Hollywood Goes Country

Top Stars Gather for ACM Opening Reception

LOS ANGELES — This week only, Tinsel Town ranks as the country music capital of the world.

Many of country music’s elite will descend tonight on Universal City for the 35th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards, turning the entertainment hub into Nashville West.

Tuesday, the Academy hosted a reception and press conference for those already in town for rehearsals, radio interviews, video shoots and the like. Before mingling with the press, celebrity guests gathered for a photo, posing behind tonight’s host, Dolly Parton, and great lady of song Patti Page.

Mark Miller, lead singer for double nominee Sawyer Brown (Entertainer of the Year, Top Vocal Duo or Group), was on hand, along with some 40 or 50 other country stars including George Jones and Tanya Tucker (who answered questions while cradling her long-haired chihuahua).

Miller explained that the West Coast-based awards, which follow the Country Music Association Awards by seven months, have a relaxed feel. The artists who attend enjoy the pace.

“Out here,” Miller explains, “our focus is a little more on the show and what’s going on in rehearsal. At home, we’re running kids back and forth to school, doing baseball and soccer practice. At the last minute, you go, ’Oh yeah, the awards are tonight.’ Then you’re running out and doing that.”

Miller also points out that country stars get a warm reception when they relocate to the Coast.

“When we come out here,” Miller feels, “it’s a big celebration to them. It’s L.A.’s chance to honor country music. They make a big deal out of it. They make us feel special — not that they don’t in Nashville.”

Asylum Records executive Susan Nadler, a member of the ACM board of directors, says the awards show, to be telecast at 8 p.m. ET tonight on CBS, comes together with a lot less hassle than the CMA’s annual, high-stakes affair.

“There’s not a lot of label politicking that goes on,” Nadler observes. “Everybody does what’s best for the show. There aren’t a lot of in-fights with people arguing about who’s going to do this, who’s going to do that.

“I’ve never been on the board of the Country Music Association, but I can say that being on the board of the Academy, there’s not a lot of bickering. It’s very artist-friendly. The CMA has a huge number of community responsibilities and international responsibilities. The ACM has the awards, the golf tournament and their Christmas party.”

George Jones records for Nadler’s Asylum label. The Possum was on hand Tuesday for the group photo and to run through “Choices,” the song he did not sing on the CMA awards show in September when producers asked him to abbreviate his performance.

Asked if he’s glad to be in Los Angeles for tonight’s show, Jones smiles and replies, “Not really.”

His wife, Nancy, gives him a playful, scolding tap on the shoulder. “You know how he feels about coming to these things,” she says.

“If you’re gonna be in the business,” Jones reasons, “you’ve got to do these kinds of things.”

The awards themselves may compensate for any discomfort artists suffer while away from home. For his part, Miller also is excited about his group’s nods for a couple of “Hat” awards.

“It was a big deal to be nominated, and for us, we won, just with that,” Miller says. “To be honored and put in that elite category, that was a big deal and a nice thing that they did.”