Taylor Swift, Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves, Brad Paisley and Blake Shelton are among the artists performing Wednesday night on the CMA Awards show from Nashville, and Pop & Hiss will be with you all night live blogging the festivities.
Here's some of what we'll be looking for this evening: George Strait and Alan Jackson are slated to pay tribute to the late George Jones. Taylor Swift will partner with Vince Gill and Alison Krauss. And Foo Fighter Dave Grohl is expected to drum for the Zac Brown Band.
If that last matchup caught you by surprise, Pop & Hiss politely reminds you that Grohl rarely turns down invites to music award shows (see the Grammys, pretty much forever). Oh, he's also said to be producing the next Zac Brown Band record.
And that's enough for the intro. Everything else that follows will be updated live below.
5:30 p.m. And we're off, country music fans and those obsessed with music award shows. So far, we've had a "Duck Dynasty" appearance, an Obamacare joke and a rather awkward opening performance from Luke Bryan.
Let's start with the last, as Bryan's "That's My Kind of Night" sputtered out of the gate with awkward hip-hop phrasing. And here's a rule that should be instituted for future country music award shows: Unless your name is Taylor Swift, you don't get to wear a shirt with glitter.
Hosts Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley, however, once again delivered a charming monologue, largely using the feud between Zac Brown and Bryan (Zac doesn't like "That's My Kind of Night," either) as way to do a roll call of the audience. The Obamacare joke steered clear of politics, as it predictably mocked the now-played-out issues with the website at launch. But the moment was good for a chuckle for the way in which Underwood and Paisley roped in Strait's "Amarillo by Morning" into a song about singing up for healthcare.
Oh, there was also a twerk joke, but we're going to skip that.
Single of the year went to Florida Georgia Line for "Cruise."
5:45 p.m. Upstart Kacey Musgraves sang her hit "Follow Your Arrow," proving that a song can start with a feisty lyric like "if you don't save yourself for marriage you're a bore" and still flutter, weightlessly, off into the wind. Give Musgraves points for having a feel-good song with a nice message about sexual equality, but if this one is played at gay marriage rallies, make sure the coffee isn't decaf.
5:50 p.m. Song of the year went to "I Drive Your Truck," sung by Lee Brice and written by Jessi Alexander, Connie Harrington and Jimmy Yeary.
After the award – and a commercial break – Little Big Town sang "Sober," the year's most regal song about dying drunk.
The award for vocal duo of the year was then awarded to Florida Georgia Line.
6:05 p.m. Right about now it'd be acceptable if you were missing a live video directed by Spike Jonze and starring Greta Gerwig. The CMA Awards may be a far more professional-looking affair than the YouTube Music Awards, but putting on a sparkly tux doesn't instantly equal excitement.
More Paisley and Underwood might help. It was cute to see Paisley dressed in Robin Thicke referee suit, even if the Miley/twerk jokes still seem like low-hanging fruit.
Adding a little more life was the Keith Urban and Miranda Lambert duet "We Were Us." It would have been fun to see Lambert arm herself with a guitar and go head to head with Urban, but the arena holler still provided a wake-up call.
6:15 p.m. OK, take a deep breath. Taylor Swift performed with Alison Krauss, Vince Gill, Sam Bush, Edgar Meyer and Eric Carken, and Swift wasn't relegated to backing harmonies.
Yet Swift and her all-star cast of more accomplished artists certainly classed-up "Red," a song that certainly never warranted to be dressed as the prettiest one at the ball. Still, Swift came out a winner here, as her more serious side has generally been her more shaky one. This restrained performance seemed aimed squarely at Grammy voters. "Red," remember, is eligible for album of the year.
Afterward, Florida Georgia Line performed "Round Here," a song that sounds like a soundtrack to a bar fight, and Kacey Musgraves unsurprisingly took the new artist prize.
6:20 p.m. Eric Church performed the title track from his upcoming album, "The Outsiders." It is, contrary to all appearances, not a song left off of Bon Jovi's soundtrack to "Young Guns II."
6:41 p.m. Album of the year was awarded to Blake Shelton for "Based on a True Story." Shelton was quick to spread the love and hand over the microphone to producer Scott Hendricks, but award show prognosticators will wonder if this will hurt Taylor Swift's chance to snare a second album of the year win at the upcoming Grammy Awards. Probably not, as Shelton was the CMA entertainer of the year in 2012 and the CMA album of the year winner back in 2011. Swift is arguably more of a pop artist these days.
After the award, Tim McGraw performed his "Southern Girl," an embarrassingly breezy tune that paints in cheesy broad strokes (who, after all, hasn't met a Southern lady with hay in her hair). But it was better than a joke from Paisley about Dolly Parton's breast size.
6:57 p.m. Taylor Swift at 23 years old was feted with the kind of career retrospective treatment generally reserved for those more than twice her age. The likes of Vince Gill, Carly Simon and Keith Urban appeared in a pre-taped video congratulating her for receiving the CMA Pinnacle Award, only the second artist to ever receive such an honor.
As Pop & Hiss earlier wrote, the CMA came up with the Pinnacle Award in 2005 and gave it that year to Garth Brooks, whose streak of hit albums in the 1990s and 2000s has placed him third, behind only the Beatles and Elvis Presley, on the Recording Industry Assn.'s list of top-selling album artists of all time.
It wasn't just country royalty who showed up to congratulate Swift. Mick Jagger and Justin Timberlake also paid their respects. "From a country boy at heart," Timberlake said, "I'm so proud of you and can't wait to see which new pinnacles you reach."
Swift, of course, was surprised. "They told me this was going to happen, but I didn't know there was going to be all this," Swift gushed, and told quick tales about her teenage days on the road with the likes of Paisley, when she said she sat on a speaker every night and watched him perform.
"I know that this had to have taken a lot of people to make this decision," Swift said, adding the reward recognized her family, label and all those who continue to work for her.
7:11 p.m. Oh, what would an award show be with a medley. Underwood, performing with the fans cranked up and her pants backstage, ran through "Good Girl," "Blown Away," "Two Black Cadillacs" and "See You Again," a sampler platter of rock 'n' roll Carrie and over-singing Carrie, the two sides of Carrie that split the difference on 2012's "Blown Away."
Vocal group of the year was awarded to Little Big Town. Their acceptance speech was cut off, and they may or may not have sworn. They were bleeped, a brief moment of award show drama.
7:25 p.m. George Strait and Alan Jackson performed a stately, reserved tribute to the late George Jones, duetting on Jones' "He Stopped Loving Her Today." Credit the CMA Awards for not overdoing it here and focusing one of Jones' most melancholic, anguished tunes, in which only death can kill one's enduring passion. It was grave, somber and didn't leave any room to romanticize.
7:33. Country just got a little bit more rock 'n' roll, as Nirvana drummer and Foo Fighter leader Dave Grohl pounded away with the Zac Brown Band and Brad Paisley ran through the crowd for his rowdy football anthem "Mona Lisa." And why shouldn't they? Rock 'n' roll is such a rarity at the top of the Billboard charts these days, the genre has to park itself somewhere.
Let's hope future mash-ups, however, are better than Zac Brown Band's "Day for the Dead." The country good ol' boys certainly hit harder here than they have before, but this seemed like an uncomfortable step out of country and into Cheap Trick territory. A shiny keyboard gave the song a little '70s rock gloss, and Grohl didn't give the song room to breathe. But the Zac Brown Band likely didn't want the audience to take a breath; this was the sound of a band trying to prove a point that didn't need to be made.
7:40 p.m. Miranda Lambert won female vocalist of the year.
7:44 p.m. The award for the most unintentionally weird moment of the night goes to Rascal Flatts, which, in a tribute to Kenny Rogers, performed the trippy late-'60s hit "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)" as if trying to impress mom in the junior high yearbook photos. Moments later, Rogers thanked the band, "who I introduced to the psychedelic era tonight."
7:51 p.m. Blake Shelton won male vocalist of the year.
8:01 p.m. George Strait for the 18th time in his career won the top CMA prize, entertainer of the year. The country stalwart is out on his farewell tour. Dubbed "The Cowboy Rides Again," the tour will land in Los Angeles on Feb. 8 of next year. Strait last won entertainer of the year in 2009 and first won it in 1985.
There was one final performance after Strait's award and that was Darius Rocker with "Wagon Wheel," but ABC had the good taste to cut to local news. Stay tuned to Pop & Hiss for less off-the-cuff analysis of the awards.