CMA Awards: Predicting the winners at the 49th CMA Awards

Country music has a lot of award shows, but you can oversaturate the market with them if you get the ratings and, well, country music is a big draw. The night will be full of big performances, can’t get much bigger than an opening number from Eric Church and Hank Williams Jr., and, of course, the crowning of the night’s champions in a multitude of categories.

Let’s predict who’s going home with the hardware while also saying who should be going home with it when the night is done. You can watch the 49th CMA Awards on ABC on Wednesday, November 4 at seven central.

Music Video of the Year

Three really fun music videos against two pretty serious ones are what we have on the docket this year. The category is dominated by women this year which is about the only thing that women are allowed to dominate in today’s country music word.

The nominees are:

  • Biscuits – Kacey Musgraves
  • Girl Crush – Little Big Town
  • Girl in a Country Song – Maddie & Tae
  • Little Red Wagon – Miranda Lambert
  • Something in the Water – Carrie Underwood

I love Kacey Musgraves, something I will probably mention a couple more times throughout this post, but her video wasn’t played enough to win the award. I hadn’t seen it until I searched it out. Great video, but probably not enough juice to win the award. Girl in a  Country Song was nothing special of a video.

A good rule to live by is that if something fun is going up against something serious in a music awards show, it’ll go to the thing that is serious. Sorry to my favorite video of the year, Little Red Wagon. The video is one of the most fun videos in years in country music and I wish it would win.

The last two videos are both absolutely beautiful, but I am leaning Little Big Town and Girl Crush to win. Girl Crush is very straight forward, but very powerful and almost chilling in the black and white presentation. It’s going to be a big night for that song and it’ll start in the video category.

Winner: Girl Crush – Little Big Town

Who should win: Little Red Wagon – Miranda Lambert

Musical Event of the Year

Are you ready for some duets?! Or at least that’s what I think they really should be in this category. Only two songs in the category are true duets with both parties sharing an equal, or close to equal, amount of signing. The other three have a main star with the other person noted basically being a flashy background singer.

The nominees are:

  • Django and Jimmie – Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard
  • Lonely Tonight – Blake Shelton featuring Ashley Monroe
  • Raise ‘Em Up – Keith Urban featuring Eric Church
  • Smokin’ and Drinkin’ – Miranda Lambert featuring Little Big Town
  • Wild Child – Kenny Chesney with Grace Potter

Again we have the case of a song not being too well-known to the masses, despite being pretty darn good, my apologies to Willie and Merle. Of course, that one is one of the only two that are true duets. We’ll talk about the other one in a bit.

Blake Shelton features a lot of people in his music and none of it is overly amazing. Lonely Tonight is a good tune, but I don’t think the addition of Ashley Monroe really adds to the song or the event of it. Wild Child by Kenny Chesney pairs him up with Grace Potter once again and it turns into a beautiful creation once again. Part of me tells me that it wins, the other part says since it’s another edition of Kenny and Grace that it loses its speciality.

Smokin’ and Drinkin’ features a lot of Little Big Town on the background vocals and it produces a kickass wall of sound, but it completely flopped at country radio. That shouldn’t really affect how the song is judged, but people were judging that it shouldn’t be played on the radio, so that hurts it.

That leaves us with Raise ‘Em Up, the collaboration between Keith Urban and Eric Church.  Church usually doesn’t record things that he doesn’t write and he didn’t write this song. The writing in this song is brilliant and it really deserves bigger awards than the Musical Event of the Year. Urban and Church blend so nicely together and it truly is a great even since it combines two of the biggest names in country music today.

Winner/Who should win: Raise ‘Em Up – Keith Urban and Eric Church

Song of the Year

Always one of the hardest categories every single year.  This category takes all the great songs in country music and limits it to five and then we try to choose from there. It sounds easy, but it’s not, except for this year… It seems pretty easy this year.

The nominees are:

  • American Kids – Rodney Clawson, Luke Laird and Shane McAnally
  • Girl Crush – Liz Rose, Lori McKena and Hillary Lindsey
  • Like a Cowboy – Randy Houser and Brice Long
  • Like a Wrecking Ball – Eric Church and Casey Beathard
  • Take Your Time – Sam Hunt, Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne

As I said for the videos, serious overtakes anything fun so American Kids is out right from the start. I’m always more impressed with artists who write their own songs and three of the five nominated songs were co-written by the performing artist. Take Your Time is the best song that Sam Hunt has released to date, but it’s pop-qualities are enough to knock it out. Like a Wrecking Ball is a great song, but it’s about sex and that’s still a little taboo for recognition in country music. We like it, but we don’t love it. Like a Cowboy is a good song too, but it wasn’t all out amazing.

Girl Crush is all out amazing. I remember listening to Little Big Town’s Pain Killer album for the first time and when I listened to Girl Crush the first time, I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. It was so beautiful and so well written. I had to listen to it over and over and over again. It’s a real shame that radio overplayed the song, because I am less compelled to listen to it over and over and over again, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still one of the best country songs ever written.

Winner/Who should win: Girl Crush

Single of the Year

What’s the difference between single and song of the year? Glad you asked. Song is very lyrically based. That category looks for songs that touch your heartstrings or make you laugh out loud or make you feel a feeling and are very well written. Single of the Year is more wide open and looks more at the success of the song than a critical eye at the song.

The nominees are:

  • American Kids – Kenny Chesney
  • Girl Crush – Little Big Town
  • I Don’t Dance – Lee Brice
  • Take Your Time – Sam Hunt
  • Talladega – Eric Church

For Single of the Year, I usually try to find the song that was most overplayed and, oh boy, do we have a competition for that spot. Girl Crush and Take Your Time were both incredibly overplayed, but both are very good songs.

Sam Hunt has an incredible amount of popularity outside of the country music world, but Little Big Town found a lot of success outside of the country music sphere for Girl Crush, too. Both songs did appear on the Billboard Hot 100 with Girl Crush peaking at 18 and Take Your Time at 20.

It’s a total coin-flip between the two, but I have a hunch that the Girl Crush train will keep on crushing it.

Winner/Who should win: Girl Crush

Album of the Year

I am one of the few crazy people in this world that still buys albums. Yes, all of the songs and, I hope your sitting down, the physical copy of the album. I can count on my fingers how many songs I’ve downloaded off of iTunes. I love albums and one of my favorite albums of all-time is on this list. I have actually bought that album twice: one CD, one vinyl.

The nominees are:

  • Old Boots, New Dirt – Jason Aldean
  • Pageant Material – Kacey Musgraves
  • Pain Killer – Little Big Town
  • The Big Revival – Kenny Chesney
  • Traveller – Chris Stapleton

Well, my friends, Mercury Records is going to go home with an Album of the Year award, but which of their two nominees will win it. Going the Mercury route eliminates Old Boots, New Dirt, Pain Killer and The Big Revival. All three are really good albums, but not as good as the other two. Old Boots might not even be Aldean’s best album, American Kids is the best Chesney album in years but still doesn’t compete and Pain Killer has my favorite producer, Jay Joyce, but doesn’t stand up to Musgraves or Stapleton.

I will openly admit, I have listed to Pageant Material about 100 times more than Traveller, so I might be a little biased, but I still think Pageant Material wins.  I try to write down the best lyrics I hear and seemingly half of those are off of Miss Musgraves’ latest album it’s that good.

I’m all in on Pageant Material, but I wouldn’t be shocked if Traveller steals it.

Winner/Who should win: Pageant Material

New Artist of the Year

This is the most screwed up category in the history of award shows. Seemingly, every year, no matter what awards show, there is always a candidate that is overqualified to be in the running. It’ll be obvious when you see it.

The nominees are:

  • Kelsea Ballerini
  • Sam Hunt
  • Maddie & Tae
  • Thomas Rhett
  • Chris Stapleton

The one that is overqualified is Thomas Rhett by a landslide. Rhett right now is on a five straight songs going to number one streak. Maddie & Tae just released their third single, Kelsea Ballerini is on number two, Sam Hunt is one number four overall and Chris Stapleton has had two singles in his career and the title track to Traveller didn’t even chart.

It’s simple, but it depends how you look at the New Artist category. If it’s career to date, it’s Thomas Rhett. If it’s in the past calendar year or so, Sam Hunt is probably the favorite. I’ll go Rhett since he’s had the more successful career to date, but Hunt should win if truly this was a ‘new artist’ competition.

Winner: Thomas Rhett

Who Should Win: Sam Hunt

Vocal Duo of the Year

This is the biggest slam dunk of the night. Why did they even vote?

The nominees are:

  • Brothers Osborne
  • Dan + Shay
  • Florida Georgia Line
  • Maddie & Tae
  • Thompson Square

Next year this might actually be a conversation, but it’s still going to be all FGL. Brothers Osborne are still a little too fresh and only have two single to their name, only one the past calendar year, and their first album does not drop until 2016. Maddie & Tae will challenge next year, too, but not yet. Dan + Shay is an interesting duo, but they have only had one single this year. Thompson Square was nominated because they needed five for the category.

Florida Georgia Line has won the award the last two years and they’ll make it three in a row on Wednesday night. The scary thing is that their music gets better as they age and might be just in the beginning of quite the run of wins.

Winner: Florida Georgia Line

Vocal Group of the Year

The category on its face has some big names, but when you really look into it, it is simply a two band race. Picking between the two bands is a real challenge and it’s definitely one of the hardest choices of the night.

The nominees are:

  • Lady Antebellum
  • Little Big Town
  • Rascal Flatts
  • The Band Perry
  • Zac Brown Band

Let’s quick take out the three non-contenders. Lady Antebellum is good, but they did not have an outstanding year. Rascal Flatts is still trying to revive their career and finding radio success in about every other single, but still are not comparable to their prime. The Band Perry took a year off and are now just firing the engines back up. The Band Perry’s first single off of the break, Live Forever, was a flop at country radio, too.

That leaves us with Little Big Town and Zac Brown Band. Little Big Town has won the award three years in a row from the CMAs and are destined to have a big night of wins with or without the Group of the Year. Zac Brown Band hasn’t won the award from the CMAs yet and had a heck of a good year.

Little Big Town had a smash in Girl Crush and a new album in Pain Killer. Zac Brown Band had smash hits in Homegrown and Loving You Easy and a spectacular new album in Jekyll and Hyde. The ZBB is musically and talentedly better than LBT, but is that enough for them to break the streak?

I feel like the CMAs are going to go all-in on Girl Crush this year and that’ll include another Group of the Year victory for Little Big Town.

Winner: Little Big Town

Who should win: Zac Brown Band

Male Vocalist of the Year

It’s like the song/single category. Everyone has a case in this category. I would not be shocked if any one of the five win the award which makes the picking and analyzing of the category a very difficult thing to do.

The nominees are:

  • Dierks Bentley
  • Luke Bryan
  • Eric Church
  • Blake Shelton
  • Chris Stapleton

Let’s just go in order. Dierks has released some really good songs this past year with Say You Do and Riser. He’s a great singer and has been doing great charitable things as well. Dierks is a star in country music, but not as big of a star as the three candidates in the middle of the list which sadly might just knock Dierks out of the running.

Luke Bryan released an album (two if you include his final Spring Break venture), every song he releases goes to number one and had a stadium tour. Everybody loves Luke and it’s hard to bet against him.

Eric Church is a star that everybody loves, but his radio success is really weird. The public loves everything that Eric releases, but on the charts sometimes the songs don’t get as high as they should. That worries the huge Church fan inside of me, but he still has as good of an argument as anyone.

Blake Shelton has gained throngs of fans due to his coaching on The Voice, but he didn’t release a record this year. On the other hand, a lot like Luke, every single that Blake releases eventually goes to number one. He’s got a good shot.

The critics love Chris Stapleton, but how much is he loved when it comes to the voting. Stapleton deserves the awards he’s nominated for, but it still seems that award shows are always weary to give the award to anyone that isn’t a household name and Stapleton simply isn’t there yet. I just can’t get a feel for what the people that vote feel about Stapleton, he could win this or he could finish in dead last.

So where do we turn? When in doubt… Luke out.

Winner: Luke Bryan

Female Vocalist of the Year

It wasn’t that long ago that a big topic in the world of radio was that female artists were not well-represented. It’s not perfect, but there are some solid artists on this list that are making females heard once again. Hell, there’s some on this list that we should hear a whole lot more of on the radio.

The nominees are:

  • Kelsea Ballerini
  • Miranda Lambert
  • Kacey Musgraves
  • Carrie Underwood
  • Lee Ann Womack

Our first issue is that, well, there still isn’t enough music from females on the radio airwaves. I can’t remember the last time I heard a Lee Ann Womack song on the radio. She’s very talent and should still be getting some spins, but she’s not and she is eliminated.

Kelsea Ballerini has started her career like a shot from a gun and I wouldn’t be shocked if she wins a couple of these awards before her music career is over, but this won’t be the year. Ballerini is still too young and hasn’t quite done enough to take this from the grasp of the two main heavyweights.

Sadly, Kacey Musgraves isn’t one of those two heavyweights. Musgraves released the wonderfully amazing Pageant Material, but still isn’t getting radio airplay. She should be the winner of this award, but she’s not going to be.

Miranda Lambert has won the award for five straight years. Carrie Underwood won this award three straight years from 2006-2008. Taylor Swift was squished in the middle of the two runs. It’s been a fight between Lambert and Underwood for years and it’s here again.

Underwood will re-claim the crown this year. Lambert hasn’t had the same success she has had the last five years this year and Underwood has released two great songs from her Greatest Hits compilation, plus her new album Storyteller should push her ahead of Lambert. I would not be opposed to any of the last three mentioned winning, but I think the co-host of the CMAs will be handed this trophy.

Winner: Carrie Underwood

Who should win: Kacey Musgraves

Entertainer of the Year

Two artists in the history of the CMAs have won the Entertainer of the Year award a record four times and that tie could be broken by either artist this year. We could have one artist defend his title from last year or we could have a brand new winner. No matter what happens in this category, there will be a fun story to go along with it.

The nominees are:

  • Garth Brooks
  • Luke Bryan
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Eric Church
  • Miranda Lambert

I believe we can eliminate two artists, sadly, right away. Eric Church and Miranda Lambert simply didn’t have big flashy enough tours this year to compete with the other three. It also doesn’t help that Church and Lambert’s latest albums are both over a year old. Both are great artists that should win this award sometime in their career, but it won’t be this year.

Throughout this piece, I have been harping on radio play and how important that is. That makes this difficult for me. Luke and Kenny both have a lot of radio airplay, but Garth does not share that same benefit. On the other hand, no one is selling out arenas over and over and over again quite like Garth has this past year in his comeback tour.

Luke and Kenny are selling out stadiums, sure, but Garth is playing to more people on more nights and making more of a stir. The guy has a DVD boxset called The Entertainer, for crying out loud. It wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for the CMAs to give the award to someone not exactly in their prime with George Strait winning the award just two years ago.

I’m a huge Garth fan and I’m sure it’s clouding my judgement a little, but I still don’t see how anyone can claim he isn’t the best entertainer of the past year. I’ll take Kenny over Luke if they don’t go the old guy’s way, but they really need to be going his way.

Winner: Garth Brooks

There we have it. All of the major award categories at the 49th CMA Awards broken all the way down. It’s some of the stiffest competition in years which speaks wonders about the future of country music. Fans have a lot to look forward to on Wednesday night and on their radio for years to come.

Watch the CMAs with the rest of the world on November 4 at 7:00 central on your local ABC station.

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Take Me To Church: Eric Church

SKULLI fell in love in the backseat of my friend’s truck. That sounds like the line to a horribly cheesy country song, but it’s true. They say you know when that moment of love hits and that moment for me was Sunday, December 4, 2011.

The Denver Broncos were in Minneapolis to take on the Minnesota Vikings. 2011, more specifically late 2011, was what will go down in history as ‘Tebow Time’. Tim Tebow was doing the miraculous while being a horribly flawed quarterback. I saw ‘Tebow Time’ in person, but that’s not what I fell in love with.

Young people don’t know what the radio is, so we listened to an iPod through the truck speakers for the whole 90-minute trip to and fro the stadium. Only one artist was played: Eric Church.

I’d known of Eric Church. Hell, I’d seen him in concert as the opening act for Sara Evans, but he never really captivated me. I loved ‘Smoke A Little Smoke’ and I had downloaded ‘Homeboy’ from the iTunes store, but it wasn’t until December 4, 2011, that I realized Eric Church was, well, a badass.

This guy captivated me the way only a couple other artists have. Eric Church captivated me so much that the next time I was at Best Buy, full disclosure I forced myself into a trip, I bought all three albums that Church had released to date.

I was sold.

‘Chief’, the most commercially successful album for Church thus far, was unlike any ‘country’ album I had ever heard. I say ‘country’ because Church has been quoted as saying that genres are an outdated concept. The earlier two albums weren’t as groundbreaking, but it was beyond solid typical country music.

The aviators that I wore turned from being in honor of my family’s obsession with Tom Cruise and ‘Top Gun’ to being because I wanted to be Eric Church. I wanted to be that guy that was on the album cover of ‘Chief’ and wore his glasses onstage.

I finally got to see the guy I wanted to be onstage again.

It was a ‘freakin’ Tuesday in Minneapolis’ and the Target Center was packed to the rafters. Internet connectivity was sketchy with 19,000 people and, I’d assume, 19,000 or so internet cable devices trying to SnapChat their friends. A problem I assume the Timberwolves never face.

Church ran through a blistering 23 songs with only two breaks, one of those breaks was hidden behind a video montage of the prelude to ‘Devil, Devil’ which is featured on his latest album ‘The Outsiders’.

The concert was heavy on ‘The Outsiders’ and ‘Chief’, but touched on all four of Church’s studio albums. Including his second single, ‘Two Pink Lines’ which was selected by a list Church gave a fan before the show and Church and his band didn’t know what they would be playing until ten seconds they were playing it.

Church laughed through the song, especially after forgetting the words to the second verse of the song that reached number 19 on the charts just eight short years ago.

The concert was insanely rocking, especially for what Church pointed out was a Tuesday. The energy, the all-encompassing stage, the attention of the crowd was always on Church and he gave a hell of a show off of that energy.

There’s a million things a guy that is a little biased towards Eric Church could say about the concert. He did the essential hits, he did the true fans’ favorite album cuts, he tied in ‘Born to Run’ in his breakout smash spectacular ‘Springsteen’.

A million memorable moments, but there is something insanely fun about one of your favorite artists having the same admiration you do for another one your favorite artists.

No one was singing ‘Born to Run’ louder than me and Eric Church in that moment.

I couldn’t put my finger on why I loved Eric Church so much until after the concert. I love reading the reviews of the concerts that I have just been to just so I can see how incredibly biased I am compared to the fellows that get paid to review concerts.

Both the Pioneer Press and Star Tribune gave the show a thumbs-up. Both noted that the show was not the typical country concert because Eric Church is not the typical country act. Both papers compared Eric Church to other artists and that’s when it hit me.

Both Ross Raihala of the Pioneer Press, a must-follow on Twitter, and Jon Bream of the Star Tribune compared Church to Bruce Springsteen. Church will always be tied to the Boss since Church’s biggest single, he’ll probably never top it, shares the Boss’ last name. Bream also threw in Garth Brooks.

It clicked.

Eric Church is a beautiful combination of Bruce Springsteen and Garth Brooks.

Musically, Church is the country equivalent of Springsteen. Springsteen had remarkable commercial success with ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ and has had mild chart success around that, but nothing ever meeting that level again. Church had ‘Chief’ and that will be his penultimate commercial success. It brought out a lot of great radio hits while being a great piece of music, but he’s going to, and intentionally, stay directly out of the spotlight.

Church has said that’s why ‘The Outsiders’ is such an out of left field concept to some country music consumers. It’s real music, but it doesn’t need to be radio popular to be popular. Springsteen has built a career out of that and so will Church.

One of the best songs on ‘The Outsiders’, ‘Cold One’ only got to number 20 on the charts. ‘Cold One’ is remarkable well written and performed, but is not yet accepted, and might never be, by the bro-country loving radio listeners.

Church will continually sell out Target Centers and Xcel Energy Centers for a string of years and get modest airplay. Church is set music wise.

Garth Brooks comes in on the performance aspect. Church had his audience captivated the whole time he was on stage on Tuesday night. No one ever sat down. I’ve only seen Springsteen once, so take this with a grain of salt, but there was a time when everyone sat down.

Springsteen is a great performer and shows emotion onstage, but both Brooks and Church shove their emotions in your face, but in a very nice way. Garth and Church both continually are laughing onstage, not because something is funny, but they are both so happy they can’t help put laughing through the ear-to-ear smiles.

They scream. There’s so much emotion in their shows that both Church and Brooks at times will lean back and just scream. If you saw someone do this on the street, you’d be freaked out, but onstage it seems normal. Beyond normal.

Church’s music is deeper than anything on the radio, much like Springsteen. Brooks’ most commercial singles have never been insanely deep, but his show, just on DVD, is incredible.

I don’t know if I saw a rock show, a country concert or if I saw a disciple of that ‘Country Music Jesus’ Church sings about, but I finally know why he’s so captivating.

Church has taken the two best qualities of two of the best artists of all-time and is pulling himself up onto that pedestal with them.

December 4, 2011, was a big day for me. I saw my two favorite NFL teams face off with my friends, I had my first taste of the God-send that is Chipotle and I caught the lifelong earworm that is Eric Church.

I don’t know how to describe September 16, 2014. Eric Church said he’d expected we’d all have a ‘religious experience’ on Tuesday night. If that was ‘religious’, I’m going to be in the front pew of Church until the world burns down.

Eric Church Proves He’s A Badass, Fights Scalpers

Picture via: http://static.parade.condenast.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/eric-church-aviators-ftr.jpg
Picture via: http://static.parade.condenast.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/eric-church-aviators-ftr.jpg

Not that long ago, it was illegal to scalp tickets in the state of Minnesota. Everyone played by the same rules and paid face value for all ticketing wielding events from Twins to Theatre to Tina Turner Tickets. If you live in Minnesota and have ever tried to get into anything, specifically concerts, you know that it is now legal to scalp tickets in Minnesota and you pay nowhere near face value.

Minnesotans have noticed the ridiculousness of scalping and so has country music superstar Eric Church. On Friday, he issued a big ‘F U’ to scalpers. Church cancelled 902 scalped tickets to his September 16 show in Minneapolis and put them back on the market.

I have to say that I have never heard of this happening before. Typically, when tickets are on the market they are out of the control of the artist and his team. Apparently they still have some pull afterwards.

The posts on Church’s Facebook page and posts on Twin Cities radio stations announcing the coming of 902 more tickets was almost all positive. In fact, I only saw one negative comment which was nicely snipped by a fellow Facebooker calling the writer of a negative comment a scalper. Ah, Facebook wit.

The rerelease of these tickets will allow me to go to the show now with reasonable priced tickets at $57 a crack for lower bowl seating.

Eric Church has been a badass for a long time. It shows in his music being actual country music and he proved it in the way that he treated his fans in Minnesota. Bravo, Chief.

Now, if only a certain ex-Beatle that’s coming to Target Field in August would control the scalpers who are selling tickets to his show for over a grand before the tickets even go on sale to the general public, that would be great.

George Strait and Eric Church Team Up Onstage

There’s not a whole lot that I love more than country music. Yes, the quality of music and what is considered ‘country’ these days is pretty concerning, but when it’s done right, it’s awesome. Nobody does it better than George Strait and Eric Church.

Eric Church opened up for George Strait on a recent tour date in Kansas City, which I joked about going to and now I really wish I would have. Church did an acoustic set, which is very rare for a stadium/arena show, as the opening act and then sometime during the concert the following happened.

King George and The Chief teamed up!

This is a country music nerd’s dream. One of the best of all-time and one of the best of today (and the future) teaming up on one of my favorite tunes, ‘Easy Come, Easy Go’.

Church’s new album, The Outsiders, is scheduled for release on February 11, which thus far has two awesome singles with ‘The Outsiders’ and ‘Give Me Back My Hometown’, but my gushing over the preacher of the Church Choir can wait for another post.

Now rewatch King George and The Chief. You know you want to.