The 2015 CMA Awards are done and dusted, the winners are still celebrating and the losers are, well, probably celebrating too. The Awards broadcast wasn’t the only place to catch the action. Billboard went behind-the-scenes to report on the news you won’t see anywhere else.
— Eric Church released a surprise (and off-cycle) album Wednesday titled Mr. Misunderstood. His longtime manger, Q Prime’s John Peets, briefly took the stage in the backstage media room at the CMA Awards in Nashville seemingly to explain it, but instead quickly turned the microphone over to 14-year-old McKinley James of Webster, N.Y., who is featured on the album’s back cover. “I am one of 80,000 fans Eric Church gave his new album to today,” said James. That apparently included everyone in the media room, who was handed a copy of the CD, following a vinyl copy many had received in their mail earlier in the day.
Media also received copies of a handwritten letter from Church, who normally torments over the album making process, explaining that this one actually came together quickly. Church noted that he wrote his first song for the album late in the summer. “Twenty days later, I had 18 songs,” he said. “Twenty days following that, I had 10 recorded. That was 30 days ago. It always takes me time to look for inspiration to make a new album. This time inspiration came looking for me.”
Not missing a marketing opportunity, Universal Music Group Nashville opened up its pop-up Eric Church store in East Nashville 30 minutes after the CMA show ended and stocked it with copies of the CD. They also partnered with Uber, adding a slider to the app where fans could hear the album while getting a ride to the pop-up store.
— After unexpectedly winning three big awards, including male vocalist of the year, Chris Stapleton and his wife/background vocalist Morgane FaceTimed their children at home before heading backstage to speak to the press. Once backstage, Stapleton described the night as “surreal” and “overwhelming,” adding “I’m going to do my best to handle it with a little bit of grace.”
But taking issue with the notion that his wins portend a shift in focus for country music, Stapleton said, “I don’t feel like music is a war. People have a tendency to try to make it into that. Anybody here working tonight deserves respect. That’s true of anybody out there making music. Nobody gets anywhere by hating on somebody else’s music.” He also said performing with Justin Timberlake on the CMA Awards wasn’t nearly as terrifying to him as facing a horde of reporters backstage, noting “You guys scare me more.”
— Mac McAnally won his eighth consecutive CMA musician of the year award in the pre-tel ceremony, but presenter Jana Kramer clearly had no idea who he was, twice pronouncing his name “McNally.” McAnally, who humbly titled his most recent album Aka Nobody, didn’t seem to mind.
— Unusual November temperatures in the 70s meant the tented red carpet was transformed into a blazing hot biosphere where artists including David Nail and Tyler Farr suffered and sweated in their suits.
— Luke Bryan has only ever won two CMA trophies in his career, but they are both for the top prize, entertainer of the year — including the one he picked up Wednesday night. “Would I love to win a male vocalist and single and song? Of course,” he said backstage. “But I’ve got to feel like if I stay the course and work hard and write songs and listen for songs, those moments will come. If I do happen to win a male vocalist of the year one day, it will be a fine night for me, an amazing night.”
— Everybody thought the next Florida Georgia Line single would be from their next album, but they surprised everyone — apparently including themselves — by just releasing “Confession” from their current set Anything Goes instead. “Psych,” quipped the duo in unison backstage before Brian Kelley explained that they changed gears because “’Confession’ really opens the door for what we’ve got coming down the pipeline and bookends the album.”
— Little Big Town’s Jimi Westbrook had vocal surgery over the summer, forcing the band to cancel numerous show. But it worked. Said his wife and band mate Karen Fairchild, “Jimi’s hitting, like, Justin Timberlake notes” these days.
— Bryan puts everything he has into his live show, and while fans don’t see the toll that takes, he admitted backstage after his entertainer of the year win that some nights he exits the stage out of breath and puts ice packs on his knees.
— In a brief Q&A with media backstage, video of the year winners Maddie & Tae were on message, using the word “bold” four separate times to describe their music, including this quote from Taylor Dye, “For people to recognize how bold our message is and be so accepting is so unbelievable to us.”
— Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush” brought the band some new fans, including some unexpected ones. Said the band’s Fairchild, “I think we got a tweet from Boy George. We definitely never heard from him before.”
Assistance in preparing this story was provided by Deborah Evans Price and Tom Roland in Nashville