LOS ANGELES – Tonight’s 35th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards, broadcast live by CBS from the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles, will be chock full of memorable, musical moments.
A highlight of the three-hour show is likely to be a full performance by George Jones of “Choices.” He refused to sing the song last fall when the Nashville-based Country Music Association invited him to do an abbreviated version on its awards show. Alan Jackson surprised viewers by singing a few bars of the song at the end of his own performance. Jones, who recently celebrated gold certification of his album, Cold Hard Truth, is nominated for three “Hat” awards including Song of the Year, Album of the Year and Top Vocal Event.
Jones’ former wife and singing partner, the late Tammy Wynette, will be honored with the Academy’s Pioneer Award for career achievement. For the first time, the Academy announced the winner of the award in advance. Show host Dolly Parton will join Trisha Yearwood, Patty Loveless, Martina McBride and The Judds in tribute performances honoring the First Lady of Country Music.
Jackson and George Strait will open the show with their somewhat controversial current hit, “Murder on Music Row,” an indictment of the practice of ignoring country music’s traditions in favor of modern musical values. Jackson also will join Hank Williams Jr. for a performance of Hank Jr.’s “The Blues Man,” which appears on Jackson’s recent collection of country cover songs, Under the Influence.
In addition to appearing in the Wynette tribute, The Judds — Wynonna and mama Naomi — will perform their hit duet, “Stuck in Love,” which appears on Wynonna’s recent set, New Day Dawning.
Tim McGraw, the ACM’s reigning Top Male Vocalist and a five-time nominee this year, will appear twice to sing his current hit, “Some Things Never Change,” and his nominated Single and Song of the Year, “Please Remember Me.”
Faith Hill, McGraw’s wife, competes against her husband for Entertainer of the Year, Song of the Year and Album of the Year. She’ll sing “There Will Come a Day” from her nominated album, Breathe.
Among other female vocalists taking a turn, Reba McEntire, an early inspiration for Hill, will perform the heart-tugging ballad “I’ll Be,” written by pop hit factory Diane Warren. Martina McBride, knocking ’em dead on the George Strait festival tour, will do her current hit, “Love’s the Only House.” Jo Dee Messina, named Top New Female Vocalist last year by the Academy, will give viewers a preview of her upcoming third album with a performance of her new single, “That’s the Way It Is.” Chely Wright will perform her breakthrough hit, “Single White Female.”
Of course, effervescent Dolly Parton will host the proceedings. In addition to honoring Wynette, Parton will dip into her recent bluegrass collection, The Grass Is Blue, for the Billy Joel number she adapted in acoustic style, “Travelin’ Prayer.”
Collin Raye is slated to perform his throbbing, speaking-singing hit, “Couldn’t Last a Moment.” Toby Keith, vying with Raye, McGraw, Jackson and Strait for Top Male Vocalist, will sing his recent country smash, “How Do You Like Me Now?!” Kenny Chesney will revisit his rural roots with “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy.” Clint Black will have wife and actress Lisa Hartman Black along to sing a duet on “When I Said I Do,” a song inspired by their relationship.
Sawyer Brown, nominated for Entertainer of the Year, will haul out “800 Pound Jesus.” Lonestar will do the obligatory “Amazed,” nominated for Song and Single of the Year. Asleep at the Wheel will perform the western swing favorite “Roly Poly,” from their album Ride With Bob. No word on whether Ray Benson and company will be joined by the Dixie Chicks, who contributed vocals to the Wheel’s original recording.
As a regular feature of the Academy’s annual awards presentation, newcomer nominees will get valuable exposure, some for the first time on prime time, network TV. Look for brief performances of hits from Gary Allan, Chad Brock and Brad Paisley on the men’s side; Jessica Andrews, Julie Reeves and Chalee Tennison on the women’s; and Montgomery Gentry, SHeDAISY and Yankee Grey in the vocal duo or group field.
All in all, it should be a big night for country music and a TV treat for country music fans. And, oh yeah, some awards will be handed out too, with all the accompanying hoopla and speeches.