Toby Keith Rules Flame Worthy Awards

Chesney, Twain, Bentley and Rascal Flatts Among Other Winners

With his videos winning in three categories, Toby Keith hit the right spark with fans to become the hottest artist at the CMT 2004 Flame Worthy Video Music Awards in Nashville.

At the Wednesday night (April 21) awards show hosted by Dolly Parton, Keith won the main prize — Flame Worthy video of the year for “American Soldier” — but his work with Willie Nelson on “Beer for My Horses” won a trophy for collaborative video of the year. “Beer for My Horses” also corralled a video director of the year win for Keith’s longtime collaborator, Michael Salomon.

“This is a very, very important award to me because this is voted on by music lovers all over this place,” Keith said in accepting the video of the year prize in the fan-voted awards. “I know it’s getting to be old hat sometimes to be patriotic and everything, but don’t forget our brothers and sisters overseas making it free for us tonight.”

Salomon noted, “I’ve worked with Toby now for six years and couldn’t find a better friend and collaborator to work with.”

Kenny Chesney had a hot night, too, winning male video honors for “There Goes My Life” and a hottest video of the year trophy for “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems.” Other winners included Shania Twain, whose “Forever and For Always” was named female video of the year.

Dierks Bentley won the breakthrough video award for his debut, “What Was I Thinkin’.” During the awards show at the Gaylord Entertainment Center, Bentley sat in the audience with his dog, Jake, who was nominated in the cameo of the year category for his role in the video. Unfortunately for the canine, the award went to the star-studded cast of Brad Paisley’s “Celebrity” which featured Little Jimmy Dickens, Jason Alexander, Jim Belushi, Trista Rehn and William Shatner. When Paisley’s “Celebrity” won, Bentley playfully clapped Jake’s paws together to applaud.

In accepting the award on Paisley’s behalf, Dickens noted, “He couldn’t be here tonight. He had to go fishin’. He asked me to come and accept for him, and it’s an honor to be associated with this beautiful young talent we have here today.”

The other cameo of the year nominees included Rascal Flatts guitarist Joe Don Rooney’s derriere in the video for “I Melt.” The popular trio’s controversial video featured a brief glimpse of Rooney’s backside. When the video won in the group/duo division, bandmate Jay DeMarcus, thanked several people before joking, “We’ve got to thank Joe Don’s ass for this, too.” Rooney smiled and replied, “I appreciate it. I want to thank Jay and Gary [LeVox] for putting up with my ass all these years.”

As previously announced, Reba McEntire was this year’s recipient of CMT’s Johnny Cash Visionary Award in recognition of her musical vision, groundbreaking videos and a lengthy list of accomplishments including a Broadway musical and her own television sitcom. After accepting the award from Brooks & Dunn, McEntire noted, “Johnny Cash was the ultimate visionary for country music. He took country music around the world, and he’s probably had some influence on every artist in this room.”

McEntire then recalled making her first music video, “Whoever’s in New England,” some 18 years ago.

“Back then, there weren’t any video channels, and the record companies questioned whether a video was worth the cost to make it,” she said. “I’d like to say thank you to MCA Records for taking that chance. Making that video was my first opportunity to act. I had no idea that videos would play such a large part in my music and that it was also preparing me for one of the jobs I have now. Maybe none of this would have happened if it weren’t for making that very first video.”

With performances by several superstar acts, the awards show in downtown Nashville was filled with great music, including Alan Jackson’s first public performance of a song designed to thank the fans for allowing him to have a career in music. Jackson has not yet recorded the song, “To Do What I Do,” written by Tim Johnson.

The song and the sentiment hit an emotional chord with Chesney. In accepting the male video award, he told the audience, “I heard Alan Jackson sing that song about what we do. That was an awesome song. I get up on my bus every morning and I can’t believe what I do. I’m so blessed to have the band that I have out on the road. My crew guys … I wish y’all could be up here tonight.”

The high tech nature of the Flame Worthy show was balanced when Alison Krauss invited several guests to join her band, Union Station, on the fiddle tune, “Sawing on the Strings.” Joining Union Station and Dobro king Jerry Douglas were three modern day bluegrass legends — Tony Rice on guitar, Sam Bush on mandolin and Stuart Duncan on fiddle.

Country artists presented most of the trophies, although the list of presenters at the live show included poet Dr. Maya Angelou, actor John Corbett and actress-singer Minnie Driver.

With Parton as host, fashion played a key role, especially when she was trading quips with Queer Eye for the Straight Guy’s Carson Kressley, who presented the hottest video trophy to Chesney. Pointing to Kressley’s black suit with sequins, Parton said, “You look like a very young, handsome Porter Wagoner. And you definitely deserve some sort of flaming award tonight.” Kressley retorted, “Well, I’m definitely flaming.”

As expected, Parton made several flashy fashion choices herself throughout the awards show. Referring to the Janet Jackson incident during the Super Bowl halftime show, Parton promised there would be no wardrobe malfunctions during the Flame Worthy telecast

“There’s none planned,” she said, “but as tight as my clothes are, good Lord, anything can happen. But I can tell you this: If it does happen, I’m gonna wipe out about the first three rows.” She added, “This outfit has been inspected by three censors, two engineers and some guy I never saw before who had this big grin on his face.”

Calvin Gilbert has served as’s managing editor since 2002. His background includes stints at the Nashville Banner, Radio & Records and Westwood One.