Strait Talk About The ACMs
April 7, 2014
Now that George Strait has won the Academy of Country Music's (ACM) fan-voted Entertainer of the Year award, perhaps we should upgrade his nickname from "The King," to "King-Of-The-Freakin'-World."
The ACM win follows his similar EOY coronation at November's Country Music Association (CMA) Awards and while nobody discounted Strait's worthiness then, let's be honest: There was murmuring about the CMA membership bestowing a sentimental vote for George, since, you know, he's on his farewell "Cowboy Rides Away" tour and all.
Well, apparently his humongous fan base is sentimental, too. And maybe said fan base, who many assumed was too old to comprehend this newfangled "interweb" thingy, is savvier than we previously gave them credit for.
Either way, the CMA and ACM EOY double is rare, sentimentality and technology aside. So let's give "The King-Of–The–Freakin'-World" (KOTFW) his due, shall we?
Pardon the sports analogy, but Strait's CMA/ACM nods are akin to Boston Red Sox great Ted Williams hitting a home run in his last-ever at bat, Denver Broncos QB John Elway winning back-to-back Super Bowls to end his career or Jack Nicklaus bagging his last major PGA title at 46 years of age. Those were exclamation-point, statement-making moments from iconic athletes whose careers already spoke for themselves.
In the world of Country music, the same can be said of Strait. Now in his early 60s, the man isn't phoning in the final chapter of a glorious, history-making career. The dude is killing it! The biggest award from the CMA and ACM? Boom! Chart-topping singles? ... Hello?!? He nailed #60 last year. Successful tour? Check.
His latest release, "I Got A Car," sits at #33 this week and -- all due respect -- I have a suggestion for the new-school PDs out there, smitten with the latest, shiny new objects, who might be giving this single the "talk to the hand" treatment: Carefully ... slowly: put your gate-keeping hand down, remove your A&R wannabe hat, set that radio ego over there, shut up, play the damned song and let listeners decide if this works or not.
The so-called industry gatekeepers (See November CMA awards) AND listeners/fans (See Sunday's ACM Awards) have already spoken. Because it's pretty hard to argue with all those people about the relevance -- short and long term -- of George Strait, a.k.a., KOTFW.
Speaking of Strait and the ACMs ....
On a night that's always filled with moments – some great (Justin Moore winning New Artist of the Year) and some not-so-great (Somebody was lip-synching. Why?) ... my favorite moment of the night? The Merle Haggard tribute.
The celebration of living legend/Country Music Hall of Famer Haggard (on his birthday, no less!) started with Living legend/Country Music Hall of Famer Garth Brooks introducing living legend/Country Music Hall of Famer George "KOTFW" Strait singing "I'm A Lonesome Fugitive," followed by living legend in-the making/probable Country Music Hall of Famer Miranda Lambert nailing, "Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down."
Pardon the food analogy, but that's almost like being served an In-N-Out Double-Double, fries and shake, with a triple chocolate lava fudge layer cake, topped with Blue Bell coffee ice cream for dessert.
The key word there being "almost." Just sayin'.
Haggard is a bonafide treasure, more than worthy and probably overdue for the ACM Crystal Milestone Award, presented following the Garth-Strait-Miranda salute. For those of you who may consider Sunday's ACM Haggard tribute somewhat, shall we say, (ahem) "abbreviated," you should check out Broken Bow Records' just-released "Working Man's Poet: A Tribute To Merle Haggard."
This 20-cut album of songs, 14 written or co-written by Merle, features a combination of iconic (Garth Brooks) current (Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, Dierks Bentley) and rising (Dustin Lynch, Randy Houser, Thompson Square, Jake Owen) stars of this format. All have done a fantastic job of interpreting "The Hag's" music, with Lynch and Houser standing out (to my ears) and Jason Aldean – normally uptempo and rockin' – giving subdued but powerfully stellar performances of Haggard ballads "Going Where The Lonely Go" and "Are The Good Times Really Over."
Just as Haggard and Willie Nelson proved to be a vocally dynamic duo in 1983, while taking the Townes Van Zandt-penned, "Pancho And Lefty" to #1, so too are Luke Bryan and Dierks Bentley here with their version. We tend to brand Bryan as the hip-swinging, backward-cap-wearing torch-bearer and epitome of the "Bro-Country" subset of the Country genre, but in fact, he proves to be a deft interpreter of this classic song. And, as we've heard with "Drink A Beer," Bryan has more depth and a greater feel for traditional Country music than he's given credit for. As for Dierks? Wow. This kind of tune is smack-dab in his wheelhouse and he absolutely sticks the landing here.
I am enjoying this Haggard tribute immensely – loving it, actually -- and it has inspired me to listen again to what I consider the consummate representation of his music, the four-CD box set, "Down Every Road," originally released in 1996. Unfortunately -- as far as I'm concerned, at least -- both the 1996 collection and this impressive Broken Bow tribute do not contain one of Haggard's best-ever songs (again, my opinion), "The Way I Am." Written by Sonny Throckmorton, the song hit #2 in 1980. It was not included on the 1996 CD set, because it was released while Merle recorded for MCA; "Down Every Road" was made up entirely of Haggard's vast Capitol Records catalogue.
But I digress, and regardless, "Working Man's Poet" still presents the best of both worlds for Country fans of all ages: Timeless, amazing songs performed by today's artists who have shown deep respect and admiration for both Haggard and his music. Get it, play it, enjoy it. I can almost guarantee: You will appreciate Merle Haggard, more so than ever.
Final, random ACM thoughts:
I love the live performances but when you tout this telecast as the "49th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards," with that last word "Award" defined by Dictionary.com as" "To give (something due), esp as a reward for merit: to award prizes," maybe you should get to that part of the show sooner than, say, the SECOND HOUR of your "Awards' show. Just a thought ... I also love "This Is How We Roll" from Florida Georgia Line and Luke Bryan but I could not completely enjoy the song, fearing the band's drummer might be seriously killed if those BMX bikers collided in mid-air, while flipping and flying over the drum kit .... Thank God the same stunt wasn't employed during Keith Urban's performance; he had THREE drummers lined up, side-by-side ... Others did so later, but JUSTIN MOORE gets my "Stay Classy" award for giving Country radio its first shout out of the night. To their credit, most Country artists do thank radio on these shows, but with research data continuing to show radio's importance in exposing new music to listeners, ALL of them should do it EVERY time they are on stage.