The battle for country music's soul was fought before millions of people Wednesday night on the CMA awards show, and, as usual, both sides won. After it was all over, country music remained just as culturally homogenized as it's always been.
the traditionalist side of the tiff was "Murder On Music Row," which gave George Strait and Alan Jackson the Vocal Event of
the Year award. The song charges that "Someone killed country music, tore out its heart and soul." Standing for the more inclusionary
point of view was Tim McGraw's ever-so-defensive "Things Change." It invoked the rebellious spirit of Hank, Elvis and the
"Outlaws" to argue that greatness always shatters boundaries. One line of the song declares, "It's just good music if you
can feel it in your soul."
McGraw's lyrical embracing of change may have had something to do with the fact that some
critics say he and his even more pop-leaning wife, Faith Hill, are precisely what's wrong with country music.
backstage cheered when Strait and Jackson won their award. Then Strait let it be known that he had not recorded "Murder On
Music Row" as a battle cry but rather as "kind of a joke." When neo-traditionalist Brad Paisley came to the press room after
winning his Horizon Award, one impassioned reporter took his arm, escorted him to the front and proclaimed, "I'm proud to
present the savior of country music."
Asked her opinion of the old vs. new fray, Patty Loveless said, "I don't think
there's been a murder. Country music keeps on living." (Loveless sang in rock bands before becoming a darling of country purists.)
Lee Ann Womack observed, "People will say 'I don't like that traditional country music.' I think what they don't like is bad
None of this finger-pointing and in-fighting is new, of course. Doomsayers predicted an end to country music
in 1974 when pop thrush Olivia Newton-John won the CMA Female Vocalist of the Year prize and the following year when John
Denver was named Entertainer of the Year. The Urban Cowboy boom in the early 1980s was supposed to have adulterated
country music beyond recovery. Instead, it ushered in the "new traditionalist" movement of John Anderson, Ricky Skaggs, Dwight
Yoakam and Randy Travis.
And more than 20 years before there was "Murder On Music Row," Justin Tubb was demanding
to know with equal outrage, "What's Wrong With The Way We're Doing It Now?"
Hard-core traditionalist Alan Jackson
exemplified how difficult it is to keep country music "pure" when he stood in cowboy hat and jeans and sang "www.memory."
Obviously, the enemy is at the gates. Again.