Country music has never been short on sentimentality, the emotion that carried veteran singer George Strait to his 18th entertainer of the year honor at the 47th annual CMA Awards in Nashville on Wednesday.
Strait, who recently announced his retirement from touring and is currently out on his “The Cowboy Rides Away” farewell tour, topped fellow nominees Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton and Taylor Swift.
“Oh, my gosh — never in a million years,” the 61-year-old Texan said after putting his hand to his chest. “My dad’s been having some pretty good conversations up there, I have to say,” he added with a laugh, glancing skyward. “This blows me away. I cannot believe it,” he said as the crowd in Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena gave him a standing ovation.
The other big award of the evening went to Swift, who became only the second recipient ever of the CMA’s Pinnacle Award, recognizing an artist who exerts extraordinary impact with his or her music internationally. The award was created in 2005 and first presented to Garth Brooks.
The statue was presented to the 23-year-old Swift by a phalanx of stars she once opened for as her career blossomed: Strait, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, Rascal Flatts, Brad Paisley and Keith Urban.
Often criticized for her wide-eyed enthusiasm for various awards she’s collected since her career took off in 2006, Swift displayed a sense of humor recalling when Scott Borchetta, the head of her then-nascent record label, called and told her she’d landed a slot opening for Rascal Flatts.
“I said, ‘This has got to be a miracle!’ and he said, ‘No, it’s not a miracle; Eric Church got fired for playing too long,’ ” she said.
“They told me this was going to happen, but I didn’t know it was going to be all this,” Swift said, surveying the line of stars flanking her on stage. “You’re not only rewarding my hard work and exhaustion, you’re rewarding the hard work and exhaustion of my family and my label and anybody who works with me, and most of all, the fans who fill (the) stadium. You have made me feel so special right now. Thank you.”
Major category wins also went to husband-wife stars Shelton and Miranda Lambert, each of whom collected a fourth vocalist of the year trophy in the male and female categories. Shelton also took album of the year for his “Based on a True Story …” collection.
The duo Florida Georgia Line took a pair of trophies as duo of the year and for top single for their breakthrough hit “Cruise.”
Swift, McGraw and Urban also collected two CMA awards each for their collaborative hit “Highway Don’t Care.” Song of the year award went to “I Drive Your Truck,” a hit for Lee Brice written by Jessi Alexander, Connie Harrington and Jimmy Yearey about Jared Monti, a U.S. soldier who was killed in Afghanistan in 2006.
Critically lauded newcomer Kacey Musgraves was singled out as the year’s best new artist, for which she thanked her grandmother, whom she described from the stage as “my booking agent when I was 10 years old.”
During Musgraves’ performance, she pushed the envelope of country music propriety with her song “Follow Your Arrow,” in which she reels off life advice including: “Kiss lots of boys, or kiss lots of girls if that’s what you’re into/When the straight and narrow gets a little too straight, follow your arrow wherever it points.” Another lyric in the song, with the recommendation to “roll up a joint” when times get tough, was bleeped for the TV audience.
Kenny Rogers was presented with the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award and given a musical salute by Rascal Flatts, Darius Rucker and Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles.
Among two dozen musical numbers during the three-hour show, Alan Jackson and George Strait teamed for a tribute to singer George Jones, singing his signature weeper “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”
Musgraves and Swift led the nominations for this year’s awards with six apiece.
Paisley and Carrie Underwood once again hosted the event, which was telecast live by ABC to most of the country except the West Coast, where it was tape-delayed for prime-time viewing.
Distributed by MCT Information Services