NEW YORK -- Keith Urban and Lee Ann Womack were the top winners Tuesday night (Nov. 15) at the 39th annual CMA Awards. Womack won in three categories, but Urban's two wins included his first victory as the CMA's entertainer of the year.
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The awards show took place in New York's Madison Square Garden although an outdoor stage in nearby Times Square gave Garth Brooks a chance to pay a very public musical tribute to the late Chris LeDoux. The one-time visit to New York marked the first time the awards show has taken place outside Nashville. Other winners included Dierks Bentley, Gretchen Wilson, Rascal Flatts and the hosts of the awards show, Brooks & Dunn.
The entertainer of the year nominees included Alan Jackson, Toby Keith, Brad Paisley and last year's winner, Kenny Chesney. Urban was quick to acknowledge that much of his current success can be attributed to his past work on the road as one of Chesney's opening acts. "I want to thank Kenny for being so good to us and for teaching me so much about entertaining," Urban said.
Earlier in the evening, Urban thanked his touring band in accepting his second straight male vocalist of the year trophy. "I have the best road band," he said. "Road bands out there, in general, don't get enough appreciation. I want to send my love and thanks out to all the road bands tonight, particularly my own."
Womack and George Strait shared a musical event win for their collaboration on "Good News, Bad News," a track from his most recent album, but the greatest excitement surrounded her wins resulting from her return to a traditional country sound. Womack's
There's More Where That Came From won album of the year honors, and one of the tracks, "I May Hate Myself in the Morning," picked up a single of the year win. The album was produced by Greg Droman and Byron Gallimore, and the single was written by Odie Blackmon.
"This album really represents to me the kind of music my dad played when he was a disc jockey and the kind of music I grew up with in Jacksonville, Texas," Womack said. "I love it. I'm so proud of it, and I want to keep doing it." Seizing the national forum to promote country music, Womack had a message for television viewers: "If you are listening to music that doesn't touch you, that doesn't mean anything to you, tune into your country station. We have songs about your life. We have songs that you will love. We have songs that will speak to your heart."
Despite the popularity of "I May Hate Myself in the Morning," song of the year honors went to songwriters Bill Anderson and Jon Randall for "Whiskey Lullaby." Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss won a vocal event award last year for their recording of the song.
Anderson, a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, accepted the award by saying, "I have probably been writing songs in Nashville longer than just about anybody. My first co-writer was Andrew Jackson. But to still be able to be a part of this wonderful industry and to share moments with people like Jon Randall, who's so talented, and Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss, who made such a wonderful record on this song. ... Thank you for just letting me continue to be a part of this country music business still after all this time."
Bentley's work ethic paid off with a Horizon Award win. He thanked his band, road crew and bus driver for keeping him on the road. "I really have nothing prepared," Bentley said. "I really didn't expect to win this at all. I'm actually shocked, but honored, to get this."
Wilson, last year's Horizon winner, won her first female vocalist trophy from the CMA. Wilson thanked the fans, but she also gave special thanks to three Nashville residents -- ASCAP executive Connie Bradley, Sony/ATV Tree Music Publishing executive Donna Hilley and A&R rep Tracy Gershon. "They're some of the strongest women that I've met," Wilson said. "They've given me the courage to do everything that I've done until now."
When Rascal Flatts won its third consecutive vocal group of the year award, guitarist Joe Don Rooney said, "We get criticized a lot for the kind of country music we make, but the fans -- you guys -- what can we say? We love you."
And while it was no surprise at all, it should be reported that Brooks & Dunn once again won in the vocal duo category. It's their 13th time to do so. Ronnie Dunn said, "We've been walking the streets of New York all week and realized, in a hurry, what a small world it is but what a big family it is. Thank you for allowing us to stay members of that family."
Prior to the CBS telecast of the show, the video of the year award went to "As Good As I Once Was," the Toby Keith clip directed by Michael Salomon. Also, Dobro master Jerry Douglas was named musician of the year.
Other highlights of the awards show were the inductions of Glen Campbell, Alabama and country pioneer DeFord Bailey into the Country Music Hall of Fame. In inducting the late Bailey, country's first African-American star, Vince Gill said, "The Grand Ole Opry is 80 years old because of DeFord Bailey and his contributions."
Campbell told the audience, "It's a thrill for me to be included [among] so many great artists who inspired me and those who became my friends and colleagues. ... Hank Williams, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, Charley Pride, my unbelievable friend Gene Autry and my fellow Arkansas native, the fabulous Johnny Cash."
Campbell also thanked his family, manager and songwriters Jimmy Webb (who wrote "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," "Wichita Lineman" and "Galveston") and Larry Weiss (who wrote "Rhinestone Cowboy"). He added, "And thanks to all the other great writers who wrote such wonderful songs that I was blessed enough to record. I also would like to thank Tommy Smothers for giving me my big TV break. Boy, that was something. I thank the fans for their continued support. And I want to say thanks to my Uncle Boo, who taught me how to play guitar."
Granted, the awards show was on national television -- and those producing and directing the program had a schedule to maintain. However, the four members of Alabama should have been given more time to speak.
"I thought when we got entertainer of the year some eight times that it was great," guitarist Jeff Cook said. "When we got artist of the decade of the '80s, that was wonderful. Being country group of the century was amazing. And this is the pinnacle of the awards right here."
Drummer Mark Herndon was in the middle of his acceptance speech when the music signaled the end of the segment. The show went to a commercial before lead vocalist Randy Owen and bassist Teddy Gentry were allowed to speak. The situation, similar to last year when Kenny Chesney's entertainer of the year acceptance speech was cut short, resulted in some pronounced boos among the crowd inside Madison Square Garden.
Chesney opened the show with onstage explosions on "Living in Fast Forward," a track from new album, The Road and the Radio. Garth Brooks performed "Good Ride Cowboy," a tribute to LeDoux, while videos from LeDoux's career as a rodeo cowboy and singer-songwriter played on the screen of the stage in Times Square. Backed by LeDoux's band, Western Underground, Brooks was clearly ecstatic to be out of retirement from public performances -- if only for one night.
Other musical performances people will be talking about -- some for better or worse, depending on their point of view:
Alison Krauss' guest vocals with Brad Paisley on "When I Get Where I'm Going."
Norah Jones playing electric piano while Willie Nelson sang Paul Simon's "Still Crazy After All These Years." Simon reciprocating while accompanying himself on guitar for a performance of Nelson's "Crazy."
Alan Jackson's song choice -- a cover of Eric Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight."
Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles teaming with Bon Jovi for "You Can't Go Home," a track from the band's latest album.
Tim McGraw joining wife Faith Hill on "Like We Never Loved at All."
Gretchen Wilson's delivery of "I Don't Feel Like Loving You Today"
Ronnie Dunn's soulful vocal on Brooks & Dunn's "Believe."