by Alison Bonaguro
In a year filled with all kinds of unprecedented events and new normals, Wednesday night’s (Nov. 11) 54th Annual CMA Awards were no exception.
The audience was intimate, the performers were socially distanced, the acceptance speeches were brief, and the only fans watching were the ones doing so from home.
Even backstage during the show, the protocols and procedures looked much different than any other CMA Awards in the show’s long-standing history. Instead of an actual press room set up inside of Nashville’s Music City Center, the Country Music Association set up a Virtual Press Conference via a Zoom call with music reporters ready to ask the night’s winners about everything they didn’t get a chance to say on stage.
“The biggest thing for me is, this is not a year where there’s really been winners. It’s been a year of losses. Of managing those losses. It was really hard for me to accept this award — which I have wanted forever — not for me but for the people who work so hard and push those carts up and down ramps and they stay up all night long. For me, the hardest thing was to stand there in 2020 and understand that you win that award — but this year is more about what the losses are. Loss of life, loss of education, loss of time playing. We were in a room together as country music on this night, live, and that’s not happened this year. That was a win for country music. And it’s gonna be music that brings us out of this, I promise. It’s not gonna be politics. It’s not gonna be sports. It’s gonna be music. However we do this thing. That is how we’re gonna leave Covid in the dust bin of history. I would’ve loved to have celebrated this with the Church Choir, but we are gonna be the ones to carry us to where Covid doesn’t exist.”
“I felt like they were all my buddies (in the crowd) and I could really measure each of my words I was going to say, instead of being a frazzled mess and looking out at a black hole of 20,000 people. Every artist in the room was like, ’This is very bizarre.’ I mean, we’re so happy to see each other and we can actually have conversations. It was a weird thing, but I think considering the circumstances, the CMA did an amazing job. And it really felt fun to see everybody again. So many artists, like Miranda (Lambert), have paid it forward for me as an artist, and Keith Urban, and everyone who’s brought me out on tour over the years. With awards, I feel like you obviously want to thank your team and the writers, and luckily I got the chance three times tonight to say everything I wanted to say.”
“It’s always bigger than us artists. Our ability to come together is unlike any genre, and our ability to be genuinely excited for each other is unlike any genre. I’m a huge advocate of us being excited for each other when we win. I was pumped to see Carly (Pearce) win her first CMA today, and I was excited to be a really small part of that. I was pumped to see Eric (Church) win Entertainer tonight. Without him, there’s no me. I think no one has ever deserved anything more than he deserved to win that trophy tonight. I’m blessed. I got to be with my wife and sit at a table with some other folks, and just to feel that sense of community and feel like we’re turning a corner maybe a little bit on this thing was incredible.”
“It’s a little kick in the rear to the top, I hope. Definitely the career part I’ve taken for granted. I’ve always loved playing shows and giving everything I’ve got every night, but you don’t ever look at a show and be like, ’Damn. This might be my last one.’ I might treat every show like it might be from now on. For me personally, I feel like I’m in a better spot. I feel like I’m back at home with myself now. In certain ways I still feel like a new artist, and when I come to something like this I do feel new. Because this is the first real recognition I’ve got from any real sort of association. I wanna win every award they got.”
“Obviously this has been the hardest year of my life. And to see the way that country music has had my back the whole time is something that has saved me in a lot of ways. And to be able to look at the beginning of the year and think about how low I was — and to now be standing here with this (award) is a childhood dream. What a way to end the year. This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. It was my idea to write with Luke Combs. It was my idea to write a duet. It was my apology to my ex. And I’ve never shied away from being honest and authentic, and I wanted to shine a light on something that doesn’t make me look very good: that I hurt somebody. I just unapologetically did it. What an amazing pay off for it.”
“I appreciate this so greatly. What song do I like the best? I’ll tell you — and this is the truth — the song I love best is the song I’m singing at the moment.”
Throughout the show, country artists took the Music City Center stage not just to accept their awards, but to perform some of their latest hit songs, and in the opening number, a tribute to the late Charlie Daniels.
Dierks Bentley: “Long Haired Country Boy”
Brothers Osborne: “Trudy”
Ashley McBryde: “Texas”
Jason Aldean: “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”
Gabby Barrett and Charlie Puth: “I Hope”
Eric Church: “Hell of a View”
Morgan Wallen: “More Than My Hometown”
Darius Rucker: “Beers and Sunshine”
McBryde: “One Night Standards”
Dan + Shay and Justin Bieber: “10,000 Hours”
Luke Combs: “Cold As You”
Jon Pardi: “Pickup Man”
Show co-hosts Reba McEntire and Rucker: “In the Ghetto”
Carly Pearce and Charles Kelley: “I Hope You’re Happy Now”
Miranda Lambert: “Settling Down”
Jimmie Allen: “Best Shot”
Allen and Charley Pride: Pride’s “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin’”
Chris Stapleton: “Starting Over”
Ingrid Andress: “More Hearts Than Mine”
Thomas Rhett, McEntire, and Chris Tomlin: “Be a Light”
Little Big Town: Kenny Rogers’ “Sweet Music Man”
Brothers Osborne: “All Night”
Old Dominion: Johnny Lee’s “Lookin’ for Love”
Maren Morris: “The Bones”
Keith Urban: “God Whispered Your Name”
Kelsea Ballerini: “hole in the bottle”
Alison makes her living loving country music. She’s based in Chicago, but she’s always leaving her heart in Nashville.