It seems like the Nashville country music machine is obsessed with integrating the Austin and Texas market into their slimy, scuzzy sphere of influence. They’ve already secured such an iron grip on the Nashville music industry with their greedy and malevolent suction cup-lined mandibles, now they must move on to fresh meat and corporatize ATX with their safe, mainstream, Disney-style corporate HR indoctrinations and shitty versions of “country” music.
We already had Ryman Hospitality Properties—which owns the Grand Ole Opry, the Opry House itself, The Ryman Auditorium, and numerous other important music properties in Nashville—buy the downtown Austin complex that houses the 2,750-seat Moody Theater where Austin City Limits is taped, and where ACL Live events happen weekly. Now they’ve decided in all of their infinite wisdom that there is any viable reason that the CMT Awards would work better in Austin than Nashville.
First let’s establish that the CMT Awards mean absolutely nothing. They’re about as meaningful as a diploma from Corinthian College. The categories are dumb, the awards are voted on by fans which means Stan armies pick the winners, and the awards are about as worthless as paperweights in a digital document world. CMT as a cable station these days is little more than a clearinghouse for TV Land reruns on a dying medium. When these pop country stars croak, nobody will cite how many CMT Awards they own. It’s the Mitchell “Bitches” Tenpenny of country music award shows. Third tier and irrelevant.
But with Austin’s inferiority complex with Nashville, and Austin’s completely failed attempts to resuscitate its music scene to its once mighty prestige thanks to all the tech hipsters snuffing out affordability and everything else that once made Austin cool, the money grubbers behind Austin’s new Moody Center arena are more than happy to facilitate moving the CMT Awards production to the city with lucrative financial incentives for CMT to present the facade that people still give a shit about music in Austin. 2/3rds of Austin’s legendary venues have closed. But hey, we have Kelsea Ballerini handing awards out to Walker Hayes for his Applebee’s song. Yay Austin music!
The truth is, as stupid as the CMT Awards have always been, they’ve at least made for a decent centerpiece of CMA Fest in Nashville that’s held every June. With many of the stars already in town during CMA Fest, holding the CMT Awards at the Bridgestone Arena right in the thick of the festivities made intuitive sense. Due to COVID and other stuff, the airing of the CMTs have shifted over the last couple of years, but that’s not the real motivation behind this move.
Let’s recall that CBS—which is part of Paramount and owns CMT—parted ways with the ACM Awards in 2021, which had been the ACM’s long-time broadcast partner. Amid declining ratings and the ACMs demanding $2 million more in broadcasting fees, the two entities cut ties, and in 2022 the ACMs were streamed on Amazon. CBS and Paramount’s big idea was they could replace the ACMs that have been around for going on 60 years with the CMTs. Along with the announcement that the awards are moving to Austin, CMT also announced the awards show will air on April 2nd on CBS again after moving to the network in 2022.
But again, this is the CMT Awards. They’re meaningless. There is no legitimizing of them by moving them to Austin or anything else. The can’t even air them solely on CMT anymore because most millennials and Gen Z’ers in the key demographic don’t even have cable, and wouldn’t watch a two-bit awards show even if they did.
So why even care about any of this? Because there is still something to be said about the integrity, autonomy, and authenticity of Austin as something apart, more artistic-minded, and more genuine than Nashville. Who do you think is going to attend the CMT Awards in Austin anyway? It’s going to be a bunch of people from Nashville who fly in. Local Austinites will regard it no different than a vacuum cleaner convention that happens to be in town some random week. This is one of the reasons the ACM Awards moved the awards from Las Vegas to Nashville in 2020, and relocated their headquarters to Nashville from Los Angeles in 2022.
So what’s in it for Austin and the new Moody Center Arena? In another bad move and ill-fitting partnership, iHeartMedia set up their iHeartRadio Country Festival in Austin in 2014 at the Frank Erwin Center, which the new Moody Center has now replaced. Similar to the CMT Awards, though the iHeart Fest were held in the “Live Music Capital,” the music of Austin had absolutely nothing to do with it. It was a bunch of 2nd and 3rd-tier Nashville stars who performed. It appears that after the pandemic, the iHeartRadio Country Festival has gone defunct. It hasn’t been held since 2019, with no plans at the moment for its return.
Incentivizing the CMT Awards to come to Austin in replacement of the iHeartRadio Country Festival that was held in the spring as well perhaps was the plan, with the idea that luring Nashville industry types to the city will ultimately pay off in added tax revenue generated by the event. But instead of CMT wasting its effort in where the local/regional population will simply ignore the event or be outright repulsed by it, keeping the CMT Awards in Nashville seems much smarter. Or even better, just shitcan the awards altogether. Sure, some awards show ratings have stabilized somewhat after falling off a cliff during the pandemic, but it’s still a decaying institution, just like cable and CMT. At least the CMAs and ACMs have a history. The CMTs are solely a creature of television.
Ultimately, the effect of moving the CMT Awards from Nashville to Austin will be generally unimportant, and any effects incidental at best, while those watching at home won’t even recognize the change of scenery, aside for some stereotypical shots of longhorn cattle coming in and out of commercial breaks. But it is troubling to see how these Nashville entities seem to be encroaching more and more on the one city that is attempting to offer a healthier alternative to Nashville’s restrictive monopoly on country music.
Will hosting the CMT Awards in Austin mean the implosion of everything cool about the “Live Music Capital?” Of course not. But organizations, business interests, and individuals involved in Austin music need to stay vigilant about the mission creep of Tennessee-based entities slowly threading their mandibles around the thorax of Austin. The city already has enough challenges plaguing its music scene, including the continued flight of much of its talent to Nashville. The last thing Austin needs to become is a satellite property to Music City, aka Nashville West.
If we can’t Keep Austin Weird, at least keep Austin Austin.