Blake Shelton got “Footloose” with Kenny Loggins, co-hosts Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood got busy playing with Tim McGraw and Faith Hill Barbie dolls, and Zac Brown got rock hero Gregg Allman to sing “Georgia on My Mind” with him.
Sure, the Country Music Association gave away awards Wednesday night in Nashville, but the performances were probably more memorable than who won what.
For the record, Taylor Swift grabbed entertainer of the year, the Band Perry won best new artist, single and song of the year for “If I Die Young,” Jason Aldean snared top album for “My Kinda Party” — oh, just look up all the winners at startribune.com or cmaworld.com. Here are our winners at the 45th annual CMAs.
ARE YOU READY FOR SOME HANK JR.?
Co-hosts Paisley and Underwood opened with a takeoff on Hank Williams Jr.’s “Family Tradition” about him losing his “Monday Night Football” gig because he gave an interview when he’d been drinking or smoking or something. Then, ol’ Hank himself waltzed out behind them and joined in singing “Are You Ready for an Awards Show?” Smart, clever and funny. And that wasn’t the end of it. How ’bout the Kim Kardashian sendup set to Randy Travis’ “Forever and Ever Amen” as “together for 72 days, amen.”
THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT
Three nominees for new artist of the year gave the night’s most exciting performances: back-to-back efforts by a rockin’ Eric Church on “Drink in My Hand” and Thompson Square with the playful “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not” and later Luke Bryan imploring “Country Girl (Shake It for Me)” with what looked like the Janet Jackson dancers, complete with Bryan and his backward ball cap shaking it atop a chair.
What was the emotional high point? Shelton, top male vocalist, rubbing his hands after his wife, best female vocalist Miranda Lambert, announced, “Congrats to my hubby. It’s going to be a a good night tonight”; Keith Urban, Vince Gill and Paisley paying a tribute to a smiling Glen Campbell, who has Alzheimer’s; or stadium-filling Swift gushing about her trophy and reading her thank-you list written on her wrist, acknowledging all the stars who joined her in concert, including Justin Bieber, Nicki Minaj and Kenny Chesney.
QUEEN OF THE AWARD SHOWS
Whether it’s the Grammys, ACMs or CMAs, Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles knows how to seize the moment in song. This time she teamed with pop singer Matt Nathanson on his “Run,” which they turned into one long sultry embrace — with his Bono-like posturing and her goo-goo eyes.
ALL NIGHT WRONG
Leftovers from the 1980s, pop stars Kenny Loggins and Lionel Richie looked as if they’ve been drinking from the Kenny Rogers Facial Fountain of Youth. Not sure why Richie, who apparently is making a country album, needed to sing three of his oldies with Little Big Town, Darius Rucker and Rascal Flatts. That’s showbiz, not music.
THEY’D RATHER BE IN MPLS.
The Civil Wars, who were nominated for duo of the year, apparently figured they didn’t have a chance against Sugarland, which won the category for the fifth time. Civil Wars played a soldout concert at the State Theatre in Minneapolis Wednesday instead of attending the CMAs.
MIRANDA ON FIRE
Yes, Miranda Lambert is still hot. (Just check out her new “Four the Record” album.) But did the CMA producers have to use flames for “Baggage Claim” Wednesday like they used when she scorched with “Kerosene” at the CMAs in 2005? Speaking of dubious staging, what was with the distracting Cirque du Soleil-like aerial acrobats during Sara Evans’ “Stronger”?
LOUD AND SOFT
On award shows, country ballads don’t have to be loud (we’re talking about Faith Hill’s new “Come Home” and Martina McBride’s poignant “I’m Gonna Love You Through It”). The softer, more intimate ones (Taylor Swift’s “Ours” and Kenny Chesney and Grace Potter’s “You and Tequila”) work on TV, too.
Blake Shelton and Martina McBride, who were both prominent at the CMAs, will be the headlining at the annual Winstock festival in June in Winsted, Minn.