As an addendum to all of the brewhaha last week surrounding Garth Brooks winning the 2019 CMA Entertainer of the Year over Carrie Underwood, a little context is perhaps needed. Though Stan armies love to war back and forth about who deserves what awards, and the media loves to seize on drama for clicks, behind the scenes things are often a lot more moderate and congenial. This is illustrated in how just days before the CMA’s, the two superstars up for the 2019 CMA Entertainer of the Year got together to honor a legend of country music.
Each year during the week before the CMA’s, the performance rights organizations (BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC) hold their annual galas and awards shows for country artists in Nashville, handing out certain accolades for accomplishments over the year, as well as lifetimes achievement awards. Though these events go much farther under-the-radar than the CMA event and are meant more for the industry than the general public, the stars turn out nonetheless, and that was true this year as well.
On Sunday, November 10th, SESAC held their annual event, and Ray Wylie Hubbard was being honored for penning the song “Desperate Man” with Eric Church. Hubbard was in attendance at the party at the Country Music Hall of Fame performing “Desperate Man” for the assembled crowd, and Eric Church surprised everyone by showing up to the event to toast his “Desperate Man” co-writer. “He’s equal parts poet, bluesman, singer, songwriter, entertainer, troubadour, but he’s entirely my friend and my hero,” Eric Church said of Hubbard.
On Tuesday night, November 12th, Dwight Yoakam was honored with the BMI’s President’s Award at that annual gala. Margo Price and Bob Weir performed “Fast As You” in honor of Dwight, and The Highwomen sang “A Thousand Miles From Nowhere.” “I wrote primarily because I needed things to sing, and it’s flattering to be given this award tonight, it’s flattering to be honored by BMI,” Dwight said.
But on Monday (11-11) is when arguably the biggest stars turned out when both Garth Brooks and Carrie Underwood showed up to honor Randy Travis, who was receiving ASCAP’s Founders Award at ASCAP’s 57th Annual Awards. Carrie Underwood sang “Promises” in honor of Randy Travis, and Garth Brooks sang “Forever And Ever, Amen.” “This man saved country music single handedly…. I wouldn’t be standing here if it weren’t for Randy Travis,” Garth Brooks said as Randy took the stage to receive his award.
This isn’t the first time Garth Brooks has spoken glowingly of Randy Travis. He regularly credits Randy for opening the door for artists like him and the others in the “Class of ’89” that took country music to its commercial peak. Garth Brooks also said that he believed Randy Travis should have been placed into the Country Music Hall of Fame before he was.
And though Carrie Underwood might seem like a strange name to honor Randy Travis on the surface, the two also have a close history. It was Randy Travis who first invited Carrie Underwood to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 2008. Since then Carrie has been the only mainstream country star to consistently honor her Grand Ole Opry dues by making regular performances on the show, and though it’s undeniable her music is more pop than country, she also has taken of her time over the years to honor the greats of country music past, just like she did at the 2019 ASCAP Music Awards when cameras weren’t rolling.
In the aftermath of the 2019 CMA Awards, everyone wants to pit Carrie Underwood against Garth Brooks, as if there must be some anger and animosity there. It’s fair to criticize Garth Brooks for not having the presence of mind to at least mention Carrie Underwood in his Entertainer of the Year acceptance speech, as well as the women of country who the 2019 CMA Awards was meant to honor. But when it comes to the artists themselves, of course the both wanted to win, and neither wanted to lose. But they both love and respect Randy Travis, and that’s what country music is all about.