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Tony’s CMA Blog – 2015

Chris Stapleton's new album, Traveller, comes out May 4

The 2015 CMA Awards

Wow. What a night at the 49th Annual CMA Awards show! It was an evening that was jam packed with surprises, goosebump-worthy performances, genuine emotion and maybe a new turn on the Bro-country 101 interstate. (More on that later.)


Eric Church and Hank Williams jump started the night with their duet and homage to outlaw country. Mr. Church also wins the marketing award of the year. That sneaky Mr. Misunderstood cd release and commercial placement after his stellar performance should be taught in every college of business administration on college campuses. Yup. I bought it. $12. And, I am a cheapskate. Ask my wife.

Mellencamp and Urban were a top notch vocal collaboration – yet it was third best of the evening. Fall Out Boy and Thomas Rhett impressed with “Crash and Burn” and “Uma Thurman”. Can Fall Out Boy join the CMT on tour November 14th at the Tyson Events Center? The energy of that set was fun to watch.

Justin Timberlake and Chris Stapleton had a CMA moment! The harmony of those two voices will be the talk of the office. Justin’s flirtation with country seems legit. He was born in Memphis, plays Garth covers in concerts and has the soul to make it believable. I so feel bad for Florida-Georgia Line. How would you like to follow THAT performance?

Speaking of Chris Stapleton, he was the winner of the evening! Up to this point, he has been a beloved member in the Nashville community and sold a slew of albums without much radio support. Will he be a critic darling like Kacey Musgraves? Or does this signal a desire for a change from listeners growing weary of bro-country. I have no idea. But, I am excited to see what plays out in the post CMA Awards show world.

Brad and Carrie continue to rock as hosts of the show. Their screen time was just the perfect amount. They are the most likable personalities in the format and have a chemistry that resonates on the screen. I believe they addressed the Blake – Miranda split in a classy fashion.

The Blake – Miranda split was the sub-plot of the evening. Interesting timing for it to be confirmed Blake was dating Gwen Stefani moments before the telecast. Miranda did an admirable job of fighting through the drama in her performance and Female Vocalist winning speech. It’s not easy to do your job when your world is rocked. Shelton turned in a great performance as well under the circumstances. Hey, that’s the real world. Jobs (as Miranda calls her career often on televised events) continue when adversity hits.

Who knew we were watching about 75 percent of the winners when Little Big Town and Chris Stapleton played the Sioux City Orpheum earlier this year? (Give the city credit for that booking.) That was a special evening – even more special now looking back.

Note to newcomers: Write a song with lyrics that COULD be misinterpreted by a radio station in Idaho. Have the New York Times write a “story” on that radio station deejay. Reap the benefits. (Side note: Make it an awesome song too. That’s probably the hard part, huh?)

Zac Brown ditched the beanie – He’s bald! He’s now a proud moment for the Bald coalition of brothers! I got to be honest. It almost brought tears to my eyes! Love “Beautiful Drug”. Might be my favorite song on the radio right now. There’s so many to choose right now. We are blessed. And, I get the feeling we will be spinning some more Chris Stapleton in the near future.

From my inner Mr. Blackwell shnark – Sam Hunt dressed as a priest. Kacey Musgraves dressed like gal pal Katy Perry. Kenny Chesney dressed like he was selling annuities as a life insurance man.
In the middle of the telecast my wife asked why so many people asked me if I saw Carrie’s thigh high boots during her “Smoke Break” song. Uh, I may have mentioned on-air I kinda like that look. Maybe just a few times. Sorry.

Just when you think you can escape Husker talk from me – Herbie Husker shows up during “Country Nation” by Brad Paisley. The teams has not had a stellar season, but maybe 5 star recruits will now be wooed into going to college in Lincoln. Please pass me the Husker Kool-Aid. Can we count that appearance as a bowl game?

During that Jason Aldean performance, those flames were WAY TOO CLOSE to his nether regions. I kept thinking of a song parody by Cam if it his pants went up in flames… “Burning Crotch” doesn’t have the same ring to it.

It wasn’t a great night for bro-country. Jason Aldean’s vocals were buried. Florida-Georgia Line followed the best performance of the night, Luke Bryan’s down tempo tune fell a little flat compared to the other performances.

Old school legit country (Stapleton), pop influenced duets (Fall Out Boy / Justin Timberlake), young females who display a softer side (Maddie & Tae, the adorable Kelsea Ballerini, and Kacey Musgraves) arguably all had a better night than the stalwarts of the past few years of these shows. Will this year’s telecast be seen as the night country’s road to success visits varied sounds? It could be.

My favorite aspect of this format is the evolving nature of the sound. When I started at the country station in 1996, many people I knew in college wouldn’t give it a chance. Tonight proved there is a possible sound for many different styles of country. The new tunes coming out of Nashville excite me. My gut tells me the ratings will be huge for the show. The Dallas Cowboys claimed the moniker “America’s Team” in the 1970’s. Country might just be “America’s format”.

It has to be. Justin Timberlake was performing.

Overall grade – Solid A
Random tidbits:
*  No accountants on stage. Thank God! Keep the show moving.
*  No death memorials aside from Little Jimmie Dickens talk.
*  No tribute to an artist of time past.

(I love 2 of the above 3 – but my gut tells me focus groups were advocates for the change)

Tony Michaels

KSUX Program Director
Sioux City, IA
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