CMT Artist of the Year Awards Name Top Country Stars for 2011

The country music industry proved again it knows how to host a music awards show that focuses on, you know, the music, rather than dancers and car commercials and crazy costuming distractions. The CMT Artist of the Year Awards, broadcast December 13, weren’t a conventional awards show, as host Rob Lowe pointed out, but a recognition of the top five artists of the year — Lady Antebellum, Jason Aldean, Taylor Swift, Brad Paisley, and Kenny Chesney.

While there may have been no suspense on the winners, perhaps the big surprise of the evening was the guest performances of the honorees’ songs by other artists — other artists outside country, no less.

That’s a refreshing approach.

Chesney was first to be recognized, with Gavin Degraw performing Chesney’s hit “Somewhere with You” and actor Matthew McConaughey giving his congratulations — and thanks — via a taped message.

“Hey Kenny, congratulations on another big year on the road and on the radio, both of ‘em right where you’re supposed to be. Keep on writing about your life and singing about where you been and what you’re going through, where you’re heading and what you wanna do. Thank you for bringing the cut-off tee to the button-down, the bare foot to the boot, the beast to the country and keeping your road dirty enough along the way. And even though you got a few people out there still stirring the pot, that’s why the bee stung the bull, boy — hell, you rode it.”

Chesney expressed his joy at returning to the stage this year after a hiatus. And the drive to keep making music that brought him back.

“I remember thinking that there is somebody, somewhere out there working harder then me, kicking my butt. The idea of that killed me, and that’s what drives me today, is the idea of somebody, somewhere doing it better or working harder and I never want to meet that person.”

Lady Antebellum was introduced by a montage of the rest of the winners, with Paisley doing a cute schtick pretending he thought the group was just a solo female performer. All kidding aside, the trio took the stage to perform an acoustic version of “Dancin’ Away With My Heart” and were congratulated in messages from Ellen Degeneres and Miranda Lambert.

Before Aldean received his award and performed his hit “Tattoos on This Town,” Lowe cited his cross-genre approach to music as one of his secrets of success during this break-out year in his career.

“When a country artist builds a medley of Guns ‘N Roses songs into his live show, yet also calls the Oak Ridge Boys among his musical influences, you know you’re dealing with someone who understands that great music can come from anywhere.”

To continue the multi-genre theme, the hard-to-define Avett Brothers performed “Laundry Room.” That’s what we have an “Americana” music category for y’all — to describe the kind of groups that have guitars, banjoes and upright basses.

Next up was Swift — who turned all of 22 on this day the show aired — with the other award winners once again paying tribute. Paisley went as far as to call her “our modern Dolly Parton.” The crowd chuckled as he added, “When you say Dolly Parton to Taylor Swift, you have to be careful.”

The All-American Rejects took the stage to perform Swift’s huge hit, “Mean” as well as “Gives You Hell.” Who would have seen that coming?

William Shatner introduced Paisley, after reading an excerpt from Paisley’s book, “Diary of a Player” — a part referencing “Star Wars.”

“‘Star Wars’? Not ‘Star Trek’? That’s like finding out your trusty Vulcan friend is really a back-stabbing little Romulan. Well, come on up here you little Romulan.”

Paisley flashed his live long and prosper sign to Shatner before giving his acceptance speech.

“I just wanted to be in this type of music,” said Paisley. “I didn’t know I would become famous or a star of any kind, and I think I stand here able to say that the coolest thing you could be and the most fun you can have and probably the kindest people you will ever be around is if you become famous in country music. It’s truly… in my opinion, it’s the best industry…’Cause everybody’s kind. And this town is so much fun to make music in. And you’ve just seen a great cross section of the hillbillies we are and the gourmet meals we eat.”

And with that, the night ended with Paisley and Joe Walsh performing “Life’s Been Good,” and even Shatner jumping in for one of his classic spoken word takes on their performance of “Camouflage.”

As a rock and roll girl re-discovering her classic country roots, you country kids sure are winning me over with your down-to-earth lack of pretension and simple approach to making music and having a good time. Keep this up, and I may have to pack my bags for Nashville, y’all.

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