Tim McGraw Serenaded by Lady Antebellum, Peter Frampton During CMT Artists of the Year

Dwight Yoakam Points to McGraw's Contributions to Country Music

If you’re going to hear a cover version of a Tim McGraw hit, could you do any better than Lady Antebellum and Peter Frampton performing it on the 2013 CMT Artists of the Year special?

That was the scenario Tuesday night (Dec. 3) in Nashville when McGraw, Jason Aldean, Florida Georgia Line and Hunter Hayes were honored during the fourth annual event.

With Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott singing the words delivered by McGraw and Taylor Swift on his original recording, Frampton brandished a familiar triple-pickup Les Paul guitar to play an inspired solo first created by Keith Urban.

In paying tribute to McGraw, Dwight Yoakam noted much more than the singer’s accomplishments over the past year.

“Tim has demonstrated a willingness to risk everything to achieve the audience he rightly believed was out there for his music,” Yoakam said. “Year after year, decade after decade, he won the game — always on his own terms.

“Tim is one of those select artists who’s moved the bar within the parameters of commercial country radio in a way that set the stage for the moment that is country music right now. To me, Tim is the template for this generation’s musical expression. In the country music genre, he set that standard. … And he’s not done yet.”

In accepting the award, McGraw said he looks to other artists for creative inspiration.

“The new artists that are coming along are making great music,” he said. “The other artists … that I’m here with tonight, that’s what keeps me going and that’s what inspires me to make music. They teach me something every time I see them on tour … every time I sit down and spend a few minutes talking with somebody.

“Every time I hear one of their records, it inspires me to go back into the studio and make better records and get better at what I do and get better at my craft. That’s what I try to do, and that’s what I’ll continue to try to do.”

Comedian-actor Ron White was introduced as the CMT Artists of the Year host by Will Ferrell in his role as baffled newsman Ron Burgundy in the upcoming Anchorman 2 film. Professing his love of country music, the Burgundy character expressed “chagrin” that he had not been invited to host the CMT special.

“Ron White?” he said. “I mean, who orders White when you can have Burgundy? I hope he really eats it out there.”

In his opening monolog, White threw some good-natured jabs at the anchorman and the artists being honored.

“I don’t care what Burgundy says,” White said. “I think the record’s gonna show that I’m the right Ron to host this show. I mean, I might not be as skinny as Tim McGraw or as young as Hunter Hayes, and I might not have Luke Bryan’s double-jointed ass. But I did pass along my behavioral problems to Jason Aldean, and let the record show that I have been arrested on both sides of the Florida Georgia Line.”

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