“The day before the flood hit, we had everything we needed to start rehearsals for our tour,” Paisley told reporters backstage at the awards show. “It was starting in three weeks at that point. Then, one day after that flood, we had almost nothing left. So my crew pulled it together.
“We played the first show in Virginia Beach. It went off without a hitch, and since then the tour has pretty much done that. It’s been one of those tours where nothing really went wrong. We had no cancellations due to weather. We had no malfunctions that anybody would necessarily notice. So I owe this award to my crew that put the show on. They take as much pride in it as I do. If there was ever a year I wanted to win this, it was this one.”
Paisley’s CMA tally has now reached 14, although this is his first entertainer of the year trophy. He’s been nominated in that category every year since 2005. Because of his achievement, Paisley is that rare country star who has won the Horizon Award for new artists (in 2000), the male vocalist award (2007-2009) and the entertainer of the year award. Ricky Skaggs and Keith Urban are the only other male artists to do so. The Dixie Chicks and Taylor Swift have managed similar feats in the vocal group and female vocalist categories, respectively.
Asked if he was nervous that he’d never win the CMA’s top honor, Paisley replied, “If I hadn’t ever won this, I would have been OK because I get to do what I do for a living. That is enough to look out at those people that show up in droves. What’s most exciting about this is that I share this with a lot of people who work very hard, and I think tonight they’re going to celebrate harder than I will.
“Also, what’s great about this is it’s a bit of a springboard. It helps. You win something like this and people get curious. Maybe we’ll sell even more tickets next year. That would be great to think that something like this makes people say, ‘Maybe I should go see it,’ because we really do work very hard. But if I had never won it, yeah, I would have regretted it, but I’d have been OK.”
For his feature performance on the show, Paisley offered a new song, “This Is Country Music,” a new composition that he hasn’t released commercially. (His latest project, a double album of hits and live recordings titled Hits Alive, was released on Nov. 2.) The tune honors the traditional messages of country music, then name-checks classic songs like “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” “Hello Darlin’” and “Stand by Your Man.”
Regarding the new song, Paisley said, “When I start an album, I start thinking about, ‘What haven’t I said that I really want to say?’ You get to know these people. You get to be buddies with guys like Keith Urban, and we jam on the guitar periodically. And you become great friends with Carrie [Underwood] and do things like this [co-hosting the CMAs] and we have a great chemistry. And then there’s Jimmy Dickens and Bill Anderson and that generation that I have been lucky enough to get to know. So it’s all about finding inspiration. That’s my inspiration.”
He continued, “This was my love song to my fans who live these songs every day and to my industry which produces this music that really does become the soundtrack to people’s lives. After I wrote it, I thought, ‘You know, this is probably bad timing in the label sense because the album won’t be ready until spring, but I’m going to sing this. I have to sing this love song for my fans and this music I love.’”
Fielding a question about the future of the music industry, Paisley replied, “The world moves faster now. It just does. The Internet has cut everything in half. … I don’t think you could have a two-year album anymore. I think you get a couple of singles out and you’re on to the next one. Maybe that’s the way it goes.”
Paisley was also nominated for male vocalist, but lost to first-time winner Blake Shelton. Paisley’s video for “Water” also earned a nomination, although the trophy went to Miranda Lambert‘s “The House That Built Me.” Lambert also won for female vocalist and album (for Revolution). Tom Douglas and Allen Shamblin, songwriters of “The House That Built Me,” were also recognized with the CMA’s song of the year award.
Paisley said he had been asked earlier in the day about which categories he thought he’d win.
“I said, ‘I don’t know, but I really hope Blake wins male,’” he recalled. “They said, ‘Why?!’ I said, ‘Because people are tired of voting for me for that.’ I’ve won that for three years. I don’t need any more. I’m glad that somebody like Blake, who’s having a great year, gets up there to do it. I think that’s the mentality in our modern age: ‘OK, great, we gave you [something]. Who’s next?’ … I both love and hate the attention span with people. But if you use that to your advantage, it just means that I can do more songs, I can wear more outfits and have more fun.”
As for his thoughts on the CMA Awards ceremony itself, Paisley declared, “I think this was the best show I’ve ever seen. I’ve been watching this show my whole life. I loved what people did with their performances. They were classy. There were surprises. Getting to see Blake walk up there for the first time is just fantastic. Getting to see Miranda finally, in many ways, rewarded for the artist she’s become. There is just so much about it that felt really fresh. It really showed the health of country music right now — the fact that people are making some of the best music ever in our history. I loved it. I loved every minute.”View photos from backstage at the CMA Awards.