NASHVILLE SKYLINE: CMA Awards Show Gets the Music Right

The 41st Annual Gala Presented a Balanced View of Country

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

So, what was your take on the CMA Awards show? I thought that, overall, the show was quite good. I realize that it’s incredibly difficult to try to present the best of today’s country music in perspective and then to rein in the performers that you want and persuade them to perform the music that you want them to perform. And then to make it all work in three hours. But I think the show overall was quite entertaining — which, these days, believe me, is high praise indeed.

For one thing, I have always thought the show needs to be — above all else — a showcase of the best of contemporary country music, and I think it succeeded to a large extent in doing that. In the past, this show has seemed to me to be more about becoming a brand for the CMA Awards show itself than being about country music, and I didn’t get that impression from the show this year.

I also have to wonder if the Writers Guild of America strike had any impact on this production because, as far as I could tell, the CMA Awards show had little written script at all and what there was wasn’t sparkling. The positive side was that the show was hugely about mainly presenting live songs, and it succeeded very well in that regard.

By my count there were 20 songs presented live, ranging from Rascal Flatts’ pop country to Miranda Lambert’s fiery outlaw rock to Alison Krauss’ lovely “Simple Love.” Standout performances were easily Jennifer Nettles’ powerhouse delivery of the emotional “Stay,” Little Big Town’s still-potent “Boondocks” (the CMA’s choice for them to perform) and the Eagles’ textbook primer on country rock.

To my mind, I’ve always felt that the CMA has been about introducing country music to as many people as possible and letting all of them make up their own minds about what they like and don’t like. In that sense, this show was pretty well balanced. I also feel the CMA’s mission especially with this show is to be about informing audiences of where country music came from and why it is what is today.

I didn’t see that in this show. I got no sense of tradition, outside of George Strait. I saw a belated fly-by salute to Country Music Hall of Fame inductees Vince Gill, Mel Tillis and Ralph Emery. Dwight Yoakam, in what I wonder was done by his insistence, gave a fitting tribute to the late Hall of Famer Porter Wagoner. But there was no mention at all of another Hall of Famer who had died the day before, the great Hank Thompson. Don’t tell me that there’s no time to write that into the script — if there was a script. I’ve worked on TV shows. TV scripts have only one final deadline, and that’s when the camera rolls. So, where was Hank Thompson? Even a brief Thompson mention certainly would have been more appropriate than having a clueless Kate Walsh as a host, simply to cross-promote her ABC-TV series. That’s not very country, now is it? I can think of any number of credible artists outside of country who would have enhanced the show in place of these ABC shills like Walsh and James Denton. Kelly Clarkson, anyone?

Career-enhancing appearances from my perspective: Nettles, Little Big Town, Eagles, Taylor (“highlight of my senior year”) Swift, Jamey (“ex-wife”) Johnson, Strait, Kellie Pickler, Krauss and Yoakam. And at least the three new Country Music Hall of Fame inductees were acknowledged.

Note to Kenny Chesney and Rodney Atkins: Check in with wardrobe before the show next year.