NASHVILLE Pop acts Jewel and 'N Sync will share a stage
with such country stars as Tim McGraw, the Dixie Chicks and Dolly
Parton at Wednesday's Country Music Association Awards, while revered
honky-tonk veteran George Jones sits out a night that is squarely
aimed at a new generation of country fans and potential country
"We didn't create them, but we want to grab them and take advantage of
them," the Country Music Association's executive director, Ed Benson,
said of the circumstances that gave his staff an opening to invite the
pop acts onto the show.
Pop singer/songwriter Jewel, who recorded two duets for country
singer/songwriter Merle Haggard's upcoming album, will perform "That's
the Way Love Goes" with Haggard on the show, to be telecast at 8 p.m.
EDT Wednesday on CBS. It also will be webcast at www.countrycool.com.
Pop vocal group 'N Sync will perform "God Must Have Spent a Little
More Time on You" (RealAudio excerpt)
with Alabama, who are nominated for Vocal Group of the Year. Both
bands had hit versions of the song.
"They provide an interesting contrast, as these two young acts are
performing with two veteran country acts," Benson said.
Meanwhile, the 68-year-old Jones, a member of the Country Music Hall
of Fame who recorded such standards as "She Thinks I Still Care" and
"He Stopped Loving Her Today," refused a spot on the telecast. Jones
was unwilling to perform a shortened version of "Choices," which is
nominated for Single of the Year.
Jones was playing a tape of the song over his car phone for a relative
when he had a near-fatal, alcohol-influenced accident in March. The
song's theme of sin and redemption gained symbolic weight during
"He may be nominated in the same category [as other artists who were
asked to shorten their songs]," Asylum Records president Evelyn
Shriver told the Nashville Tennessean, "but it's not the same
situation. ... [He] has been making country music that has held the
fans ... for  years. ... There is something to be said about
somebody who not only survived, but has had such a tremendous comeback
A clip of the "Choices" video still will be shown immediately before
the presentation of the award. Benson called Jones' decision not to
perform "an artistic judgment," and he said that Single of the Year
nominees had not been asked to perform at previous ceremonies.
"By the time we got around to adding them, not enough time was left
to do entire performances," he said. "Our music directors thought 1:45
[of "Choices"] would allow a verse, chorus and tag to be sung, and
[that] would establish it as a meaningful song."
McGraw, the son of former baseball player Tug McGraw and the husband
of country singer Faith Hill, leads all artists with seven nominations,
including Entertainer of the Year, Male Vocalist of the Year, Album
of the Year (A Place in the Sun) and Single of the Year
("Please Remember Me") at what are considered country music's most
When McGraw rode the groove-laden "Indian Outlaw" to the top of the
country charts in 1994, many pegged him as another Billy Ray
Cyrus good for a couple of novelty hits but destined for a
quick plunge. Instead, McGraw has become a consistent seller, finding
a commercial balance between bouncy uptempo fare and emotive balladry.
A Place in the Sun debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200
albums chart in May, beating out the soundtrack to "Star Wars: Episode
I The Phantom Menace."
Hill is nominated for Female Vocalist of the Year, along with Martina
McBride, Jo Dee Messina, Shania Twain and Trisha Yearwood.
The Dixie Chicks, an all-female, genre-defying trio, will be riding a
tidal wave of success into the ceremony at the Opry House. Their
album Fly has been #1 on the Billboard chart for the
past two weeks the last country act to top the pop chart for
two weeks was Garth Brooks, a year ago and they stand to
collect a passel of CMA hardware for their previous album, the
multiplatinum Wide Open Spaces.
The only group act nominated for Entertainer of the Year, the Dixie
Chicks will open the broadcast with a performance of "Ready to Run"
a song featured in the recent Julia Roberts movie "Runaway Bride."
While the Dixie Chicks' looks and outrageous fashion sense dominate
much of their press, group co-producer Blake Chancey said earlier
this year that there's substance behind the style.
"Their album cuts had so much meat to them and so much credibility to
them," he said, "that that's what makes you run out and [ask] your
next-door neighbor, 'Have you heard the Dixie Chicks album?' "
Parton will be inducted into the CMA Hall of Fame and perform a song
as part of the ceremony. The Tennessee native rose to national
prominence in the late '60s as a regular on "The Porter Wagoner Show."
Her subsequent successes include self-penned hits such as "Jolene"
and "9 to 5," acting roles in film and TV, and the Dollywood theme
Also to be inducted in the Hall of Fame are the late Conway Twitty,
crooner of such lascivious hits as "I'd Love to Lay You Down," and
late western singer Johnny Bond.
In addition to spotlighting young performers such as the Dixie Chicks,
the show's producers are trimming the number of minutes given to
veteran acts during Hall of Fame inductions and are running splashy
TV commercials featuring a retinue of stylish young dancers.
Benson said the show's new direction is "very intentional. Since its
beginning, [the ceremony's] most significant mission is to broaden
country's audience. Showcasing classic acts is not necessarily part
of that mission."
He said today's core country audience views country as "part of
mainstream entertainment" and doesn't see rigid genre lines separating
rock and country.