Partners in Crime: Jackson, Strait Pull Triple "Murder"

When they get the chance to vote, country music fans don’t always fall into lock step with the country music industry. Alan Jackson rode popular support to a string of mild upsets Wednesday night (June 13) at the TNN & CMT Country Weekly Music Awards.

Jackson plowed down his competition like a mower cutting through an early summer lawn, winning six awards in all during the three-hour show at the Gaylord Entertainment Center in downtown Nashville. He shared three awards with George Strait, who repeated as entertainer of the year and winner of the Impact Award, for a total of five trophies.

Sports commentator and ex-NFL star Terry Bradshaw shared hosting duties with Lee Ann Womack. The three-hour show was simulcast on TNN and CMT.

Throughout the ’90s, Jackson has done especially well on the fan-voted show. His first TNN award came in 1990 for song of the year. He was male vocalist of the year from 1992-1997 and he won entertainer of the year honors from 1993-1997. His victories Wednesday night upped his grand total in the fan-voted competition to 29.

“The fans have always been really good to me, especially tonight, for some reason, and I really appreciate it,” Jackson said as he accepted his male artist of the year trophy. “I’ve done a little of everything, but still, when I step out on stage to sing at a show and it’s just my music and the people that like it, that’s still the main thing of this whole business.”

The most surprising upset of the night came first, when the hardcore country anthem “Murder on Music Row,” recorded by Jackson and Strait, was named song of the year. Co-writers Larry Shell and Larry Cordle, Cordle’s daughter Kelvey and Jackson accepted the award together. “Thanks to all the fans who love country music,” Shell exclaimed. “We love you!”

The Strait/Jackson record was named vocal event of the year at last year’s Country Music Association Awards, and “Murder on Music Row” was named song of the year in October at the International Bluegrass Music Awards. But Womack’s “I Hope You Dance” has racked up song of the year accolades at the CMA, ACM and Grammy awards shows.

Wednesday night, “Murder on Music Row” also won single of the year, and Strait and Jackson shared the honor for collaborative event of the year. Strait did not attend the awards show. “I think he’s busy down on his boat,” Jackson quipped.

“I’ve been a fan of George Strait for a lot of years, long before I moved to Nashville,” he said from the podium, accepting the collaboration award. “He was one of the voices I used to try to mock when I sang in the bars. It was such an honor to get to record a song with George.”

In short video clips, country music fans accepted the entertainer of the year award on Strait’s behalf.

Strait received the Impact Award for advancing country music’s image in media and marketing.

Jackson’s “www.memory” trumped Womack’s video for CMT music video of the year. “CMT’s been very good to me over the years,” he said. “Just thanks again to all the fans, ’cause that’s what we make the music for. God bless y’all.” Jackson shared the award with director Morgan Lawley.

Jackson’s victory for album of the year, shared with producer Keith Stegall, came against a formidable field that included greatest hits albums by Tim McGraw and Strait. “I’m up against a lot of good music there,” he said. “I don’t know if I feel quite right about winning this, but I’ve always put the songs first … and I’ve always had a lot of good help, a lot of inspiration in the songwriting. Keith Stegall always puts a good record together.”

In another minor upset, fans voted Billy Gilman winner of the Discovery Award. The honor recognizes career promise and goes to an artist who has released no more than two albums. Gilman triumphed over a field that included Montgomery Gentry, the CMA’s reigning vocal duo of the year. Gilman, who performed his current single, “She’s My Girl,” thanked a list of people who have helped advance his career.

“Never in a million years would have I imagined winning an award like this,” Gilman said backstage. “It’s just overwhelming. The first thing that I said, and I truly mean it, is I thank the fans. It’s all about the fans and that’s what counts.”

Named female artist of the year for the third consecutive year, Faith Hill echoed a theme popular throughout the night. “There are no greater fans than the fans in country music,” she said. “You guys come to all of our shows and you buy our records and you send us the greatest notes and sometimes the meanest notes, but they’re all so beautiful, and thank you so much for allowing us to do what we all love to do so much.”

Kenny Chesney received the Fast Track Award, given for “creative growth and development” to artists who have not yet entered the first rank of award winners. “I gotta tell you,” Chesney said, “I love country music more than anything, and I’m awfully proud and thrilled every day to go out on the road and get in that tour bus and be a part of it. … I can’t believe I’ve been on the road now for eight years, ’cause it just seems like we’ve been out there eight months.”

The Dixie Chicks repeated as group/duo of the year. The Texas-based trio — Natalie Maines, Emily Robison and Martie Seidel — are on hiatus from touring and recording after mounting their first successful headlining tour in 2000.

The Minnie Pearl Humanitarian Award went to Kathy Mattea. Presenter K.T. Oslin described her as “goodness personified” and “like Minnie herself, so very funny and so very smart.” Mattea’s charitable activities have helped Second Harvest Food Bank, Country Music Cares, Nashville Cares, AIDS walks, World AIDS Day concerts, the AIDS benefit album Red, Hot & Country and the T.J. Martell Foundation for cancer research.

“It’s humbling,” Mattea said backstage. “I really wanted to decide where I could make a difference. I lost the first person I knew to AIDS, then the next person and the next person, and nobody was talking about it. I just snapped one day. I just got angry and wanted to try to help. And so for me it came from the inside out.”

In another highly emotional segment, Vince Gill received the Country Weekly Career Achievement Award. Faith Hill introduced a retrospective of Gill’s career, praising him for his singing, guitar playing and songwriting and for his willingness to lend his talents to charitable causes. “Tonight we’re simply saying thank you for all he is to music,” she said.

A large group of Gill’s family and colleagues came to the stage at Hill’s invitation, and his mother, Jerene, and sister, Gina, presented him with the honor as the arena audience stood.

“Out of everything I’ve achieved, just being able to say that since I was 16 years old or 17 … I’ve been able to make a living with my guitar, that’s an amazing thing to be able to say,” Gill said after coming to the stage with his wife, Amy Grant.

“I look around the room, and I’ve played music with all these people, I’ve prayed with all these people. One of ‘em changed my diapers a few times. I’m in awe. That’s all I ever wanted to do.”

Following the award presentation, Gill performed an early hit, “When I Call Your Name.”

Terry Bradshaw’s broad, animated comedic talents were on display throughout the night. In an opening bit, Womack and Jackson waited for the former NFL star, lost in Nashville traffic, to arrive in a Volkswagen van. He appeared to crash into the arena through a cement-block wall, just in time to introduce Jackson for his opening performance, “Where I Come From.”

Late in the show, Bradshaw invited fans to come to country.com to vote on whether he should be allowed to sing during the show — or not. Fans voted overwhelmingly to let the quarterback take a turn at the mike, and he got in a verse and a chorus before the show cut to a commercial.

Among the many memorable moments during the evening, Jo Dee Messina performed “Burn” on a fiery stage, Neal McCoy strapped on a simulated jet pack and rose above the stage, lifted by wires, and Jewel joined John Michael Montgomery to perform Montgomery’s recent No. 1 hit, “The Little Girl.” Jewel has been in Nashville recently to work with successful country producer Dann Huff.

McGraw introduced retired rodeo champion Chris LeDoux, making his first TV appearance just eight months after undergoing a liver transplant. Charlie Daniels soloed on fiddle and Keith Urban on guitar. Eager to prove himself healed, LeDoux strapped on chaps and leather gloves for a vigorous ride on a mechanical bull.

The TNN & CMT Country Weekly Music Awards kick off Fan Fair week in Nashville. Thousands of country music fans have gathered in the city to collect autographs, attend fan club meetings, pose with the stars and hear hours of live country music. Festivities continue in downtown Nashville through Sunday (June 17).