UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. – One of his hits urges “Getcha Some” and Toby Keith did just that Wednesday night (May 9) at the 36th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards.
The Oklahoma native opened the show with his newest single, “I’m Just Talking About Tonight,” and proceeded to turn the event into a big night for himself with victories for album of the year and male vocalist of the year, his first major music industry awards. He shared the night with the Dixie Chicks, Lee Ann Womack and Sons of the Desert, all of whom collected three trophies.
Keith was almost defiant when he came to the stage to accept the “Hat” award for album of the year for How Do You Like Me Now?! “How do you like me now!!!!” he almost shouted. “Awright. Who kicked a sleeping dog, baby? I got some talking to do now. I’ve been waiting a long time, about nine years.” He accepted the award in honor of his late father, H. K. Covel Jr., killed in a recent highway accident.
Backstage, he continued talking about his sense that he finally had gotten his just desserts. “If we’d a got shut [out] on six tonight I’d a been pretty p—-d about that,” Keith said. “It just took a monkey off my back.”
And accepting the honor for top male vocalist, he offered a word of caution from another of his hits, “You shouldn’t kiss me like this unless you mean it like that.”
The Dixie Chicks’ awards included the evening’s top award, entertainer of the year, the same honor they won last fall at the Country Music Association awards. “Goodbye Earl” was named video of the year and the Chicks were named top vocal group.
“Well, I’m not going solo. I feel kinda naked up here without my best friends,” said Martie Seidel, the only member of the trio on hand in Los Angeles for the show. The award was the trio’s third in the vocal group field.
Accepting, Seidel held up a photo of Natalie Maines’ new baby, Jackson Slade, to explain her lead vocalist’s absence. She said of her sister, Emily Robison, “Emily’s been trying to make a baby of her own.” In closing, Seidel said, “To my best friends at home, wish you were here.”
Seidel returned to the stage later in the evening to accept the award for video of the year for “Goodbye Earl.” The Chicks shared the award with producer Keely Gould and director Evan Bernard.
“Just when I think it’s going to stop it doesn’t stop, and I’m really glad,” Seidel said backstage. Maines, at home in Austin, Texas, called Seidel at the end of the evening, following the presentation for entertainer of the year.
Womack and Sons of the Desert shared single, song and vocal collaboration of the year for “I Hope You Dance.”
“Every time something new happens, I can’t believe it … It’s wonderful,” Womack said backstage. “It has taken my career to a new level and if I didn’t dance before, I certainly dance now.”
Earlier this year, “I Hope You Dance” received a Grammy for country song of the year, and at last year’s CMA awards, it was named song of the year and single of the year. Co-writer Tia Sillers bubbled with excitement when she accepted the earlier trophies. “I’m calm this time,” she joked, showing much greater composure on the ACM stage.
“So far,” said her more taciturn co-writer, Mark D. Sanders, quipped.
“According to my mother we have now won the Triple Crown,” she added, “which is an amazing thing.”
Faith Hill became only the third woman in ACM history to win top female vocalist for three consecutive years. Loretta Lynn has won the honor three straight times, and Reba McEntire, a key influence on Hill, has won it four times consecutively and seven times altogether. Hill thanked country music fans for their support. “Without you, no matter how much we love music and how much we love to sing, without you, it would not ever happen.” She also thanked “My dear sweet husband and my beautiful, beautiful girls.”
Brooks & Dunn were named top vocal duo, an award newly separated from the vocal group category after being combined with it for several years. The duo had won the award for seven consecutive years before losing to the Dixie Chicks in the combined field in 1998. Wednesday night’s victory, their eighth in the category, moved Brooks & Dunn ahead of the Judds as career leaders in the duo field. The two men seemed especially excited at this year’s victory. Last year, Montgomery Gentry displaced them as vocal duo of the year at the CMA awards. “Thanks everybody, for staying with us,” said Ronnie Dunn. “It was a dip. That’s called a dip right there.”
It was a big night for Australia. Keith Urban and Jamie O’Neal, both natives, were named top new male vocalist and top new female vocalist, respectively. Tina Wesson, winner of the recent Survivor competition staged in Australia, opened the show and helped present the single of the year honor. “I think it just means country’s a global phenomenon,” Urban said backstage when asked to explain Australia’s good showing.
O’Neal’s “There Is No Arizona” has been both a major hit single and a popular video clip. She asked presenter Mark Wills to hold her “Hat” trophy and her hand while she went through a long list of thank you’s. “Australia actually is a day ahead,” she observed, “so she [her mother] found out yesterday, but she didn’t even tell me.” Actually, O’Neal’s mother, father, sister and step-sister all attended the awards show. “It takes either me getting married or winning an award to bring them all together,” the singer said backstage.
Urban had one of the funniest lines of the night in his acceptance speech. “I want to thank country radio and God,” he said. “I think that’s the right order.”
Harmony-happy trio Rascal Flatts — Gary LeVox, Joe Don Rooney and Jay DeMarcus — were named top new vocal duo or group on the strength of hit singles such as “Prayin’ for Daylight” and “While You Loved Me.”
Host LeAnn Rimes was not nominated for an award. “I’m a little bit nervous, especially with all the publicity I’ve been getting lately,” she said in her opening comments. She did a re-worked version of Kenny Rogers’ “Lucille” that included lines such as, “Tell me what’s going on with LeAnn/The Enquirer says that she’s dumped her new man.” Under a black jacket, she sported an airbrushed T-shirt that said “Daddy.” Rimes is entangled in lawsuits with her father and her record company. “Tonight I won’t bother to think of my father so let’s have one heck of a show.”
In another bit, Rimes showed pictures of herself as a childhood singer. She described a photo of an elderly, wizened woman as a picture of herself when her disputed record contract expires. “You know what they say about those Curb Records contracts,” she quipped, “They sign ’em for life plus 10.”
Her performance of the beat box-driven “Can’t Fight the Moonlight,” accompanied by a team of bare-chested dancers, seemed to play well with young fans in the audience at the Universal Amphitheatre but may have upset country traditionalists.
Rogers received the Academy’s career achievement award for making a major career comeback after early success. He said he was honored to receive the award because, “It has to do not only with what I’ve done in the past, but what I’m trying to do in the future.” Rogers thanked Ken Kragen, who managed him for 33 years until a recent split, his wife, radio for “the opportunity to compete” and industry veteran Jim Mazza for helping Rogers launch his own record label.
Barbara Mandrell, who announced her retirement in 1997, received the Academy’s Pioneer Award. Patty Loveless, Ronnie Milsap, Terri Clark and Mandrell’s sister, Louise Mandrell, joined in making the presentation. Mandrell was the Academy’s entertainer of the year for 1980 and female vocalist of the year in 1978 and 1981.
Mandrell appeared to be overwhelmed by her honor. “It’s like I was singing in the clip that was shown a moment ago, and it’s so true. ‘God you’ve been so good to me,'” she said. “I’ve been so excited tonight, it’s been so good to see you all, and the fans. …”
The 36th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards, televised live by CBS, will be re-broadcast four times on CMT in the coming weeks.