Last night, the country music industry gathered in Nashville to celebrate another of what appears to be an endless stream of country music award shows, the CMA Awards. However, the CMAs are special to the industry and to fans like me who really dislike regular awards shows simply because they are hyped-up commercials to sell records. For the past few years, I’ve watched the CMAs and have come away with the feeling that the country music industry honestly likes one another. They don’t present an outward appearance of phoniness; the artists look like they genuinely like one another. They are, for all intents and purposes, a family. While they may have an issue or two to deal with, they do so respectfully.
Last night, I recorded the CMAs for two reasons: one, we had church at 7pm and we talked till after 9pm; and two, because even if I took the time to watch the show, my cancer treatment would have knocked me out. Early this morning, I sat in the living room and clicked open the DVR and watched one of the most spectacular awards shows I’ve ever seen. There were three moments that struck me:
1. The show opened with Blake Shelton and Kenny Loggins singing “Footloose.” The 1980s movie and music are being updated with Shelton taking over the singing role from Loggins. Can you think of a better way to give a chunk of TV time to a new movie and soundtrack than to lead off the show with it? After the song, the show’s hosts — Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood — came on stage to introduce the show. Paisley started to sing “All My Rowdy Friends,” a song popularized by Hank Williams Jr. especially as it was the opening theme for “Monday Night Football” for a couple of decades. Carrie feigned shock and after a little banter, the two went off into a little ditty about Hank’s problems of a month ago where he went on TV and compared President Barack Obama to Adolph Hitler. Upon finishing, who walks up behind them? Hank Williams Jr. The opening skit ended with the three singing a quick chorus of “All My Rowdy Friends” that led to a standing ovation for Hank.
Now, why would this strike me? In life, we Christians talk a lot about forgiving someone who has done wrong. And as I’ve said on endless occasions, forgiving completely is the hard part. Hank was wrong and should have never compared Obama to Hitler in an interview on Fox News. Last night, the country music industry showed that while they all thought Hank’s comments were off base, they still forgave him. He is still one of the family.
2. Country superstar Glen Campbell was recently diagnosed with an aggressive form of Alzheimer’s disease, one that could very quickly sap him of his memory and eventually his life. My mother was a big Glen Campbell fan. As I was growing up, my mother would love it when WHN radio in New York City played any Glen Campbell (and even a Tanya Tucker) song, cranking up the volume on the radio in her Ford Pinto wagon. To the country music industry, Glen Campbell is one of those legends. Not wanting to wait until he is taken from them, last night at the CMAs the industry honored Campbell for all he’s done for country music. Vince Gill, Brad Paisley, and Keith Urban each took turns singing parts of three of Campbell’s hits — “Wichita Lineman,” “Galveston,” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” which just happened to be one of my mother’s favorites. In the front row, Campbell sat with a smile on his face and, if I had to guess, a tear in his eye, as three of the best vocalists in the industry today sang to him. It was a most respectful tribute.
Once again, the country music industry showed a little love to one of their own, honoring a great musician with humbled respect. Other awards shows should take a pointer or two.
3. Martina McBride is one of those captivating singers whose voice just grabs you and pulls you in. Last night, she took the stage (I guess that is what you call that little platform about twenty rows from the stage) and sang “I’m Gonna Love You Through It,” a song from her latest album. It deals with a young mom who is diagnosed with cancer and centers on the promise of her husband to be with her through it all. Maybe my own cancer experience gets me touchy when I hear powerful songs dealing with this tough topic. But last night, many people in the audience held up small flashlights during her presentation, making it appear as stars where dancing in a darkened sky. As I sat on the couch crying as McBride belted out this song, it made me, once again, realize why I love country music so much.
It’s comforting. It’s caring. It’s loving. It’s fun. Artists deal with tough issues in beautiful ways. Many of them are deeply Christian and that spiritual aspect comes out so powerfully; right now, I am thinking of Carrie Underwood’s “Temporary Home,” a song dealing with hope of a better time not just on earth, but in heaven with God.
Of course, I’m not saying that all country songs are perfect – they are not. Sometimes, they deal with issues that do not always go together with a good Christian lifestyle. None of them are perfect. But the industry as a whole presents itself so differently than other forms of entertainment. They see themselves as a family. They present their music to an audience hungry for something more than the babble they get from rock or pop or hip-hop. The music brings happiness. That’s why I love it.