It was unquestionably Blake’s night at the 46th annual CMA Awards.
Triple awardee Blake Shelton is always a delightful interview, and by the time he hit the press conference backstage, he was in rare form.
“I didn’t see this comin’,” he said of his Entertainer of the Year win. “There’s Taylor Swift, right there….Oh my gosh, I’m starting to become one of these guys I read about and I’ve worshipped.
“We’re proud of every single one of these things,” he added. “But the Song of the Year award will have its own shelf and spotlights on it. It’s a real big deal to Miranda and I.”
His brother died in a car accident when Blake was 14. His father, who died in January, always told Blake he should write a song in his brother’s memory, and the awarded “Over You” was the result. Blake wanted wife and cowriter Miranda Lambert to record it, because “I didn’t want to re-live it every night” on stage. “Everything that happened, happened how it should,” he said of the song’s journey.
“Country music is where I come from and where I’m going. This is my heart and my soul. Nashville should never be painted into a corner or pigeonholed. We’re always gonna be country, and we should be proud of that, and we should own it.”
He was just as candid on stage. “I don’t know how this happened!” he shouted to the crowd “Entertainer of the Year? What are you talkin’ about?
“When I moved to Nashville in 1994, I had two goals. One was to someday have a Gold record, and the other was to be a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Entertainer of the Year? What is this?” In addition to Entertainer and Song, Blake won Male Vocalist.
Miranda was just as chatty with the press. “Song of the Year was very special to us,” she said, adding that it was the one award she wanted. She had a pre-show chant: “Say it to the universe, ‘We’re taking Song of the Year.’ Blake wouldn’t say it, because he felt it would jinx it.
“I’ve cried all night,” she added. “My tough exterior is now disheveled.” Miranda won both Song and Female Vocalist trophies.
“Young females are non-existent right now; I refuse to accept that,” she said of country’s current state. “I kicked the door open, and I’m gonna keep my leg in there. I love the guys, but we’re awesome, too.”
The backstage stuff is what we live for. And we press folk especially like first-time winners. On Thursday night (11/1) at Bridgestone Arena, they included Duo of the Year Thompson Square, Single and Vocal Group honorees Little Big Town, Album of the Year winner Eric Church and New Artist Hunter Hayes. All were babbling bon mots.
“I distinctly remember playing to eight people in Amarillo, Texas four years ago, and to go from there to here is unreal,” said Church. “I’ve never put a lot of weight on awards, but I wanted this for the people who believed in me. When I started touring, it wasn’t cool to wear a country-music t-shirt on a college campus. There was a stigma.”
Recognizing that this is a singles-driven marketplace, the Album winner added, “I still think in order to get a fan base, you need to give them more than a page. You need to give them a book.”
“It’s really, really hard to put into words what this feels like,” said Thompson Square’s Keifer Thompson. “We were serving drinks in a bar called The Wheel down the street, a week before our first radio tour. We were singing for tips for eight years, up and down Broadway. Winning this is the greatest night of our life. It’s surreal.”
“It’s just huge for me,” said Hayes. “This is what I saw a lot of my favorite artists achieve early in their careers. I know who has held this trophy before me.
“As soon as they called my name, it caught me off guard. There’s so many people who made this happen. I’m just the one who makes the noise.”
“How loud can I scream?” asked Little Big Town’s Phillip Sweet. “It was like an out-of-body experience,” added the group’s Kimberly Schlapman. “We couldn’t believe it was happening.”
“We always kept believing and dreaming,” said Karen Fairchild. “Every struggling writer and artist, we’re their story.” “Sing your song, dream your dream, hope your hope, say your prayers,” said Kimberly. “It just keeps getting more and more sweet as the days go by,” said Phillip. Jimi Westbrook noted that the timing was perfect, since LBT is about to launch its first headlining tour, with Kacey Musgraves and David Nail in support. As the producer of both LBT’s single “Pontoon” and Church’s CD Chief, Jay Joyce was also a first-time CMA winner.
It was also a “married couples” night. Tim McGraw and Faith Hill were both prominently featured on the CMA telecast. Keifer & Shawna Thompson were winners. So were Miranda Lambert & Blake Shelton. And so were LBT’s Jimi Westbrook & Karen Fairchild.
“We love getting to celebrate together,” said Miranda. “I’m so proud to be his date tonight.”
“Shawna and I met almost 17 years ago,” said Keifer. “And from that first night, we haven’t been apart….We spend every waking moment together. We’re best friends.”
You know what they say: People who watch music awards shows don’t remember who won or lost. They remember the performances they liked.
For my money, the show’s most memorable moments were the following. Zac Brown Band brilliantly harmonized “Goodbye in Her Eyes.” Eric Church was predictably sensational on “Springsteen.” Hunter Hayes really showed his vocal shops on “Wanted.” Taylor Swift was lovably tender with “Begin Again.” Brad Paisley rocked his new “Southern Comfort Zone.” Kelly Clarkson and Vince Gill introduced “Baby Don’t Rush.” Little Big Town drew an ovation for “Pontoon.” Eli Young Band nailed “Even If It Breaks Your Heart.” Dierks Bentley was rugged on “Tip It On Back,” while Kenny Chesney was sensual with “Come Over.” Tim McGraw also did well, introducing his new “One of Those Nights.”
Also singing on the music-packed telecast were Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Faith Hill, Miranda Lambert, Keith Urban (with ZBB), The Band Perry, Carrie Underwood and Brantley Gilbert, who was doubly humiliated by not being introduced and being the excuse to announce radio-station CMA winners.
The finale was a Willie Nelson tribute starring Lady Antebellum, Tim & Faith, Keith and man-of-the-hour Blake. Nelson, who led the “On the Road Again” capper, was given the first CMA Lifetime Achievement Award. What? He’s a member of the Hall of Fame. Isn’t that already a lifetime-achievement thing?
Anyhow, back to the backstage chit-chat. “One of the first times I met Tim McGraw, he was up there in a bar by himself singing a Keith Whitley song,” recalled Kenny Chesney. That was 22 years ago in Printer’s Alley. “We’re still talking about our dreams.”
They won for Vocal Event. “This is our second one. We won with Tracy Lawrence several years ago.” The two spent much of the past year on the road touring together. “The connection that Tim and I had with the fans on the road this year was special.”
With the national election coming up, Tim was asked about politics. “Vote,” he said. “That’s what people have fought and died and bled for. You can’t bitch about it if you don’t vote.”
In the press room, Wendy Pearl presented a surprised Ray Sells and Jennifer Meyer with the CMA Media Achievement Award. “Jennifer and I are the team behind CMT Insider,” said Ray. “But we’ve worked together for 20 years,” dating all the way back to the TNN and Crook & Chase days. Afterward, he admitted to getting teary eyed.
Bob Doerschuk gave Lipscomb University’s Caitlin Selles the CMA Close Up Award of Merit. It’s an honor given to a student who has trained in journalism with the CMA.
Let’s see: What else can I tell you? I counted nine costume changes to Carrie Underwood and five for her show co-host Brad Paisley. Besides Tim and Kenny, pre-show winners included Musician of the Year Mac McAnally and Toby Keith “Red Solo Cup” video director Michael Salomon. British broadcaster Bob Harris won the Wesley Rose International Media Award.
Telecast presenters included Lisa Marie Presley, Jake Owen, Jana Kramer, Kellie Pickler, Darius Rucker, Sugarland, Nashville’s Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere, Kimberly Williams Paisley, Scotty McCreery, Lauren Alaina, Martina McBride, Tim Allen and Reba McEntire.
Being backstage instead of in the house means that I am with my brothers and sisters of the media. Sharing the fellowship were Allen Brown, Alan Mayor, Charlie Chase, Chuck Dauphin, Chuck Aly, Peter Cooper, Lorianne Crook, Katie Cook, Kay West, Terry Bumgarner, Tom Roland, Tree Paine, Brett Woolcott, Brian Mansfield (whose cancer was happily caught early and cured), George Walker IV, Wes Vause, Phyllis Stark, Paula Erickson, Katharine Richardson, Donna Hughes (who provided Halloween candy to the hard working scribes), Storme Warren, Hunter Kelly, Heather Bohn, Vernell Hackett and our genial and capable press conference host, Gary Voorhees.
Also mingling were Ansel Davis, Brandon Blackstock, Ralph Emery, Jake Owen, Big & Rich, Brandi Simms and Ed Benson.