More than two years into the pandemic, we should all be used to curveballs by now, but Monday night’s (April 11) CMT Awards got a lot thrown at them at the last minute: Co-host Kelsea Ballerini pulled out as on-site co-host Monday morning show after testing positive for COVID-19, while live outdoor performers had to deal with a raging rainstorm.
But that couldn’t stop the good vibes for the CMT Awards, which aired for the first time on CBS (and streamed on Paramount +) after airing on CMT from 2002-21. It assumed the broadcast slot after the Academy of Country Music Awards, which had aired on CBS for years, moved to Amazon’s Prime Video.
Ballerini gamely chipped in remotely from her house, while Kane Brown genially stepped in to co-host at Nashville’s Municipal Auditorium with actor Anthony Mackie.
The three-hour show, understandably, had some ragtag moments given the last-minute changes, but there were plenty of strong performances to keep fans tuned in.
Together Again Again
Mother and daughter Naomi and Wynonna Judd made their first performance on an awards show in 20 years to promote The Judds’ new 10-date Final Tour (as opposed to 2010’s The Last Encore Tour, which was their final tour until this one). From the first note, it was clear that Wynonna’s voice has lost none of its power and potency and the song about unity resonates as a much-needed message now more than ever, especially with the addition of the requisite gospel choir. (However, it felt like a missed opportunity not to give a shout-out to Ukraine, although the show was decidedly non-political). Before they hit the road, the Judds will deservedly be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Jimmie Allen was joined by R&B icon Monica and Little Big Town to bring to life “Pray,” the song the three acts recorded for Allen’s 2021 album, Bettie James (Gold Edition). As strong as it is on record, seeing the artists perform the song live brought an added emotional depth as Allen sang, “Seems like love went out of fashion/it’s easier to hate,” surrounded by his collaborators’ angelic voices. Never released as a single, it’s one of those songs that will find its audience and those will be the ones who need to hear its message the most.
Carly Pearce keeps mining gold from 29: Written in Stone, her album that dives deep into her divorce from Michael Ray and the death of her good friend and producer busbee. She was all sass and fire on “Diamondback,” one of the album’s saucier tunes, about not giving back that rock on her hand after her husband done her wrong.
CMT has always been about expanding musical boundaries and perhaps no performance on the CMT Awards exemplified that ethos as much as Mickey Guyton and Black Pumas’ take on “Colors,” the Austin, Texas duo’s trippy soulful track about inclusion. As Guyton and the Pumas’ Eric Burton effortlessly traded off lyrics on the 2021 Grammy record of the year nominee, it felt like the Pumas might need to seriously consider expanding from a duo to a trio.
Good Sport Award
While a number of acts pre-taped their outdoor performances, you had to hand it to the troupers who performed live in the pouring rain, including Cole Swindell and Lainey Wilson, who turned in a sultry version of their recent chart topper, “Never Say Never,” and Jason Aldean and Bryan Adams who tried to recreate the magic of their 2009 Crossroads collaboration with Adams’ classic ballad, “Heaven.” Best of the bunch was Ballerini, who performed new single, “Heartfirst” for the first time on TV from her backyard, while quarantining, separated from her band (presumably to keep them safe) by flowing blue sheets.
Til He Can
It’s been a huge year for Cody Johnson, with the Texas troubadour scoring his first Country Airplay No. 1 with the inspirational “Til You Can’t.” A slick, wet stage kept Johnson pretty much rooted in place, but he still managed to give one of the evening’s most energetic performances and showed why he was the right one to finally turn the song into a hit after other artists had been turning it down for six years.