Country music is said to be the sound of America's heartland, and as such, is nowhere near as wild and crazy as rock and roll.
That may be good for the music, but it was certainly hard on the 31st annual Country Music Association Awards. Seldom have stars shone as dimly as they did last night.
It was so boring that it almost came as a relief when WJZ cut away from the show to broadcast the news that the Orioles had clinched the Eastern Division championship.
Granted, some of that lack of excitement had to do with the utter predictability of the winners. Even though a number of perennial winners -- including Reba McEntire, Alabama and Mark O'Connor -- weren't in the running, the winner's circle was nonetheless full of familiar faces.
Garth Brooks was named Entertainer of the Year, George Strait won for both Male Vocalist of the Year and Album of the Year, and Brooks & Dunn won their sixth Vocal Duo of the Year trophy. "Sincerely, this means a little bit more to us each year that this happens," said Ronnie Dunn, trying to seem surprised.
Even the newcomers who won were no surprise. Deana Carter, whose "I Shaved My Legs for This?" was one of the year's best-selling country albums, walked away with the Single of the Year award for "Strawberry Wine," which also netted Matraca Berg and Gary Harrison the Song of the Year trophy.
As for the Horizon Award, which goes to the industry's most promising young star, was anyone even remotely surprised when it went to the teen-age LeAnn Rimes?
"Thank you so much," she said, accepting the award. "This award means so much. I've always dreamed of walking up on the CMA stage."
Predictable as the results often were, it was not the smoothest of telecasts. Host Vince Gill tripped over his tongue so often that he spent as much time apologizing as he did introducing. "I'm going to go back and brush my teeth," he joked, after messing up his introduction of Lee Ann Womack.
Gill wasn't the only one who acted like it was Award Show Amateur Hour. As Rimes accepted her Horizon Award, the TV screen informed us that the winner for Vocal Group of the Year was Ricochet.
Huh? Not only was it the wrong award, it was the wrong winner. Diamond Rio had been given the Vocal Group award earlier.
Later, when Cindy Walker was presented her Country Music Hall of Fame Award, the microphones were turned on too late to catch the introduction to her tribute.
Fortunately, Walker got to get through her acceptance speech without having to endure the "hurry it up" music. Harlen Howard, another Hall of Fame inductee, wasn't so lucky -- the fiddles came up halfway through his thank-yous, turning what should have been a tribute into the embarrassing spectacle of an old man made to look foolish.
Sad as that was to watch, it wasn't as bad as when Deana Carter won the award for Single of the Year. She said her piece without problem, but when producer Chris Farren got up to say his thanks, the camera cut away in mid-sentence. Gill, caught on-camera as Farren thanked on, smiled weakly.
"What Chris wanted to say was, thank you, God, and Deana, you sure have pretty clothes," joked Gill.
As with previous CMA award shows, the broadcast was heavy on performances. None, however, was particularly inspiring. George Strait did his usual sterling job with "Carrying Your Love With Me," earning a rapturous response from the crowd.
When he won Album of the Year award for his "Carrying Your Love With Me" album, nary a soul was surprised.
Lee Ann Womack gave a stunning performance of "The Fool," showing how much impact a good story and a simple melody can have, and Trisha Yearwood used "How Do I Live Without You" to show just how much a strong voice can do with a good melody.
Perhaps the evening's most bizarre performance was when Sting, in affected drawl, sang "I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying" with Toby Keith. Why was Sting on the Country Music Association awards show? Why, to present the Musician of the Year nominees, of course. This being TV, each of said nominees just happened to be playing behind Sting and Keith. What a coincidence!
Guitarist Brent Mason won the award and was caught putting away his guitar as his name was announced. "I was sure he said Mark O'Connor," joked Mason, referring to the fiddler who won the award for the last six years.
As the camera cut to Gill, the host called out, "Hey, Sting! Sting! Do you mind, if you're here, if we call you Stang?"
Embarrassing as that was, at least it wasn't as disturbing as watching Neal McCoy rap his way through the CMA's radio awards. Not to make a mountain out of a molehill, but did this bit of unexpected funkiness have anything to do with the fact that McCoy was the show's only performer of color?
Naw, couldn't be.
Entertainer: Garth Brooks
Female vocalist: Trisha Yearwood
Male vocalist: George Strait
Single: "Strawberry Wine," Deana Carter
Album: "Carrying Your Love With Me," George Strait
Horizon (for career progress): LeAnn Rimes
Vocal group: Diamond Rio
Vocal duo: Brooks & Dunn
Music video: "455 Rocket," Kathy Mattea
Song: "Strawberry Wine," Matraca Berg, Gary Harrison
Vocal event: Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, "It's Your Love"
Musician: Brent Mason
Pub Date: 9/25/97