Country music's finest will take the stage in Nashville at the 56th CMA Awards on November 9. We share some country music memories and a Spotify playlist to get you ready.
Country music helped raise me. Merle Haggard and George Jones used to sing us all the way to grandma’s house on the weekends (courtesy of East Texas’ KNUE 101.5). Clint Black, The Judds, and Reba had regular rotations in my little cassette boombox in my room.
When I was finally able to drive myself places in the early '90s, I’d linger just a little longer than necessary in parking lots to make it to the end of any song from No Fences. And those who’ve paid close enough attention to C&I over the last decade know of my lifelong devotion to George Strait.
In my adult years, I’ve moved back in country history, picking up serious Willie, Johnny, Waylon, Hank, and Patsy habits. I’ve wept nightly for a brief period of time, watching every chapter of Ken Burns’ Country Music as though it were the Super Bowl. And I still delight when a favorite current artist goes a little vintage – Kacey, Miranda, Colter, Sturgill, Ashley, and Orville are a few who do it best.
My love of country music was passed down, of course. My mom has always been taken in by the sweetest voices in the genre — she currently has a USB in her car radio featuring more than 100 Vince Gill songs in rotation. I think she’s blocked the existence of other artists out completely at this point.
My dad, on the other hand, likes it all. When his TV isn’t tuned to sports, it’s most likely showing him the latest performances and Opry moments from Circle. In previous decades it’s been CMT, GAC, and The Nashville Network (RIP Ralph Emery).
All this to tell you that whenever a country music awards show airs — be it CMA or ACM or any of the other variations — it feels like an extended family reunion. There’s always room for the classic, the current, and the progressive. When we’re lucky, representatives from every era mix it up on stage, showing us the give and the take of live artistry.
The Awards Are Secondary ...
At its most reverent, the CMA awards give us the big picture of what’s popular now while taking plenty of time to honor those who’ve paved the way. Overall, though, the CMA's are just a big, brash country music party — not necessarily a bad thing.
Other awards shows give us "watercooler moments" and TMZ controversies, politicized acceptance speeches and on-stage Twitter-perfect flubs. The CMAs (and their country-awards kin) prefer to give us a toe-tapping televised concert that runs the emotional gamut.
To speak to the power of a great country music awards show, I’ll return to my dear ol’ dad: When we all lived under the same roof, it never failed. ... Every year, when he would peek at the TV Guide and discover that the CMAs were airing shortly, he’d proclaim a few moments before showtime, “I think I'm gonna mix a drink!”
Mixing a drink wasn’t a common occurrence for anyone in our house, but what country’s biggest night promised us from the big, heavy living room TV was too exciting to go unaccompanied by a cocktail.
I don’t remember what kinds of drinks he mixed — he never let me have a sip, durnit — but I imagine them to be brown, strong, and long-lasting. Even if he usually dozed off before the Entertainer of the Year award was presented.
Watch and Listen
To be honest, I don’t know quite what the CMAs are like these days. I do intend to find out on Wednesday night, when the show airs from Nashville on ABC and includes tributes to Loretta Lynn, Alan Jackson, Naomi Judd, and more.
I’ve done enough digging to figure out what kinds of songs and voices will highlight the evening, and I think it’d be worthwhile for anyone planning to watch to get familiar. Here’s a Spotify playlist full of artists and songs you’re likely to see and hear during Wednesday’s show (find out more about it here).
Go ahead and hit play. I’ll mix us a drink.
The CMA Awards air Wednesday, Nov. 8, at 7 p.m. Central on ABC, and will be available to stream the following day on Hulu. Find out more about the nominees and more at CMA World.
(Photography: Carly Pearce rehearsing in main photo/Courtesy CMA)