Alan Jackson spent the evening picking up five CMA trophies, including one that had eluded him throughout his career. Nominated 11 consecutive times for male vocalist of the year, the singer-songwriter finally won the honor Wednesday night (Nov. 6) at the 36th annual CMA Awards.
Jackson also received the CMA’s coveted entertainer of the year award, an album of the year nod for his most recent release, Drive, and song and single of the year honors for “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning).” Only two other artists have won in five CMA categories in a single year — Johnny Cash (in 1969) and Vince Gill (in 1993).
By the close of the show when he walked onstage to accept the single of the year award, Jackson got a laugh from the crowd when he said, “I’m sorry, y’all. I keep coming up here. It’s been a very good night and I am very appreciative.”
Jackson wrote “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Jackson said, “I’m still humbled by this whole experience that came with this song because of so many comments and letters and conversations I’ve had with people who told me how much this song has meant to them.” He added, “I’m just a singer of simple songs — and that’s the truth.”
Regarding his first win as male vocalist, Jackson said, “When I was starting out in Georgia and I used to watch this show on television, I always thought that that was the award that was best for a man who sings for a living. The entertainer and the songwriting stuff is all great, but when I was wanting to be a singer, I thought that was the ultimate. I’ve never won this at the CMAs. It’s been worth the wait. I probably watched George Strait win this one years ago.”
Rascal Flatts’ Horizon Award win surprised some industry insiders, but it also surprised members of the trio. Band member Jay DeMarcus also mentioned watching the awards show when he was a child. Recalling a win by Travis Tritt , DeMarcus said, “I remember watching him win the Horizon Award and thinking, ’What if? I wonder what it would be like to be here on that stage?’ And here we are tonight, so we’re very humbled.”
Wiping away tears as she accepted her award as female vocalist, McBride said, “I was not prepared for this emotion that I’m feeling. It’s just so amazing that I get to live this dream. I’m so grateful to everybody who worked so hard to make it happen. I’m really especially happy because my mom and dad are here tonight. It just means so much to share this with them because they’ve given me everything all their life and encouraged and gave me unconditional love and support.”
When Brooks & Dunn accepted their latest vocal duo award, Kix Brooks acknowledged their longtime competitors in the category by saying, “A special thanks to the Bellamy Brothers for hanging in for as long as they have and making the great music they have. It shouldn’t go unnoticed.”
Brad Paisley ’s “I’m Gonna Miss Her (The Fishin’ Song)” was named music video of the year. Paisley and director Peter Zavadil accepted the honor, which was one of the few categories that Jackson didn’t win. And although “Designated Drinker,” Jackson’s duet with Strait, was nominated for vocal event of the year, that particular award went to Willie Nelson and Lee Ann Womack for their collaboration on “Mendocino County Line.” None of the Dixie Chicks were present to accept their vocal group of the year award.
Dolly Parton appeared on the award show to perform “Hello God” and to induct veteran entertainers Bill Carlisle and Porter Wagoner into the Country Music Hall of Fame. The 93-year-old Carlisle, confined to a wheelchair, acknowledged his induction from the audience.
Wagoner, who became Parton’s mentor in the 1960s, told the crowd, “I like to think of myself as a link — a link between the real pioneers of country music and the stars of today and tomorrow. I’ve had the great fortune to call many legends my friends and watch some of my closest friends become legends. You’d think that when a man receives the highest award in his chosen field that his ego would just go plumb through the ceiling. But you know what? I’ve never felt more humble in my whole life than I do tonight.”
From a musical standpoint, the CMA awards show provided a mix that ranged from the original pop leanings of Shania Twain ’s “I’m Gonna Getcha Good!” to the hardcore country of Womack’s “He’ll Be Back,” a song written by Hank Cochran , Red Lane and Dale Dodson.
Taking a cue from her music video for “I’m Gonna Getcha Good!,” Twain opened the show by creating the illusion of riding a motorcycle down the aisle of the Grand Ole Opry House. Gill, who hosted the show for the 11th consecutive year, followed Twain by showing up onstage with a tricycle.
Gill noted that he always tries to lose weight before hosting the CBS telecast of the awards show. Stating that he lost 26 pounds for this year’s show, he said, “I think I’ve figured it up over the 11 years. I’ve lost a grand total of 326 pounds. The scary thing about that is if I hadn’t done this show, I’d weigh 600 pounds — and Richard Simmons would be in my life. That would be brutal.”
Gill’s sense of humor always makes the awards show seem to go by a lot faster than the three hours it takes for all of the performances and presentation. Following Kenny Chesney ’s touching performance of “A Lot of Things Different,” Gill brought out an acoustic guitar and explained that the song had an additional verse that Chesney didn’t record. Referring to Chesney’s well-publicized arrest — and ultimate acquittal — following a June 3, 2000, incident at a Strait concert near Buffalo, N.Y., Gill sang, “I remember the time my good friend Tim McGraw told me to jump on the back of that cop’s horse, so I did it. Cop got pissed, pulled out his handcuffs and that nightstick and it went on and on and on. …”
Musical highlights included Faith Hill ’s performance of “When the Lights Go Down,” the second single from her new album, Cry. Other musical performances at the awards show included Jackson’s “That’d Be Alright,” a Cajun-flavored tune that featured Flaco Jimenez on accordion. Gill got assistance from former NRBQ member Al Anderson and famed saxophonist Jim Horn on his new single, “Next Big Thing.” Performances were also provided by McBride, Paisley, Nickel Creek , Toby Keith , Alison Krauss & Union Station, Rascal Flatts, Brooks & Dunn, Phil Vassar , Montgomery Gentry , Darryl Worley , Strait and Keith Urban .