Hank Williams, Jr.
Story and Photos By Andy ArgyrakisEven though the red carpet adapted a different color than usual at the 2006 CMT Music Awards, it was full of the usual pageantry, star power and talent that listeners have come to expect at the year's most prestigious fan-friendly honors. Country Music Television's annual soiree (think the MTV Awards) was decked out to the max in blue this year, from the entry way of artist and guest arrivals to the press room backstage where the year's honorees provided behind the scenes observations about the gala.
Of course, all eyes throughout the venue's vicinity were locked on the limo line early in the afternoon, as throngs waiting to see who'd be the first to enter the arena and who would pop in fashionably late. One of the most prominent early visits came from roots rockin' sibling duo Van Zant (comprised of .38 Special's Donnie Van Zant and Lynyrd Skynyrd's Johnny Van Zant). The pair had just finished a pre-show performance and walked the line of several outdoor autograph seekers, prior to strutting down the media saturated runway while reminding all about their 2005 album Get Right With the Man. Fellow head turners Kid Rock and Hank Williams Jr. followed shortly thereafter, truly signifying the party had begun and building anticipation for their appearance together during the actual program.
A mixture of legends, fresh faces and random attendees also included Jewel, The Wreckers (featuring Michelle Branch and Jessica Harp) and Lisa Rinna (Dancing With the Stars), plus hopeful nominees like Brooks & Dunn, Sugarland, Rascal Flatts and Carrie Underwood of 'American Idol' fame. The unofficial award for most flash bulbs popped off during an entrance was split down the middle between Kenny Rogers and Gretchen Wilson, though The Gambler (with wife and her sister in tow) was by far more charming than the hurried Muzik Mafia member.
All attention turned towards the telecast once the clock struck 7 p.m. as host Jeff Foxworthy took to the podium and there was plenty of parading through the press room by the victorious parties. Underwood served as the evening's top winner, scoring two trophies (actually, they were oversized belt buckles) including "Breakthrough Video" and "Female Video" for the smash "Jesus, Take the Wheel." The youthful star was almost in tears and seemed sincere to share the inspirational message, suggesting all could embrace it regardless of religious affiliation, while crediting "Idol'" for officially launching her into the spotlight. Established entertainer Wynonna Judd also poked her head into the press room to pose for a quick picture with Underwood and chat about her time on fellow reality show Nashville Star.
A slew of chuckles came as hunk Billy Currington won for "Hottest Video" given his steamy "Must Be Doin' Somethin'' clip and he was paired appropriately for the presentation with Jennifer Berry, 2006's Miss America. Another round of smiles came with the announcement that Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland fame scored the "Collaborative Video" prize thanks to an unlikely pairing with Bon Jovi on "Who Says You Can't Go Home." Having her involvement has sent the hair rockers flying up the southern charts faster than they have pop, while introducing that 80s act to a whole new marketplace and generation. Though Jon and the boys weren't in the house, Nettles assured faithful she had a call into their Japanese tour, but wasn't sure if they'd be in cell phone range.
However, the laughs were eclipsed by a pair of poignant moments surrounding nods to a pair of old time greats. The first came from Dwight Yoakam, who paid tribute to the late great Buck Owens. The Country Music Hall of Fame member died suddenly after a concert last month, but his spirit lived on thanks to Yoakam's on stage commentary and conversations backstage about how Owens was an all out gentlemen who'd always make time to share his wisdom with other artists. It was even harder not to get chocked up when Rock and Wilson gave the Johnny Cash Visionary Award to Williams Jr., not only because it commemorated The Man in Black's relatively recent passing, but also a trial in the recipient's life. Just a few weeks ago, two of his daughters were severely injured a car crash in Northern Mississippi, but their proud pop assured attendees they were recovering thanks to everyone's support and prayers.
However the night's true stopper was a finale performance of "Better Life" by Keith Urban, who also earned the "Video of the Year" title for the same song. But more than just the upbeat pop/country cross section, the track was backed by a choir featuring displaced residents on the Gulf Coast affected by Hurricane Katrina. It was a well received, socially conscious and an almost spiritual ending to one of music's biggest nights, signifying that country musicians truly care for others more than themselves, shifting the focus away from their triumphs and stories of survival towards a whole other set of heroes worthy of the audience's adulation.
For a complete list of winners and additional information about the CMT Music Awards, log onto www.cmt.com.
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