Instead of the typical CMA Awards prediction post, I thought it might be fun to rank the twenty performances, all of which brought something special to the evening. Here they are, in ascending order, with commentary:
Beyoncé Feat. Dixie Chicks – Daddy’s Lessons
The most debated moment of the night was the worst performance in recent CMA history, an embarrassment to country music and the fifty years of the organization. Beyoncé was the antithesis of our genre with her staged antics and complete lack of authenticity. If Dixie Chicks had performed this song alone, like they did on tour, it would’ve been a slam-dunk. They were never the problem. Beyoncé is to blame for this mess.
Kelsea Ballerini – Peter Pan
I feel bad for her. It seems Ballerini never got the memo that this was the CMA Awards and not a sideshow at Magic Kingdom. Everything about this was wrong – the visuals, wind machine and, most of all, the dancers. Once I saw the harness in plain sight, I knew it was over.
Luke Bryan – Move
Nashville is perennially behind the trends as evidenced by Bryan’s completely out of place performance. One of only two I purposefully fast forwarded through.
Florida Georgia Line feat. Tim McGraw – May We All
Stood out like a sore thumb, for all the wrong reasons. Not even McGraw could redeem this disaster.
Carrie Underwood – Dirty Laundry
The newly minted Female Vocalist of the Year gave the third weakest performance of this year’s nominees. I commend her use of an all-female band, but disliked everything else from the visuals to Underwood’s dancing. It all starts with the song and this one is among her worst.
Thomas Rhett – Die A Happy Man
The biggest hit of the year gave Thomas Rhett a moment his other radio singles proves he doesn’t deserve. He remained gracious throughout the night, proving he can turn it on when it counts. I just wish it wasn’t an act.
Keith Urban – Blue Ain’t Your Color
A perfectly serviceable performance of an above average song. He did nothing to stand out from the pack neither adding to nor distracting from the night’s more significant moments.
Dierks Bentley feat. Elle King – Different for Girls
At least Bentley wasn’t showcasing the rowdier side of Black. He and King didn’t do anything to stand out and the whole thing was more middle of the road than anything else.
Martina McBride, Reba McEntire, Kacey Musgraves, Jennifer Nettles and Carrie Underwood – Dolly Parton Tribute
I have nothing against Parton nor do I deny her incredible legacy as a pioneer in the genre. But it’s time to honor someone else. Parton has been lauded and it’s so old at this point, it’s unspectacular. That’s not to say this wasn’t a great medley, it was. I just wish it had been for someone different, like say, Tanya Tucker.
Brooks & Dunn feat. Jason Aldean – Brand New Man
An excellent rendition of a great debut single. Aldean didn’t add nor subtract from the performance, which was a blessing.
Little Big Town – Better Man
Leave it to Taylor Swift to hand them the song that finally returns them to form. The performance wasn’t spellbinding, but it was very, very good.
Tim McGraw – Humble & Kind
It was understated, yes, but it had more visual appeal than any of the night’s quieter moments. Was it inspirational? No. Was it classy? Yes.
Alan Jackson and George Strait – Remember When & Troubadour
Jackson started off, using his enduring love song as a ‘in memoriam’ of sorts to the icons and artists who’ve left us. Strait then took over with his 2008 anthem. The performance was a purists dream that could’ve used more surprises to give it an edge.
Miranda Lambert – Vice
She came in with nothing to prove and gave one of the most confident performances of the night. Lambert never went over the top, kept her craziness in check, and gave Gwen Sebastian a killer showcase as a backup singer.
Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood – Classic Hits Medley
I’ve always found it odd that Brooks and Yearwood never reference Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton when talking about the genre’s classic duet parings. We got some of those duets plus surprise solo moments. Yearwood stunned on “(I Never Promised You A) Rose Garden” while Brooks did Keith Whitley proud with “Don’t Close Your Eyes.” It was unfair of the camera to stay on Lorrie Morgan so long while he singing, but I loved how Whitley was eulogized without it being an afterthought.
Brad Paisley – Today
A return to form that had everyone thinking about the legacy of the evening and the present moment. It was a perfect way to wrap-up the show.
Maren Morris feat. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the McCrary Sisters – My Church
There wasn’t a single female artist who turned in a stronger or more assured performance than Morris. She had a lot to prove to the audience and she delivered in spades. I only wish she had sung the song’s second verse and toned down the repetition. But she more than proved why she’s here to stay.
Various Artists – Star-Studded Opening
Don’t miss the first eight minutes. That was the hype going into the show. The mash-up of legends was phenomenal. Vince Gill opened singing “Mama Tried” with Ben Haggard. Alan Jackson crooned “Don’t Rock The Jukebox.” Clint Black took us back with “Killin’ Time.” Alabama had the crowd on their feet with “Mountain Music.” Reba McEntire did a bit of “Fancy.” Dwight Yoakam stunned with “Guitars, Cadillacs.”
It was a spectacular way to begin the show.
Eric Church feat. Rhiannon Giddens – Kill A Word
Church delivered one of the most powerful and easily the most forgotten moment of the night, which is a shame since it marked Giddens’ debut to a mass audience for the first time. That he chose her and not a more commercial pop artist for this song proves why he’s vital to the health of quality within our genre. One of my favorites of the night.
Chris Stapleton feat. Dwight Yoakam and Morgane Stapleton – Seven Spanish Angles
The combination of the unconventional superstar with the son of Bakersfield singing one of country music’s greatest spirituals won the night in a landslide. No other performance more perfectly exemplified the unity of the genre, with the past and present coming together in a moment that transcended an anniversary celebration to be the second consecutive year Stapleton stole the show.