From Big and Rich to the Heart/Gretchen Wilson collaboration, the show rocked.
By TERRY MORROW
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Country music is redefining itself again and so are the CMT Awards.
"CMT is sort of a broad [channel] essentially. You can hear new things and have a great sense of history as well ... It's very liberated," says Bryan Philips, general manager for the cable channel. And as rock-influenced sounds alter country music as an art form, "the idea of the awards has [changed], too."
With arena rock-like guitars blaring along with banjos being plucked, this year's presentation had a decidedly hipper flair, taking more than one page out of the playbook MTV uses to stage its video music award shows.
Unlike the distinguished Country Music Association or the more formal Academy of Country Music honors, the CMTs, held live this week, were relatively casual.
The show was set in the Gaylord Entertainment Complex, where Nashville holds everything from high school graduations to bull-riding events. VIPs sat in the bleachers, the stage was on a court.
A "mosh pit" surrounded the stage with T-shirt-and-jeans wearing 20-and 30-year olds.
"The staging of the event, with two runaways that extended through an enormous mosh pit filled with screaming, dancing young people (and a few folks who appeared far too old for such shenanigans), was in keeping with the aggressive new energy that is infusing both country music and CMT," observed journalist Ed Martin in his column for the Meyers Report, which covers the TV industry.
"It was reminiscent of the annual Video Music Awards presentation on CMT's bigger, badder sibling MTV -- and equally entertaining."
Even the name "CMT Awards" is new. In previous years, the show has gone by numerous other titles -- the TNN Awards, the TNN-Music City News Awards and, as recently as last year, the Flameworthys.
The guest list included William Shatner, "Joey" co-star Drea De Matteo (who was there to support her significant other, Shooter Jennings) and Larry the Cable Guy to Alan Jackson, Keith Urban and Toby Keith.
Gretchen Wilson's performance with Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart was a showstopper. Kenny Chesney's numbers also were heavier with a rocked out style
Country music newcomers Big and Rich, one of the big acts for the evening, even used a rapper -- and made no apologies for it.
"You can be Gretchen Wilson or Big and Rich and still honor Loretta Lynn in that context," Philips says, who compares such genre-bending to something Waylon Jennings often did.
The awards show will be repeated nine more times through May 1 on CMT.