I Was Sent to Cover the Country Music Awards in Nashville. What’s Wrong with THAT Picture?

  Even when he admitted to lip-syncing his Country Music Awards performance–he was feeling rough and his voice wasn’t the best–he was immediately forgiven. Great. There are murals on buildings and plaques marking buildings and other places of historic significance. Many of the artists I spoke to have done tours of FOBs (forward operating bases) of US soldiers stationed in war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan or on aircraft carriers. And in all my years, I’ve never been asked to cover an awards show. Not only was the box decorated with the names and faces of the country music stars, but it also had a speaker playing music to the street. The whole experience was fascinating and I’m glad I had the chance to be here. And I mean that in the most positive way possible. Yet here I was. When the channel was extended an invitation to participate in Country Music Awards media activity, including artist interviews, they jumped at the chance. The assignment came via Vintage-TV, the British-based music channel that’s been operating in Canada for a little over a year (If you have Rogers or Shaw, you should watch. Garth Brooks is God. Even though many of today’s modern country artists sound similar to the California soft rock of the 70s (or even the southern rock pioneered by the Allmans or Skynyrd), everyone is careful to pay fealty to classic country performers like George Jones, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Glen Campbell, Chet Atkins, George Strait and, of course, Elvis. And since I am Canada’s Needle Time interviewer, my presence was required to conduct said interviews. Men addressed me as “sir” with a firm handshake and direct eye contact. A lot of what I thought I knew about country music was based on cliches and stereotypes. Nashville is more than just country music. They love their sponsors and love their corporate gigs. I learned a quite a lot about a form of music (and the people who make it) that’s totally foreign to me. I was set straight on an almost hourly basis. Even though he has a reputation for being super down-to-earth sort of dude, the fact is he’s the second-highest-selling artist of all time, right behind the Beatles. Snobby me. As I like to say, Vintage is “certified 100% Kardashian and Snooki-free.”)
With CMT Canada’s decision to stop showing country music videos this past summer, Vintage sees a hole in the market for carefully-curated blocks of country as part of its programming–and that includes the channel’s flagship interview series, Needle Time. [NASHVILLE -] I had no bloody business being here. Yes, there were plenty of cowboy boots, shout-outs to God and meta-redneck references, but none of that does justice to what modern country is all about. I can say without fear of contradiction that was the most unqualified person anywhere on that red carpet. How cool is that? Everyone loves Garth and wants to work with him. Some of these shows are in front of less than a hundred people, all of whom have been away from home for months. Hey, like it says on the Lululemon bag, you should do something that scares you every day. But a gig is a gig and since I consider myself a professional who can tackle any assignment, I said I’d do it. What would be considered selling out in other parts of the industry is just normal operating procedure here. But somehow I ended up on the red carpet at the Country Music Awards, microphone in hand, on the lookout for people to interview. Nashville is the epitome of a “music city.” The creation and promotion of music is the main industry, a pursuit that pervades every corner of the city. Country music musicians are brand-friendly. Fish out of water? Whenever I mentioned these gigs, they all became very animated and even teared up. I walked by a utility box, a boring old metal thing that house the controls for the traffic lights at that intersection. Unqualified? I was repeatedly told that everyone is “family.” If they’re not collaborating which each other, there’s name-checking as compliments fly and credit is given for influences. You bet. They love the troops. Women called me “darlin’,” “sweetheart” and “honey.” Everyone had warm, genuine smiles and gave me their undivided attention. Honestly, though, I’m glad I got the assignment. It’s all about revenue streams that will allow them to continue make music. It seems that there’s a standard of etiquette to which everyone is expected to adhere. There’s a great respect for the elders. Not only does everyone have impeccable manners, but they display immense respect to those around them. Everyone knows everyone. Yes, country is the dominant genre, but there are thousands of musicians and songwriters working here who specialize in rock, alternative, soul, the blues, R&B and more. None. If there’s a person who knows less about country music than me, I’ve never met them. Absolutely. It’s a really good channel for people who love music without all the silly celebrity/lifestyle stuff. Off-brand? Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to reboot my brain by going through my Sonic Youth collection. For example:
Country music people are incredibly, almost insanely polite. And lemme tell you something: Being airdropped into the centre of the country music world to be surrounded by cowboy hats and bedazzled everything scared the bejeezus out of me.
I Was Sent to Cover the Country Music Awards in Nashville. What’s Wrong with THAT Picture?