NASHVILLE SKYLINE: A Family Reunion at CMA Show

(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/ Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)

A lot of chickens came home to roost at the 36th CMA Awards Wednesday night. Or, as Alan Jackson said in one of his five award acceptance speeches, “It’s not about the media and critics — it’s just me and a microphone and my music and the people who want to hear it. That’s the way it ought to be.”

And for one night at least, all of country music seemed to be one big happy family again, co-existing together under one big tent. In the musical presentations, pop and trad got along very well together, the way that they used to, before warring musical camps fought for control of the show.

Oh, to be sure, critics and ordinary citizens are already carping about some of the music — the songs are always either too new or too well-known. And the show’s sequencing is always wrong — how could you possibly follow Shania Twain with Nickel Creek , or how can you stack performances by Alison Krauss and Rascal Flatts ?

Well, you can, because that’s what country music is all about. It’s a bunch of strains of one common American music that may at times seem at cross-grains to each other. But, it’s music that’s all about the human experience, told in story form. And there’re many ways to tell those stories.

And, the music aside, the awards show did a pretty good job of wrapping together the year in country music.

Jackson was adequately thanked for his years of toiling in the service of country music and for effectively becoming the true conscience of country music in the wake of 9/11.

Faith Hill was welcomed back with a deserved standing ovation for her spectacular rendition of “When the Lights Go Down” — as well as for her courage, after her recent barrage of critical attacks, to take the stage alone.

Twain reunited with country music with a roar and demonstrated again why she’s so important to the genre. Deana Carter was welcomed back into the fold after straying off to Hollywood.

A young group that many country purists and just plain fans regarded as bastard stepchildren was admitted into the family as Rascal Flatts received the Horizon Award

Dolly Parton showed the youngsters how a true professional works a song and a crowd.

Just seeing Loretta Lynn onstage is always a pleasure. The CMA sort of kissed and made up to George Jones for his non-appearance a couple of years ago when he skipped the show over a CMA musical dictate.

And it was great to see some of music’s most valuable players being allowed a chance in the spotlight: the great Flaco Jimenez playing accordion with Jackson, Kim Richey and Bekka Bramlett flashing their considerable vocal chops, and Al Anderson trading guitar licks with Gill. The latter is to be commended for another year of holding a disparate show together with his quiet humor and perspective. Vince is like our favorite wise-ass uncle we’re always glad to see come visit us.

Some of the family was missing, most notably the Dixie Chicks and Tim McGraw . The Chicks have done their work for the year, it seems, and Tim was content to be a supportive husband, cheering wife Faith on from the audience. One point of interest: would there have been a tribute to the late Waylon Jennings if Travis Tritt hadn’t included it in his performance?

Two minor fashion notes: it was great to see Brad Paisley finally shed his cheap Gap T-shirt for a nice, flashy cowboy shirt. And, second: attention, Nashville: wearing black rubber is over.

During the show, I was comparing notes with a colleague from MTV about the differences between our respective music genres’ awards shows. The country awards, we agreed, had no onstage fights, no scandals, no arrests, no drug incidents and no heavy police presence. On top of that, said my MTV colleague, “Your artists can actually sing, play instruments and write songs.” You know, sometimes we forget our blessings.