(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
NEW YORK -- Every single
black-beaded evening gown in closets throughout Long Island and all across New Jersey was hauled out on Tuesday (Nov. 15).
I know that because I saw every one of them being worn at the CMA Awards show at Madison Square Garden. There were more bare
backs there than at the Cheyenne Rodeo. The country music ladies turned out dressed to the nines, with many of their men sporting
various versions of 10-gallon hats.
The atmosphere in Madison Square Garden building up to the awards show was truly
electric. The true New York-area country fans finally got their night to howl, and they really cut loose. It was like they
were headed for an all-you-can-eat buffet, with a full open bar on the side. For an evening at least, Madison Square Garden
was country music's living room. Entire families, all dressed up, were carting armloads of popcorn and hot dogs and all manner
of candy, wine, whiskey and beer and settling down happily to catch three hours of their own music live and in person.
they loved it. The true fans' biggest moments and loudest ovations came for Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, George
Strait, Sugarland and Rascal Flatts. The single loudest, almost deafening audience ovation of the night began when McGraw
first walked downstage to join his wife Faith Hill during their duet of "Like We Never Loved at All." And the ovation carried
throughout the song. This is a romantic audience.
The day after the big show, the country music tornado has come and
gone and all the Nashville cats are out at LaGuardia, waiting for flights to take them back to Music City. New York City is
still the same. It takes a lot to shake this town. Country music made a favorable impression as a visiting media blip, but
it's hard to see what lasting effects there will be, if any.
Anyone who follows country music demographics knows there
are many hardcore country music fans in New York City, but a lot of those -- especially in Manhattan -- are the bluegrass,
folkie and Nanci Griffith fans. The true country demographic is out there in the hinterlands, across Jersey and throughout
Long Island, and it's hard to sell a big media conglomerate on maintaining a major country radio station for that audience.
As has been proved over the years by previous country stations in New York, country radio in New York can do well -- but not
as well as, say, talk radio or sports radio. And making a lot of money is all that the big radio conglomerates are interested
in. Without a major radio station, it's difficult to promote big country concerts. And it's hard to see that this country
blitz could inspire a hard-nosed, bottom-line radio conglomerate to try a country station in New York.
Of course, the
other story is that there is an active country music scene in New York whose practitioners don't really need or want missionaries
from Nashville invading their turf to preach them the gospel. There is a thriving club circuit in New York and many local
country artists. On CMA Awards night in Manhattan, the Brooklyn Country Music Association awards show was being held at Hank's
Saloon on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, and I wished I could have been there as well to hear their sentiments.
Awards show mostly passed muster with the hardcore fans I was watching with in the Garden. They now approve wholeheartedly
of Lee Ann Womack and her new sense of new traditionalism. They felt it was a damn shame that Alabama's Randy Owen and Teddy
Gentry couldn't end their long careers with a farewell message. These Hall of Fame inductees were waiting to speak when fellow
Alabama member Mark Herndon talked and talked and talked overlong and was cut off and the show went to a commercial break
and that was that. No matter how loudly the fans up in the balconies yelled, "Bring Alabama back!"
Welcome to reality. Randy and Teddy did deserve a little gold-watch retirement moment before they totter off to the old folks
home. I mean, that's a hell of a way to end your career. You build a long resume of country music hits, you finally get elected
to the Country Music Hall of Fame, you're waiting for your 12 seconds on the CMA Awards on national TV to be validated and
say goodbye. And poof! It disappears. And you're gone. Vanished. Country music has many lessons for us all.
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