Faith Hill, Lonestar and the Dixie Chicks emerged as multiple winners at the 35th annual Academy of Country Music Awards show Wednesday night at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles.
Each took two honors in the show, hosted by Dolly Parton and televised on CBS.
Shania Twain, the only major winner not present at the gala event, was named Entertainer of the Year.
Hill won Top Female Vocalist of the Year for the second consecutive year and Country Video of the Year, for her song "Breathe" (RealAudio excerpt). Lonestar's crossover song "Amazed" (RealAudio excerpt) garnered honors as Song of the Year and Single Record of the Year. The Dixie Chicks' Fly was named Album of the Year, and the Chicks also were named Top Vocal Duo or Group.
Faith Hill's husband, Tim McGraw, a sentimental favorite, won Top Male Vocalist honors.
Newcomer Brad Paisley was named Top New Male Vocalist. Paisley performed an acoustic version of his hit "He Didn't Have to Be" on the show; in previous years, all nominees for Top New Male and Female Vocalist appeared in clips or in remotes. In accepting his award, Paisley pointedly thanked country radio and said, "That's the only place I ever want to be," an apparent comment on country's current pop trend.
Jessica Andrews won Top New Female Vocalist honors. Montgomery Gentry took the award for Top New Vocal Duo or Group.
Clint Black and his actress/singer wife Lisa Hartman Black won the Top Vocal Event of the Year award for "When I Said I Do." Hartman Black, in a departure from winners who repeatedly thanked God for their award, thanked "everybody on the planet."
Reflecting The Scene
Musically, the show had promised to try to reflect today's country scene and mainly did so, depicting the split between traditional country and pop. The show opened with George Strait and Alan Jackson performing "Murder on Music Row" (RealAudio excerpt), the song describing the death of pure country music at the hands of radio and crass commercialization.
From there, the musical lineup varied, with Parton performing bluegrass, George Jones singing his traditional "Choices," Sawyer Brown doing its own hybrid country rock, Toby Keith singing a fierce interpretation of his macho song "How Do You Like Me Now?!" and Martina McBride showing that she's learned some Bob Dylan harmonica licks and demonstrating them in her song of social relevance, "Love's the Only House."
Eleven-year-old Billy Gilman made his TV debut, performing "Roly Poly" with Asleep at the Wheel. Wheel leader Ray Benson discovered the young singer and is producing his debut album for Epic, due in June. Gilman's exuberant delivery and ease impressed the industry crowd Ronnie Brooks and Kix Brooks of Brooks & Dunn sat open-mouthed, and Reba McEntire was grinning delightedly.
Pointedly, George Jones mentioned that he was allowed to perform on this show the full-length version of his Grammy-winning hit "Choices." It was a not-so-veiled barb at the Country Music Association Awards show last fall, on which Jones refused to appear when the CMA demanded that he perform a one-minute version of the song. In protest, Alan Jackson slipped some of the song into his own performance.
As host for the first year, Parton and her self-described mix of class and trash added a much-needed touch of humor and earthiness to the production at one point she needled show producer Dick Clark by suggesting he looked like he had been injected with embalming fluid. Her frequently bawdy jokes by and large propelled the three-hour show along with verve.
Departed Figures Honored
The late Tammy Wynette was remembered in a musical salute by Parton, Patty Loveless, Martina McBride and the Judds, who performed Wynette's trademark "Stand by Your Man." The ACM Pioneer Award this year was given to Wynette.
Former ACM executive and show producer Gene Weed, who died last year, was saluted with his favorite song, "Please Remember Me" (RealAudio excerpt), sung by McGraw.
Other awards that were presented before the TV broadcast included these honors for instrumentalists: Glenn Worf as Bass Player of the Year; Eddie Bayers, Drums; Stuart Duncan, Fiddle; Brent Mason, Guitar; John Hobbs and Hargus "Pig" Robbins, Keyboards; Jerry Douglas, Specialty Instrument (dobro); and Jay Dee Maness, Steel Guitar.
(Click here for a list of ACM Awards winners.)