While country greats Alan Jackson and Lorrie Morgan left last night's awards ceremony with both arms full -- each winning two top honors -- nobody left empty-handed. Because it's the country fans who choose their favorites from 15 categories, ranging from Star of Tomorrow to Entertainer of the Year, everyone is a winner at the 31st Annual TNN Music City News Country Awards -- or at least the fans think so.
The fans obviously thought of Alan Jackson, who twice made his way to center stage
to accept the evening's top honors for both Entertainer and Male Artist of the Year. Since 1992, Jackson has held both titles.
"Ya'll are spoiling me, I swear," gushed Jackson, after Tanya Tucker and country legend Merle Haggard presented him
with the Entertainer trophy. "I appreciate all the support that ya'll have given me," he told the fans gathered in the Grand
Ole Opry House. "I am a little shaky though, standing here next to Merle Haggard."
Backstage, Jackson was also appreciative
of his wife Denise, who is expecting the couple's third child this summer. "Denise is pregnant with the third girl," he said
while pointing to a very pregnant Denise, who stood close beside him. "And if it's a girl like they say it is, we're naming
her Dani Grace after Denise's dad, Daniel."
Lorrie Morgan sported an eye-catching, metallic evening gown, as well
as two awards for the night -- Female Artist and Vocal Collaboration of the Year, along with new hubby Jon Randall for their
1996 smash duet, "By My Side."
"I can't believe this and I'm really moved. I just want to thank you for recording
this duet with me in the first place," she told Randall. "This is for our kids!"
"This is probably the most special
award for me because it was with Lorrie" added Randall backstage. As if last night's award wasn't enough, the couple was also
celebrating seven months together as man and wife. Although Morgan wouldn't confirm any dates or details, she did admit that
the two have plans for further duets together.
For the fifth consecutive year, country's dynamic duo, Brooks & Dunn,
galloped off stage with the Vocal Duo honor. "It's always exciting," Kix Brooks explains after the duo's win, "but I always
tell Ronnie that one night it's not going to be Brooks & Dunn. So we never take this for granted."
"I heard they we're
getting ready to drop this award," laughed Ronnie, after being asked if the Vocal Duo Award should be changed to the Brooks
& Dunn Award.
The comical twosome also revealed what happens to most of their awards they've won over the years. "My
wife gets half of them," quipped Brooks. "And half of mine are all over the house with Barbie doll clothes on them," Ronnie
Another harmony-buff act, The Statler Brothers, picked up their 26th Vocal Group of the Year trophy, while
stage sizzlers Sawyer Brown took home No. 5 in the Vocal Band category. As well as making a literally driving and dramatic
entrance on stage for the performance of their "Six Days On The Road" hit, band front-man Mark Miller explained his critically
acclaimed, high-powered stage energy. "I just eat a lot of broccoli," he admitted. "This show and Music City News have
from the beginning taken us under their wing. It's a fan-voted awards show and that makes this the most special. We will keep
building shelves for these," Miller promised the audience.
As with each category, this year's Star of Tomorrow nominee
line-ups for both male and female were tough picks when it came to predicting who would actually take home the trophy. Quite
surprisingly, yet equally exciting for a packed house of country fans, Wade Hayes topped the male Star of Tomorrow list. And
not so surprising was the event's co-host LeAnn Rimes being picked as this year's female Star of Tomorrow.
grin as big as Texas, one would have thought Neal McCoy was the star of the world when he was presented with this year's top
Video honor for "Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye."
"I don't have any idea what to say," McCoy declared after humbly removing
his trademark hat. "Tim McGraw used to say I'd be up for the Pioneer award. I just want to thank my band and my wife," he
continued with choking words, "and my kids and all you wonderful fans."
Other awards included Billy Ray Cyrus' Single
of the Year award for his self-penned "Trail of Tears;" George Strait's claim to the Album honor for his impeccable Blue
Clear Sky disc; and Ricky Van Shelton's Christian Country Artist honor. "Thank ya'll from the bottom of my heart," he
told the fans, "and remember I'm still a country artist, too."
And the evening couldn't have made its traditional
touch of success without a little comedy relief. When this star-studded line-up of presenters and performers weren't clowning
around, funny-man Jeff Foxworthy had his moment to shine. He also picked up his third Comedian of the Year award.
I dressed up for this," admitted Foxworthy. "I wore my new blue boots. It's the fans that make this award special," he continued
on a serious note. "And without those people we wouldn't be doing this."
And without the countless pioneers of country
music who have made it possible by paving the road for so many others, country music wouldn't be the same either. Highlights
of the gala evening were undoubtedly this year's Living Legend and Minnie Pearl Awards. The phenomenal "Kiss An Angel Good
Morning" singer Charley Pride was honored with the Living Legend Award, presented by fellow pioneer Loretta Lynn.
you so much," a very surprised and overwhelmed Pride said. "Ladies and Gentlemen, I had no idea," he continued while stumbling
for words. "Thank you and I love you so much."
As equally acknowledged is the prestigious Minnie Pearl Award, this
year presented by last year's recipient Amy Grant. Perhaps many of us recognize him best as the popular character, "Goober,"
on the long-running Andy Griffith Show. With tears of joy, George "Goober" Lindsey accepted this year's honor.
thought I was something just getting to sit close to (Charley) Pride," Lindsey confessed. "I'm very humble, and it's not often
that I don't have a joke to tell. Thank you."
Lindsey's emotional acceptance was as touching as the entire evening's
line-up of stellar performances. From co-hosts Randy Travis, George Jones and LeAnn Rimes' traditional-twanging and yodel
dazzling intro, to Vince Gill and Alan Jackson's stirring song deliveries, live entertainment with a country twist couldn't
have been better.
With a long and winding list of practically every name in country music taking the stage throughout
the evening, other performances included those by Lorrie Morgan, Ricky Van Shelton, Bryan White, Randy Travis and Billy Ray
Whether winning artists left with smiles of victory or others simply shared an evening with fellow friends
and entertainers, one thing is for sure -- this night's theme was a tremendous "Thank You" devoted to those who keep country
music in the making. Perhaps tonight's top-shelf winner Alan Jackson summed it up best: "Thank ya'll, thank God and thank
the Grand Ole Opry for country music."