CMA Awards Pay Tribute To Las Vegas Victims Without Getting Too Political | Nashville Public Radio

CMA Awards Pay Tribute To Las Vegas Victims Without Getting Too Political

Nov 9, 2017

This year's Country Music Association Awards were meant to provide healing for an industry shaken by the massacre at a festival in Las Vegas last month. Wednesday night's show paid tribute to the fans who became victims, but it also reinforced how few of the artists want to talk about the gun debate reignited by the tragedy.

The effort to avoid controversy was so great that the show even announced rules last week barring journalists from asking about guns or Las Vegas. After an outcry, it was quickly reversed, and then panned by host Carrie Underwood.

More: CMA Meets Stiff Resistance Of Ban On Asking Artists About Vegas Tragedy

"I don't know if you've heard about this," she said to her co-host, Brad Paisley. "But the CMA has given us some 'guidelines.' "

Paisley used the opening to sneak in a song jabbing President Trump and his Twitter habits, parodying one of Underwoods hits with the line, "maybe next time he'll think before he tweets."

Even with the political satire, the show still bypassed any mention of guns. But Underwood did perform a Christian hymn surrounded by an audience holding candles. Her singing turned to a whisper as the photos of all 58 victims from Las Vegas flashed on the screen.

The song was followed by a moment of silence.

"You have to be made of iron to not look at Las Vegas and think something has got to change," says Ketch Secor, lead singer of Old Crow Medicine Show and a former CMA nominee. This week, he called on his more mainstream musician peers to speak up.

"These artists that are selling out arenas … many of whom are the very folks who have been so reluctant to talk about gun control. They can be the voice of reason that can help facilitate the conversation," he tells WPLN. 

But it's a conversation almost no country musician wants to have. Experts point out what happened to the Dixie Chicks when they criticized President George W. Bush: The supergroup vanished from country radio.

"We live in a world today where if you say something, someone will hang you out to dry," says Aaron Watson, who had a number one country album in 2015.

Watson was one of the few on the CMA red carpet willing to speak his mind. He's on the roster of artists promoted by the National Rifle Association. Watson says "bad people are going to find ways to do bad things," so he won't be campaigning for stricter gun laws.

"If I'm going to start doing some preaching and do some picketing, it'll be for our veterans, for our soldiers, for our school teachers and for babies," he says. "Those are things that are dear to my heart."

As for the awards show, Miranda Lambert — who won female vocalist of the year for the seventh time — said it feels like artists are bound together like never before.

"And I feel like country music is winning right now," she said.

Debut Song Addressing Sexual Assault

Keith Urban used the award show at Bridgestone Arena to respond to widespread accusations of sexual assault in the entertainment business. He played a song written in the last few days — and inspired by the allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

The song is called "Female."

"When somebody laughs and implies that she asked for it, just cause she was wearing a skirt. Oh is that how it works?" starts one of the verses.

Nashville has had its own sex scandal to deal with over the last week as high-profile publicist Kirt Webster shut down his PR firm in response to accusations by a former client.

Singer Pam Tillis said on the red carpet that the industry may have more cases of assault that needs to be shared publicly.

"Country music is kind of a family, and when families have secrets, it's toxic," she says. "So it's okay for this to come out, and it needs to come out."

Tillis says some of the stories she's heard from her girlfriends are shocking.

Other Highlights

Entertainer of the Year went to Garth Brooks for the sixth time.

Chris Stapleton won Male Vocalist of the Year for the third time, along with Album of the Year.