Last week I had the chance to attend the CMA Awards ceremony at the Sommet Center in downtown Nashville, and that gave me yet another opportunity to experience just how much country music has changed. Not just its sound has been altered, sometimes to the point that it is hard to recognize as country, but also the way in which it is marketed and the kind of audience at which it is aimed. In fact, had I not walked all the way down Broadway from Vanderbilt University in the chill of the evening, I would have felt like I was in New York or Hollywood, and not in the Music City.
It used to be that this ceremony provided a chance for the country music people, whether it be producers, artists, musicians, the folks on the business side of the industry, or fans, to get together and honor the most outstanding contributions to the genre during the previous year. Nowadays, it has turned into a three-hour special broadcast on national TV, and so it is filled with way too many performances that lead up to the presentation of a few awards that would not actually take so long to give away if it were not for the constant commercial breaks demanded by the network covering the event. The show, then, was unnecessarily lengthy -- the CMAs are not the Oscars, even if they are attempting to make them look that way.
As for the music, very few songs sounded country to me -- at least not what I consider to be country. The acts kept offering light pop tunes and belting out noisy rock ditties that are passed off as country music when they really aren't. Roy Acuff would turn over in his grave if he heard the loud, pseudo-Keith Moon drums employed by Big & Rich. If not for the cowboy hats and boots that some artists were wearing, one could hardly tell that we were at a country concert. Country could be seen, but not heard, and that is definitely a problem because country should not be just about the looks, but primarily about the music. Country may and should be influenced by other styles, yet never to such an extent that the generic differences that define it as country are entirely obliterated.
On the bright side, The Eagles lit up the audience with their brand of country-pop, proving that keeping it simple is always an asset when it comes to real country music. George Strait and Alison Krauss also did a good job when it came time for each one of them to perform, and Whisperin' Bill Anderson received yet another award as a songwriter. It is reassuring to see him in such good shape and still with his gift for writing great tunes completely untouched. The thrilling performance of "Stay" by Sugarland with just an acoustic guitar was a nice surprise for me, one of the countriest-sounding offerings of the night. Dwight Yoakam was also there, presenting an award and paying an all too brief tribute to the late Porter Wagoner. Not very many mentions to Porter were made, and not one of his songs was heard all night, which was rather disappointing for me, knowing how much Porter meant for country music and the Nashville establishment during his lifetime. No doubt, for the CMA the sounds and the markets have changed. Unfortunately, it is rather sad to see that reverence for the great stars of the past does not seem to be as important anymore. As Neil Young once said during a performance at the Ryman, "Nashville is not the same anymore. I wonder how Hank Williams would've felt about that." Do we really need to wonder?
Cowboy Anton -- Nashville, Tennessee.