Excitement reached the boiling point and bubbled over tonight as Nashville went Hollywood for The 35th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards. The three-hour telecast served up stirring performances, poignant tributes and ecstatic acceptance speeches from country music veterans and newcomers alike. Engagingly hosted by Dolly Parton, the awards were presented live on CBS Television from the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles, Calif.
“Yeee-haaaw!” shouted Natalie Maines as the Dixie Chicks picked up their Album of the Year award for Fly. Continuing their year-long sweep of winning awards, the Dixie Chicks also garnered the nod for Top Vocal Duo/Group of the Year. Eddie Montgomery of Montgomery Gentry later echoed Maines’ joy with a loud “Whoooo!” when he and duo partner Troy Gentry were tapped for the Top New Vocal Duo/Group. Brad Paisley took home the trophy for Top New Male Vocalist, while 15-year-old Jessica Andrews accepted the nod for Top New Female Vocalist.
Absent from the evening’s festivities was Shania Twain, who was named Entertainer of the Year. This win follows her CMA Entertainer of the Year title, which she landed last fall.
George Strait and Alan Jackson kicked off the three-hour telecast with a rendition of the Larry Cordle-penned “Murder on Music Row,” a tongue-in-cheek song that longs for the days of traditional-sounding country in the face of today’s more pop-oriented sounds. Jackson later returned to the stage with Hank Williams Jr. to sing the Williams-penned “The Blues Man,” which appears on Jackson’s current Under the Influence album.
Jackson also introduced George Jones to the stage, who noted, “We’re going to do this one all the way through,” before launching into his Song of the Year-nominated “Choices.” Jones was referring to last fall’s Country Music Association awards show, where he was barred from singing the song in its entirety.
Eleven-year-old singer Billy Gilman received the first standing ovation of the night when he joined Asleep at the Wheel for a rousing rendition of “Roly Poly,” from their Album of the Year-nominated release, Ride with Bob.
Approaching the stage in tears following their win for Vocal Event of the Year (“When I Said I Do”), Lisa Hartman Black, joined by her husband, Clint Black, said, “I want to thank everyone on the planet … and my gorgeous husband for writing such a beautiful song and including me.” For Hartman Black, who originally was reluctant to record the duet, the win marked her first trip to the podium, while the nod was Black’s fifth.
The cross-over success of “Amazed” brought Lonestar double nods for Song of the Year and Single Record of the Year. Although Lonestar enjoyed minor success with “No News” a couple of years ago, it has taken the Aimee Mayo/Chris Lindsey/Marv Green collaboration to catapult the Texas band to major stardom.
Tim McGraw and Faith Hill electrified the audience with the duet “Let’s Make Love” before they both repeated their wins as Top Male and Top Female Vocalists. The husband-and-wife team, nominated against each other in three categories, credited each other with their success and happiness.
“My lovely wife,” McGraw addressed Hill from the winner’s podium. “I couldn’t do anything without you. I appreciate you being by me. I love you so much.”
Hill noted, “I just want you to know that I’m having the time of my life. My husband — I would be able to do nothing without you.”
Reba McEntire performed her current single, “I’ll Be,” and Toby Keith belted out his mega-hit, “How Do You Like Me Now?!” with a vengeance. Wynonna danced her way through a version of “Going Nowhere” from her New Day Dawning CD.
Honored in special tributes tonight were Country Music Hall of Fame member Tammy Wynette, who was posthumously awarded the ACM’s Pioneer Award, “The Cliffie,” and Gene Weed, who worked with the ACM and its awards show for more than 30 years. Trisha Yearwood, Patty Loveless, Martina McBride, Dolly Parton and The Judds honored Wynette with a rendition of her signature song, “Stand by Your Man.” Wynette died in 1998, Weed in 1999.