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Bobby Karl Works The MusicRow Awards

(L-R): Song of the Year co-writers James Otto, Jamey Johnson and Lee Thomas Miller performed "In Color." Photo: Alan Mayor

(L-R): Song of the Year co-writers James Otto, Jamey Johnson and Lee Thomas Miller performed "In Color." Photo: Alan Mayor

The readers have spoken, and they have class.

Both Jamey Johnson and James Otto were double winners at this year’s MusicRow awards ceremony. Jamey won the Breakthrough Artist award as well as the Song of the Year prize for “In Color,” co-written with James and Lee Thomas Miller. Because James also co-wrote his big hit “Just Got Started Loving You” he was named this year’s Breakthrough Songwriter.

“We put pieces of our own lives in it,” said Jamey of “In Color.” “That’s what songwriting is supposed to be about, isn’t it?”

“It’s been 12 years in Nashville, and one great year,” said James. He thanked his mom, his wife and publisher Tracy Gershon.

“I’m going to write an article about perseverance,” said Doak Turner. “As soon as I heard James say that, I was inspired.”

winners“This is the greatest town in the world and the greatest business in the world,” said Lee. He interrupted a Disneyworld vacation with his wife and four kids to be at the ceremony.

“This is one of our favorite events,” said Ralph Murphy welcoming the crowd to the host venue, ASCAP. “Mr. David Ross has built a career on integrity and its spirit of perseverance and dedication.”

“This is our 21st MusicRow Awards,” said Boss Ross. “We are here to celebrate the core of our industry’s creativity and its spirit of perseverance and dedication.”

Representing the AFM, newly elected treasurer Craig Krampf addressed the gathering, saying, “What an incredible, special town we have in Nashville. None of us should ever take it for granted. Congratulations to our winners. We’re very proud of you.”

Prior to the ceremony, Craig said he’d gone over the books and found that the first quarter of this year has been the third most lucrative in this AFM chapter’s history. Considering the economic times, that’s saying quite a lot.

MusicRow’s Jon Freeman and Sarah Skates presented this year’s Musician Awards. These were first presented way back in 1989 and remain the only honors given to Music City’s session musicians.

“I remember when you and I had a future in this town,” quipped bass winner Glenn Worf to me before the ceremony. He has won his honor every year since 1992.

Ilya Tonshinsky (guitar) and Gordon Mote (piano) were first-time winners. “I didn’t expect this at all,” said Ilya. “We actually get to make a living playing!” exclaimed Gordon. Previous 13-time winner Steve Nathan was there to congratulate Gordon, which I thought was incredibly endearing. As well as undeniably classy.

Fiddle winner Jonathan Yudkin gave a shout-out to the mag. “We have to maintain a level of awareness of what’s going on,” he said. “David Ross and MusicRow do an excellent job doing that.” It’s the truth.
“Keep my number handy,” said session vocalist winner Wes Hightower. He has won his category every year since 2001. As is the custom, Christie King handed out the framed awards and Alan Mayor snapped away.
Winners not present were steel guitarist Paul Franklin, engineer Justin Niebank and drummer Shannon Forrest. Chris DuBois accepted for Producer of the Year Frank Rogers, who is on vacation, “on a beach somewhere, hopefully with his shirt ON,” said Chris.

Guests snacked on fried chicken strips, jumbo berries, chips and spinach dip, chicken-salad sandwiches and other tasty ASCAP delights.

Many commented that they love the event because they get to have reunions with folks they don’t see often on the Row.

Pete Fisher, Woody Bomar, Scott Hendricks, Sherrill Blackman, Gary Overton, Martha Moore, Keith Stegall, Alan Kates, Allen Brown, Brian Nelson, Pat Higdon, Steve Fishell, Kyle Lehning, Chuck Thompson, Michelle Ross, Susana Ross and Barry Coburn were there. Eli Ball is back in Tune Town, running a new firm called Lyric Financial, which gives loans to writers and publishers, among other services.

The awards are swell, but the real deal is that this is always a dandy party. Just ask Jeff Walker, Dean Unkefer, Karen Staley, Kay Clary, Bob Paxman, Jody Williams, Dennis Banka, Don Cusic, Dale Bobo, Charles Dorris, Chris Ferrell, Steve O’Brien, Pat Rolfe, Cathy Gurley, Susan Stewart, Terry Elam or Neal Spielberg.

(L-R): MR News Editor Sarah Skates with the Top Ten Album All-Star winners Glen Worf, Ilya Toshinksky, Gordon Mote, Wes Hightower and Jonathan Yudkin. Photo: Alan Mayor

(L-R): MR News Editor Sarah Skates with the Top Ten Album All-Star winners Glen Worf, Ilya Toshinksky, Gordon Mote, Wes Hightower and Jonathan Yudkin. Photo: Alan Mayor

(L-R): MR Publisher David M. Ross with Song of the Year writers and publishers EMI Blackwood's Gary Overton, Jamey Johnson, Warner-Tamerlane's Tracy Gershon, New Songs of Sea Gayle's Chris DuBois and Lee Thomas Miller. Photo: Alan Mayor

(L-R): MR Publisher David M. Ross with Song of the Year writers and publishers EMI Blackwood's Gary Overton, Jamey Johnson, Warner-Tamerlane's Tracy Gershon, New Songs of Sea Gayle's Chris DuBois and Lee Thomas Miller. Photo: Alan Mayor

Bobby Karl Works CMA Music Fest (6/14)

Chapter 312-C

SUNDAY, JUNE 14

Jack Ingram performs at the VAULT Concert Stage at LP Field in Downtown Nashville June 14. Photo: John Russell

Jack Ingram performs at the VAULT Concert Stage at LP Field in Downtown Nashville June 14. Photo: John Russell

Sunday Fan club activities began in the morning for Jo Dee Messina at The Belcourt Theater and concluded with Pam Tillis at The Wildhorse Saloon that evening.

In the Sports Zone downtown, we had the fourth annual Michael Peterson Celebrity Tractor Race, sponsored by New Holland. The man to beat was last year’s champ, Darby Ledbetter, a country record maker who is also a three-tour veteran of the Middle East. Mark Collie, Megan Munroe, Richie Fields, Chuck Leavell, lead singer Adam Craig of TelluRide and dozens of other contestants tried to unseat him. But Darby prevailed for the second year in a row. Joey & Rory competed. Rory Feek can wear all the overalls he wants, but his wife Joey Martin’s tractor-race time was better. By the way, the tractors ran on Biodiesel fuel.

It was so humid on Sunday that even a short walk would leave your clothes soaked. Nevertheless, the outdoor attractions at Riverfront included Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers, fast-rising Gloriana, the Eli Young Band and Darryl Worley. Booked at the Hard Rock were Matt Stillwell and The Block Family Band, among others. At the Sommet stage, your choices included The Grascals, Bomshel and T. Graham Brown. Inside the Sommet Center, rehearsals were underway for Tuesday’s CMT Awards. There’s no rest for the weary.

Sage Keffer was slated to open and Miko Marks to close at the final day in the popular, air-conditioned Acoustic Corner. I always feel a twinge of sadness on Sunday afternoon when the booth dismantling begins in the Convention Center. It’s like the circus is folding up its tents.

But there was still one more evening of music and memory making to go at LP field. Soaking up the final concert in the hospitality suite were Dale Bobo, Bill Bennett, the Chamber’s Butch Spyridon, Steve Moore, former vice mayor Howard Gentry, Ben Farrell and Charlie Monk. Bobby Cudd brought his teen daughter to see Taylor Swift on the big stage. Dan Ekback reported that he has a new publishing gig, with Platinum Pen.

Miranda Lambert performs at the VAULT Concert Stage at LP Field June 14. Photo: John Russell

Miranda Lambert performs at the VAULT Concert Stage at LP Field June 14. Photo: John Russell

Now it can be told: the suite’s annual bartender turns out to be “Rockit” Roger Richardson. His single “The First Cowboy in Space” was reviewed in last Friday’s “DisClaimer” column and is available on the current CDX.

The jets roared overhead one last time. Jack Ingram kicked off the show. On “Barbie Doll,” everyone sang along. For “Barefoot and Crazy,” they were on their feet. During “Love You” Jack waded into the crowd, singing and high-fiving fans. Co-host Melissa Peterman observed, “I’ll be his Barbie Doll any day.” Heidi Newfield did an acoustic set. She committed the perennial error of wearing black on the black CMA Fest stage, rendering her nearly invisible. Impending Opry cast inductees Montgomery Gentry were up next.

Co-host Lance Smith brought on Miranda Lambert. The fiery Miranda informed the stadium that she’d come all the way from the Lone Star State to show them how it’s done, “Texas style.” Taylor Swift was next, followed by a surprise appearance by Sugarland. Then came Kenny Chesney, a bunch of beach balls and the end of another fabulous Fest.

Bobby Karl Works CMA Music Fest (6/13)

Chapter 312-B

SATURDAY, JUNE 13

The Judds perform at the VAULT Concert Stage at LP Field in Downtown Nashville June 13. Photo: John Russell

The Judds perform at the VAULT Concert Stage at LP Field in Downtown Nashville June 13. Photo: John Russell

This was our first really hot day of the fest. Boaters were out in force on the Cumberland behind the Riverfront Stage, and kids were frolicking in the Metro Courthouse fountains.

I took Miss Mary with me downtown. “Don’t walk too fast,” she implored. I laughed: “Don’t worry: There are so many people on the streets that you CAN’T walk fast.” And so there were.

In the Sports Zone, we shared the love with the Frisbee dogs. Tracy Byrd was autographing in the Opry Originals gift shop on Broadway that afternoon. Rock performer/producer Roger Nichols was tooling around on his golf cart on 1st Avenue South as the self-proclaimed “Parking Nazi.” He doesn’t mind telling even the biggest country stars where they can and cannot stow their vehicles.

This year, the opening acts each day at Riverfront got 45-minute sets. The rest of the day’s artists did 30 minutes, which is also an increase over previous years. The result was fewer artists clustered in that area of the festival with more to spread around to the Sommet stage, the Hard Rock stage, the Metro Courthouse stage and the Acoustic Corner in the Convention Center. Anyhow, when I was down there boat spotting, Emerson Drive was pleasing everyone with “Moments.” Lorrie Morgan followed. Excellent popster Jeremy Lister was booked for a late-afternoon Courthouse appearance.

Up in the Acoustic Corner, Billy Gilman had to cancel his performance because his grandmother died. As a result, John Arthur Martinez was given a double-long set, so that the rest of the schedule wouldn’t be disrupted.

Chris Young, Doug Stone, Jimmy Kish “The Flying Cowboy,” Ty Herndon, Billy Dean, Rachel Williams, TelluRide, Steve Azar, Mustang Creek, Jeff Allen and Joe Nichols were autographing downstairs in the Convention Center. This portion of the festival is still called Fan Fair.

Sommet stage afternoon highlights included Holly Williams, Cowboy Crush and Jonathan Singleton & The Grove. The Family Zone hosted Martina’s annual YWCA Celebrity Auction. Sara Evans was the Q&A attraction in the smaller tent. Sarah Johns, Julia Barton, Deborah Allen and the Pistol trio kept the Hard Rock testosterone free for the first part of the afternoon. Up at Buddy Killen Circle, the Dan McGuiness Irish Pub was rocking to the sounds of the Collin Raye fan club party late in the day.

That evening at LP Field, Josh Turner turned in a terrific, hit-packed set that concluded with “Long Black Train” and “Would You Go with Me.” Leave it to gifted Jamey Johnson’s chutzpah to kick off his show with a lyric that mentions “cocaine and a whore.” His superb, three-song segment had “In Color” as its finale. Jason Michael Carroll did an acoustic set, followed by the luminous Lee Ann Womack, who left us with a swinging “San Antonio Rose.”

Josh Turner performs at the VAULT Concert Stage at LP Field in Downtown Nashville June 13. Photo: John Russell

Josh Turner performs at the VAULT Concert Stage at LP Field in Downtown Nashville June 13. Photo: John Russell

Wynonna’s powerful voice tackled everything from Merle Haggard’s “Are the Good Times Really Over” to Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is.” The audience came apart when mama Naomi Judd pranced out for a medley of hits made famous by The Judds. The duo was celebrating its 25th anniversary at the fest. Naomi wiped away tears. They hugged and kissed. Everyone cheered wildly.

For his finale, Trace Adkins took off his cowboy hat, let his long locks fly and brought out a gospel choir to accompany him on “Muddy Water.” He stayed in that righteous mode with the choir on a surprisingly countrified version of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground.” Angelic voiced Martina McBride closed out the evening.

Working the hospitality suite were Tim Wipperman, Schatzi Hageman, Jim Rink, Will Rambeaux, Vernell Hackett, Peter Cooper, Allen Brown, Police Chief Ronald Serpas, Lori Badgett, Jason Morris, Michelle Honick, John Styll, Liz Cavanaugh, Ed Salamon, Ed Benson, Brandi Simms, Aaron Hartley and J. Horton Frank.

Bobby Karl Works CMA Music Fest (6/12)

Chapter 312-A

FRIDAY, JUNE 12

Martina McBride and Kid Rock perform at the VAULT Concert Stage at LP Field in Downtown Nashville June 12. Photo: John Russell

Martina McBride and Kid Rock perform at the VAULT Concert Stage at LP Field in Downtown Nashville June 12. Photo: John Russell

Friday always seems, to me, to be the busiest day of the CMA Music Festival. On Wednesday and Thursday, the faithful gather. On Saturday and Sunday, they disperse to various Fan Club parties or find other ways to amuse themselves in Nashville “off campus.” But on Friday, they’re still fresh, ready to party and clustered together downtown.

The day was bright and sunny as I hit Lower Broadway. At the Hard Rock stage, brawny Stephen Dale had one couple dancing merrily in front of his stage. Riders in the Sky, who followed, kept the mood upbeat. Back for another year, The Naked Cowboy was entertaining fans in front of Cadillac Ranch, wearing only his boots, hat, guitar and underpants.

The Riverfront stage had the afternoon one-two-three punch of Eric Church, Craig Morgan and Randy Houser, stand-up singers one and all. Eric’s fans screamed wildly and sang along to every song. “Need God? Go to Church,” read one fan’s sign. “Church Revival” read another. With five separate shows, Eric was the most performing artist of the festival.

Taking it all in backstage were Steve Buchanan, John Peets, Judy McDonough and Jeff Walker. Steve had to leave early because Pam Tillis was autographing in Gaylord’s Opry Originals gift shop.

Meanwhile, up in the Convention Center booths, things were hopping. Even as late in the day as 4:00 p.m., Keith Anderson, Joe Nichols, Billy Yates, Donna Fargo, Moore & Moore, Wynonna Judd, Joey & Rory, Ashton Shepherd, Razzy Bailey, Trailer Choir and The Carter Twins were still signing away.

Here’s a sign of the times. Remember that huge book and record shop that took up half of the far wall in the hall? Gone. Instead, there was a postage-stamp sized Barnes & Noble booth with a few dozen selections.

Outside the Hall on 5th Avenue North, the members of Rio Grand were posing for snaps in front of their brightly painted tour bus.

Kate & Kacey were harmonizing on the Sommet Stage. Cherryholmes later ended the day there. The family bluegrass band is that rare act who played both the CMA Music Festival and Bonnaroo last weekend. Inside the Sommet Center’s “needle,” an acoustic stage was set up for the “Second Friday Songbirds” songwriters.

In the smaller Family Zone tent, ABC soap stars were autographing and Chuck Wicks was in the midst of a fan Q&A session. He deftly dodged a query about when he and Julianne Hough will marry. “We’re happy with our relationship the way it is,” he said. He also suggested that the thing to do might be to wed during next year’s event. “Wouldn’t that be a festival?” he asked the fans. Behind him, in the big Family Zone tent, yodeling Taylor Ware and others were making “country music for kids.”

Lady Antebellum performs at the VAULT Concert Stage at LP Field in Downtown Nashville June 12. Photo: John Russell

Lady Antebellum performs at the VAULT Concert Stage at LP Field in Downtown Nashville June 12. Photo: John Russell

Big-head Cabbage Patch Kids characters were posing for photos. One Family Zone tent was for gathering citizens’ used musical instruments for use in Metro schools. Over at the nearby Rutledge on 4th Avenue South, former American Idol rocker Bo Bice hosted his first fan club party as a country performer.

That night at LP Field, Mayor Karl Dean & Ann Davis, Gary Burr, Victoria Shaw, Tim Nichols, Stuart Dill, Mike Sistad, Lynn Aurelius, Drew Alexander, Anthony Smith and more worked the hospitality suite. Hank Adam Locklin helped Jo Walker Meador to a prime seat and served her beverages. Linda Davis & Lang Scott were there to watch daughter Hillary Scott do her thing in Lady Antebellum. Lang had his business cards for Musiccitynetworks.com, a company “by artists, for artists” that handles websites, brand management and merchandise.

Lady A performed splendidly, as did Luke Bryan, Little Big Town, Jake Owen, Jason Aldean and The Zac Brown Band. Rodney Atkins sang a snippet of “I Can See Clearly Now” as an intro to “If You’re Going Through Hell.” Martina McBride turned up to sing “Picture” with concert closer Kid Rock.

Bobby Karl Works the MusicRow Meet & Greet

Eli Young Band

Eli Young Band

Gloriana

Gloriana

Major Label Breakout Artist of the Year Lady Antebellum

Major Label Breakout Artist of the Year Lady Antebellum

Chapter 304
Photos: Alan Mayor

Our favorite reporting stations got an earful.

The 7th Annual MusicRow Country-Breakout™ Meet & Greet had the best music of any such event to date. After David Ross welcomed one and all, he introduced Rob Dalton of New Revolution Entertainment. Rob informed the throng that both CMT and GAC have added “Wild at Heart,” the debut video and single by Gloriana.
The band absolutely tore up the stage of Cadillac Ranch on Tuesday (3/3) with a harmony-soaked, vivid and energetic set, backed by their own mandolin, acoustic rhythm guitar and electric guitar playing. I have a feeling that this Emblem Records foursome earned itself some

Small Label Breakout Artist of the Year Rick Huckaby and MR Chart Dir. Jon Freeman

Small Label Breakout Artist of the Year Rick Huckaby and MR Chart Dir. Jon Freeman

enthusiastic new fans. I, for one, was thrilled by their sound.

Not to be outdone, Universal South’s Mark Wright presented his label’s new group, The Eli Young Band.

“We got a call about a buzz band down in Texas,” Mark recalled. “So I went down, and there were 2,500 college kids singing along with every word.” The group has been building a fan base for eight years. And that experience showed in a flawless, perfectly tuned set that featured the band’s hit single “When it Rains.”

The MusicRow reception was the kick-off event for the 40th annual Country Radio Seminar. As such, it attracted a fresh-eyed and eared crowd that wasn’t burned out after days of discussions and nights of partying. It also grows larger each year, hence the move to Cadillac Ranch.

CountryBreakout™ Reporter of the Year Jason Drake

CountryBreakout™ Reporter of the Year Jason Drake

The magazine’s commitment to independent as well as major-label music means that all types of artists attended.

Working the reporting stations were Eric Durrance, members of Ricochet, Derek Joseph, The Roys, pretty-in-pink Stella Parton, Sarah Taylor, Billy Dean, studly Stephen Dale, Clay Underwood and award winners Jason Aldean, Rick Huckaby, Lady Antebellum and Cody McCarver.

A sideboard held chicken fingers, barbecue sandwiches, hot wings and other snacks. But the bar was busier.

Schmoozing fabulons included Scott Hendricks, Allen Butler, Arthur Buenahora, Fletcher Foster, Barry Coburn, Ree Guyer-Buchanan, Woody Bomar, Tony Darren (who is the son of actor-singer James

Mid-size Label Artist of the Year Jason Aldean and Robert K. Oermann

Mid-size Label Artist of the Year Jason Aldean and Robert K. Oermann

Darren, by the way), Chuck Thompson, Martha Moore, Neil Speilberg and son David, Chris Lacy, Bill Wence, Eddie Mascola (“Go, Steelers!”),

Rick Murray and Gene Kennedy. Entertainment reporter Brad Schmitt was covering the gig with a Channel 2 TV crew and was ga-ga over the two gals in Gloriana.

Among the label honorees were Keith Andrews (PLC Records), Mike Borchetta and Richard Franco (Lofton Creek), Dale Turner (Lyric Street, accepting for Rascal Flatts, who were performing at the Houston Rodeo) and Diane Richey (stepping up to the plate for an absent Capitol Records rep).

Back to the subject of our beloved reporting stations, Jon Freeman introduced us to Jason Drake, who won Reporter of the Year. “This guy

Small Label Artist of the Year Cody McCarver and Robert K. Oermann

Small Label Artist of the Year Cody McCarver and Robert K. Oermann

has never missed a reporting week, ever,” said Jon. “That’s almost unheard of.” Jason is at KAIR in Atchison, Kansas. “It’s an honor to report to MusicRow,” said Jason. Awwwww.

Michelle Ross handled the check-ins. Sarah Skates and Susana Ross were greeters. Christie King handed out the award plaques. Alan Mayor snapped the pics. Making his debut as a MusicRow staffer was Peter Cronin. He’ll be the new Sarah while she’s off on maternity leave starting next week.

“You only hired me because I’m guaranteed not to get pregnant,” he quipped.

Bobby Karl Works The CMA Awards Chapter 301

During a musical cornucopia of a show with 20 performances, Kenny Chesney was again crowned country music’s monarch at the 42nd annual CMA Awards.

With his fourth Entertainer of the Year win, Kenny now ties Garth Brooks. His performance of “Everybody Want to Go to Heaven” with The Wailers was one of the CMA telecast’s 2008 musical highlights.

“As much as tonight is about awards, I really believe that standing onstage tonight is more about great songs, great fans and standing before everybody every night,” he said.

(Top-Bottom): Sugarland, George Strait, Kid Rock, Alan Jackson, Miranda Lambert, Trace Adkins, Kellie Pickler and Martina McBride. Photos: Donn Jones and John Russell

Backstage, Kenny added, “The energy I give and the energy that I get back on stage is pretty addictive. Entertaining is what I do best. I already have a 3-D version in my mind of what my stage is going to look like next year. This never gets old.” He added that he felt that Garth “opened up a lot of roads” for shows like his.

Also repeating was show co-host Carrie Underwood, with her third consecutive Female Vocalist CMA award. She was also the evening’s fashion highlight, changing into nine different outfits for the red carpet, hosting duties, performance slot and post-show party.

“Thank you, country music,” said Carrie. “I came here on an unconventional route [via American Idol]. You guys didn’t have to accept me at all…Thank you, everybody I know!”

Show co-host Brad Paisley took home his second Male Vocalist prize. When his name was announced, he lept down into the audience, hugged duet partner Keith Urban and bent down to kiss wife Kimberly Williams Paisley on her tummy. Backstage, he confirmed that she is pregnant with their second child.

Rascal Flatts
won its sixth Group of the Year honor. “Again, all of our fans, again all of our fans, again all of our fans,” said lead vocalist Gary LeVox on stage. Backstage, he added, “There’s no greater feeling than standing on stage and hearing your songs sung back to you.” Jay DeMarcus said that multiple winning, “never gets old, especially when you’re standing there in the same category as your heroes, like The Eagles.

George Strait’s
Album of the Year win was also a repeat. Sugarland was in the Duo of the Year winner’s seat for the second year.

Facing stiff competition from Jason Aldean, Rodney Atkins, Kellie Pickler and James Otto, Lady Antebellum was the winner of the Best New Artist CMA Award.

“This is so cool!” blurted Lady A’s Hillary Scott. At the backstage press conference, she revealed that she has a tattoo and has challenged fellow Lady A member Dave Haywood to get one, too. The group described itself as “shocked” by the win. Hillary’s mother, Linda Davis, is also a country performer. When the two hugged, that’s when Hillary truly “lost it” and dissolved into tears.

“Stay” Song of the Year winner Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland said, “I love writin’ songs and I love performin’ ‘em. It’s just been a gift from the beginning, and it was a gift to write.”

Musically, the telecast was a mixed bag. In the winners’ column were Alan Jackson, Keith Urban, Kellie Pickler, Miranda Lambert, Martina McBride, Darius Rucker, Trace Adkins, George Strait, The Eagles and co-hosts Brad and Carrie. Lady Antebellum was particularly electrifying. Jason Aldean and Kid Rock rocked. With her long silver-fringed top over black tights, Jennifer showed the other ladies how to dress during Sugarland’s “Love,” which was another great performance.

Not so hot were a vocally flat effort by Rodney Atkins and a wobbly-pitched performance by Taylor Swift. Brooks & Dunn’s collaboration with Reba McEntire initially suffered from an inaudible Reba. Muffled vocals also troubled the show-opening “Join a Band” by Brad and Keith.

The parade of presenters included Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman, the stars of the cinematic epic Australia. “It’s a true testament to the international power of country music that you would have us Ozzies here tonight,” said Hugh. On the red carpet, Nicole said she wasn’t nervous about presenting, because hubby Keith Urban wasn’t in the Single of the Year category.

Native Nashvillian Reese Witherspoon, another presenter, said that her family has steadfastly remained in Tune Town, despite her entreaties to move them to the West Coast. She added that she misses Music City’s “soul food.”

“Do we have any Tennessee Titans fans in the house tonight?” inquired Billy Ray Cyrus, who presented with tween-sensation Miley Cyrus. They did not walk the red carpet together. Miley said it was a relief to be away from the L.A. papparazzi so she could shop for two hours at Wal-Mart unmolested by them. Billy Ray spotted Shania Twain getting out of her limo, walked over with open arms, embraced her and escorted her to the red carpet. But he walked it with former Nashville Star contestant Justin Gaston. They met on the show and bonded. Handsome Justin has been playing in the BRC band and singing harmony. He begins recording his debut disc in Nashville this week.

Other presenters included Julianne Hough, Josh Turner, Lee Ann Womack, Jimmy Wayne, Jake Owen and Vince Gill. Among the show’s notable gaffs were the miniscule amount of time allotted to Brad’s tribute to Jerry Reed and Vinnie’s salute to this year’s Hall of Fame inductees, plus cutting James Otto’s song short to announce radio-station winners.

Josh and Sarah Buxton had a class reunion on the red carpet. They attended Belmont together. “I knew he was a star the first time I heard him sing,” Sarah told Channel 2 reporter Brad Schmitt. Also walking the red carpet were Jennifer Hanson, Crystal Shawanda, Darryl Worley, Big Kenny and Chuck Wicks, plus most of the show’s performers and presenters.

“I’m as nervous as I can be,” said Darius Rucker prior to his performance. Taylor Swift said that her beaded crystal red-carpet dress weighed 30 pounds. During her CMA performance, her voluminous purple ball gown magically transformed into a romantic, white floor-length creation.

Big Machine Records had its after-party right at the show-hosting Sommet Center. The jam-packed CMA bash was across the way at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center. Shania Twain was all the buzz at the UMG party at its headquarters on Commerce Street. Capitol’s after-party was at Lime on Upper Broadway. Carrie Underwood, Kenny Chesney, Reese Witherspoon and The Wailers all turned up at the Sony after-party on Music Row.

The soirees have been ultra-cool all this week. In addition to The Wailers and Reese, Kevin Costner, Lynyryd Skynyrd, steel-guitar great Robert Randolph, Titans quarterback Kerry Collins, Miley Cyrus, Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, ‘Lil Wayne and Kid Rock have all been on the party circuit, as well as all the big country stars. What a fabulous time to “work the room.”