Country music's big guns didn't exactly go home empty-handed from Wednesday's Country Music Assn. Awards show--Alan Jackson was named entertainer of the year for the first time, Vince Gill took his fifth straight male vocalist award, and Brooks & Dunn won top vocal duo for the fourth consecutive year.
But the 29th annual running of Nashville's most prestigious competition was primarily given over to the eccentrics, from the evening's big winner Alison Krauss to Country Music Hall of Fame inductee Roger Miller to such unconventional on-stage performers as Shelby Lynne and rock guitarist Mark Knopfler.
Krauss, a respected fiddler and singer who combines a bluegrass/roots credibility with a pop sensibility, has had a breakthrough year commercially. On Wednesday she went 4-for-4, picking up trophies for female vocalist, best single ("When You Say Nothing at All"), vocal event (her teaming with Shenandoah on "Somewhere in the Vicinity of the Heart") and the Horizon Award as most promising artist--though the former child prodigy signed her first record deal a decade ago and already has three Grammys on her shelf.
Krauss' music with her band Union Station is independent-minded enough to place it outside the mainstream that's usually celebrated by the CMA, and at the podium she displayed an offbeat personality, expressing her surprise at the awards with a repeated, "This is really weird, guys."
Naming Patty Loveless' "When Fallen Angels Fly" as best album in a field of heavyweights (Jackson, Gill, George Strait and John Michael Montgomery) counts as a mild surprise, and the Mavericks' win as best vocal group marked a changing of the guard in that traditionally faceless category. Best song award for Gretchen Peters' "Independence Day," Martina McBride's hit about spousal abuse and vengeance, might reflect that theme's current prominence as social issue.
The three-hour program from the Grand Ole Opry, nationally televised on CBS, was heavy on performances, some of which transcended the award-show formula. Reba McEntire was joined by Trisha Yearwood, Linda Davis and McBride for an all-out pipes-fest on her soul-shaded "On My Own," Dire Straits' Knopfler played guitar behind Gill on "Go Rest High on That Mountain," and the diminutive Lynne turned in a show-stopping vocal on a gospel duet with Faith Hill.
Other winners were the Tractors' for best video and fiddler Mark O'Connor, musician of the year.