highlight for me was when Alan Jackson took to the stage. With his bright blue eyes, traditional moustache and that laid back attitude, Alan launched into Good Time. Meanwhile as the camera panned back towards the audience, down all the aisles danced lengthy rows of line dancers of every hue and cry, all ages, some in western gear, others casual, still others dressed in sparkly tops and high heels! I had received word beforehand that this was going to happen so I knew these dancers were the REAL thing! How wonderful to have such a varied representation from the US line dance community. I was so thrilled to see them and they did a fantastic job; I’m sure we will have many more recruits after their performance.
So now on to the Awards. The presenters fortunately kept their presentations short and sweet so the focus remained on the nominees and subsequent winners. ‘Song Of The Year’ was presented by the Billy Ray Cyrus and daughter Miley to Jennifer Nettles (of Sugarland) for ‘Stay’ which she later performed. What a beautiful voice she has and Jennifer really touched our hearts with this song. She was soon up on the stage again, this time with Kristian Bush, as Sugarland won for ‘Vocal Duo’. Heidi Newfield and John Rich presented ‘Vocal Group’ which went to Rascal Flatts. The group was clearly thrilled and were most sincere in their expressions of appreciation to their fans.
Taylor Swift appropriately presented the ‘New Artist’ to Lady Antebellum. This delightful trio waved and thanked their Mums, all of whom were in the audience. ‘Musical Event’ was taken by Robert Plant and Alison Kraus with ‘Gone, Gone, Gone’, against stiff competition while ‘Musical Video’ went to Brad Paisley’s ‘Waitin’ On A Woman’. Lee Ann Womack and Josh Turner presented Texan George Strait with the ‘Album Of The Year’ award for ‘Troubadour. This was George’s 8th win in this category and his 18th nomination, the first one was in 1985!
Vince Gill has won more CMA Awards than anyone else and this year he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Vince presented Carrie Underwood with her third award as ‘Female Vocalist Of The Year’. This natural, unspoilt young woman accepted her award most graciously. Meanwhile Brad Paisley beat out Kenny Chesney, Alan Jackson, George Straith and Keith Urban to win ‘Male Vocalist Of The Year’, presented by Reese Witherspoon.
At this point it was clear that Kenny Chesney would not beat Johnny Cash’s record, but he didn’t go home empty handed. ‘Single of the Year’ went to his ‘Don’t Blink’, and then the much prized ‘Entertainer Of The Year’ beating out Brad Paisley, George Strait, Sugarland and Keith Urban. Kenny was noticeably touched at receiving the award even though this was the third year in a row he has won.
So overall, a mix of the expected and the unexpected, a spectacular show with stunning sets and backgrounds, terrific performances, glamorous and colourful outfits both on stage and in the audience, with the elite of country music turning out to honour their own. And to top it all, our very own line dancers playing a major role. The CMA Awards 2008 were truly a treat for the eyes and ears, and for the dancing feet!