Vince Gill captured five trophies at the Country Music Assn.'s annual awards show Wednesday, but Willie Nelson won the audience’s heart as he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Gill, 36, received the entertainer of the year award, ending Garth Brooks’ string at two straight, and the best male vocalist award.
His impassioned version of “I Still Believe in You” was voted song and album of the year, and he was among 11 country stars who shared the vocal event of the year award.
He took the honors in stride.
“I’ve always operated under the theory that I don’t feel like I’m an entertainer,” he said. “I just feel like I’m a musician and I sing songs.”
Nelson, who shunned his trademark T-shirt, jeans and bandanna for formal attire, received a prolonged standing ovation as he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
“I really thought you had to die to get here,” he said. “So I went ahead and dressed up just in case.”
Nelson, 60, sold Bibles and vacuum cleaners before his career as a singer and songwriter took off. On Wednesday, he became the 54th person inducted into the Hall of Fame, joining such greats as Johnny Cash, Roy Acuff, Minnie Pearl and Tennessee Ernie Ford.
“I’m way ahead of the game,” he said backstage. “Country music has given a lot more to me than I’ve given to it. I get to do what I want to do, live the way I want to live.”
Alan Jackson, who was nominated in seven categories, second only to Gill’s eight nominations, won for best single and music video for “Chattahoochee” and was one of the 11 who shared the event of the year award.
“Winning for a song about a place where I’m from and that’s from my real life was special,” said the 34-year-old Georgia native.
Mary-Chapin Carpenter won her second straight award as top female vocalist.
Brooks, who had been nominated in four categories this year, claimed only one honor, his share of the vocal event award.
The duo Brooks & Dunn, who have helped inspire the country dance craze with hits like “Boot Scootin’ Boogie,” won vocal duo of the year.
Diamond Rio was voted best vocal group for the second straight year, and singer Mark Chesnutt was chosen Horizon Award winner for most promising.
Fiddler Mark O’Connor, whose repertoire ranges from classical to country, won instrumentalist of the year.
Others who shared the vocal event award for “I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair,” were Chesnutt, George Jones, Travis Tritt, Joe Diffie, Pam Tillis, T. Graham Brown, Patty Loveless and Clint Black.
The 27th annual awards ceremony was broadcast live on CBS-TV.