Even a pandemic can’t keep the CMT Awards down. Known for its party atmosphere, this year may have been more subdued, but the good times were not forgotten. A number of artists, including Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani, raised a glass as they accepted their awards remotely, but Luke Combs took it to a new level, shotgunning a Bud while performing “1,2 Many” with Brooks & Dunn to open the show. After he gussied up for the Billboard Music Awards two weeks ago, even donning a jacket, it was good to see Combs back in his cap and untucked shirt, doing what he does best. (Though would it have killed them to do a verse of "Brand New Man" together?)
Location, Location, Location
Other awards shows have made good usage of offsite locations since holding a show in a venue with an audience is forbidden now, but the CMT Awards took it to new creative heights, shooting performances throughout middle Tennessee to gorgeous varied effect, whether it was Ruskin Cave for Morgan Wallen or Cumberland Park for Gabby Barrett or the Barn at Sycamore Farms for Ashley McBride or even Switzerland for Shania Twain.
Chasing a Great Performance
Morgan Wallen has been silent on social media since he posted an emotional video two weeks ago announcing he had been yanked from his Oct. 10 Saturday Night Live performance after social media showed pictures of him partying at an Alabama football game without a mask and no social distancing the weekend before. He also quietly canceled his appearance at the Rome River Jam in Georgia the night before and his forthcoming concert at the Charleston Country Music Fest in S.C. next week. Wallen admitted he wasn’t in a great place in the video, and while it’s possible he taped his performance before the apologetic video, it felt like he tapped into whatever he is working through to provide a vulnerable, lovely version of his hit, “Chasin' You.”
Woman are still struggling mightily to achieve any measure of parity with their male counterparts at country radio. While CMT has stepped up and now plays videos from male and female artists equally, there is still much work to be done at radio. Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles, recipient of CMT’s first Equal Play Award, has been one of the women leading the charge, including boldly wearing on last year’s CMT red carpet (remember those?) a cape that read “Play our f**kin’ records” on one side and “Please and thank you” on the other. Cam, Maren Morris, Tanya Tucker and Kelsea Ballerini were among the artists saluting Nettles for her advocacy (I guess no male artists are in favor of parity). Nettles vowed to keep holding radio’s feet to the flame, acknowledging she’s not alone: “Thank you… to my sisters out there who continue to burn the holy fire…I am so proud of the stories we tell.”
One of the most touching moments of the night came when Chris Young accepted the award for CMT performance of the year for “Drowning,” which he sang at the 2019 CMT Artists of the Year ceremony. Young stepped in at the last minute for Kane Brown, who had just lost his drummer, Kenny Dixon, in a car crash. The song itself, co-written by Young, also addressed his friend, Adam, who also died in a car accident. “It was a difficult moment for me getting up there knowing what [Kane] was going through,” Young said. “I was honored to step into your place.” Brown added, “Thanks so much from the bottom of my heart. His family, friends, it meant the world to us that you stood up there and sang that song. I know Kenny would be proud of you.”
Glad They Didn’t Go To Bed
Dan + Shay performed their lush ballad, “I Should Probably Go To Bed” at the Estate at Cherokee Dock to disquieting effect. The duo combined the effects from the video (Shay Mooney singing from a bed) with the stripped down, acoustic version they just released. With great lighting and just the right amount of theatrical fog floating around the band members, it was an eerie, entrancing performance.
Pour One Out
While many of the performances were creatively staged, Little Big Town’s performance of “Wine, Beer Whiskey” took the prize. The quartet performed at Ruskin Cave with 20-foot images of liquor bottles projected onto the cave wall, as well as sky high, celestial trumpet players looking down as the earth-bound trumpet players bleated out lines. Vocally and visually arresting.