Somewhere in Nashville, Jason Aldean is having some kind of party.
The Macon-born singer was starting to become the Susan Lucci of the Country Music Association Awards, a favorite with fans whose career eluded industry recognition – at least from country music’s most meaningful organization.
But at the 45th Annual CMAs Wednesday night, Aldean scored his inaugural trophy in one of the most prestigious categories of the ceremony – album of the year, for his platinum-selling “My Kinda Party.”
With his black cowboy hat tipped down to his nose, Aldean expressed an “Oh, man, what a year,” before thanking his family and fans. He also brought producer Michael Knox on stage to accept the trophy, saying, ‘This is the guy who found me in a club in Atlanta, Georgia, 13 years ago. I wouldn’t be here without this guy.”
Aldean lost male vocalist of the year to Blake Shelton (whose wife Miranda Lambert nabbed female vocalist) and the coveted entertainer of the year to a giddy Taylor Swift (who also won the award in 2009), but notched a second CMA for musical event of the year for “Don’t You Wanna Stay,” his crossover duet with Kelly Clarkson.
But victories for Georgia’s other multiple nominee, the Zac Brown Band, were non-existent.
The Atlanta band was shut out of its five nominations, ceding single and song of the year honors to The Band Perry’s inescapable ballad, “If I Die Young,” vocal group of the year to fellow Georgians (some of them, anyway) Lady Antebellum and musical event of the year and album to Aldean.
But the sextet earned a deserved standing ovation for a soulful rendition of “Georgia on My Mind.”
ZBB was joined on stage by Peach State legend Gregg Allman. The music veteran, who canceled his fall tour in September for health reasons, looked a bit thinner than usual, but sounded completely Allman-esque with gravelly shades to his voice.
Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles used the first seconds of her acceptance speech to salute Allman, sheepishly stating, “Mr. Gregg Allman, that was me on the red carpet who reached out and shook your hand.”
She and partner Kristian Bush – who snagged their fifth consecutive vocal duo of the year award – dedicated their win to their fans.
“Our fans saved us this year,” Bush said. Added Nettles, “Thank you to the good folks of Indiana.”
The ceremony, which aired live from Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, was heavy on performances, with a handful of awards shoe-horned in during the three-hour production.
For the fourth consecutive year, Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley hosted to varying degrees of success.
Jokes poking fun of Keith Urban’s height and Justin Bieber’s paternity suit (Little Jimmy Dickens – dressed in leather jacket and cocked baseball cap — appeared to represent a stressed-out, aged Bieber. Ha?) were immature and mean-spirited.
But a hokey bit with the hosts checking to see if a Faith Hill Barbie and Ken doll Tim McGraw were anatomically correct was amusing only because the real Hill and McGraw, giggling and blushing in their seats, were such good sports.
The performances of the evening started off wobbly, with an inconsistent “Footloose” to open the show, courtesy of Shelton and the song’s original voice, Kenny Loggins.
An hour later, Shelton acknowledged on Twitter that, “Yes, ‘Footloose’ was completely screwed up!”
But, while some live displays faltered – Swift’s off-key “Ours,” played solo acoustic on a couch, inexplicably drew an ovation, while Matt Nathanson’s Bono impersonation during “Run” with Sugarland was a distracting irritant – other moments were hashtag-worthy.
Lionel Richie – aka Dorian Gray – was a hoot (sometimes unintentionally) singing “Deep River Woman” with Little Big Town (a song he performed with Alabama on the 1986 CMAs), a weak “Stuck on You” with Darius Rucker and “Dancing on the Ceiling” with Rascal Flatts, a good choice given their poppy tendencies.
But it might have been Leesburg’s Luke Bryan who sizzled the most with a sexy performance of “Country Girl (Shake It For Me).” As a troupe of girls clad in fishnets and boots engaged in some Bob Fosse-like chair dancing, Bryan, who lost new artist of the year to The Band Perry, showed some impressive hip-swiveling of his own during the honky-tonk anthem.
A significant moment in the show came with a touching tribute to Glen Campbell, who earlier this year announced he has Alzheimer’s disease. Vince Gill, Paisley and Urban paid tribute with “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Galveston” and “Witchita Lineman,” respectively.
Urban appeared the most emotional, his voice cracking as he said, “Growing up across the world, Glen showed me what country music was and how much it meant to people, and with his farewell album and tour, he’s still showing us how it’s done.”
At the end of the homage, Campbell, who was seen mouthing the words to his songs, took the stage, escorted by his wife, Kim. He strapped on a guitar, but did not play.
Winners at the 45th Annual CMA Awards
Entertainer of the Year: Taylor Swift
Album of the Year – Jason Aldean, “My Kinda Party”
Female Vocalist of the Year: Miranda Lambert
Male Vocalist of the Year: Blake Shelton
New Artist: The Band Perry
Single of the Year: The Band Perry, “If I Die Young”
Song of the Year: The Band Perry, “If I Die Young”
Musical Event of the Year: Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson, “Don’t You Wanna Stay”
Vocal Group – Lady Antebellum
Vocal Duo – Sugarland
Music Video: Kenny Chesney featuring Grace Potter, “You and Tequila”
Musician of the Year: Mac McAnally