After dialing back ‘no drama’ stance, the 2020 CMA Awards go live tonight

Country music stars Darius Rucker and Reba McEntire
Country music stars Darius Rucker, left, and Reba McEntire host the 54th CMA Awards on ABC.
(Alysse Gafkjen / ABC)

Country music will be back in the spotlight Wednesday when the 54th CMA Awards take place at the Music City Center in Nashville.

The country-music awards show will be carried live on ABC on the East Coast at 8 p.m., but won’t air on the West Coast simultaneously. A prerecorded version will be broadcast on the West Coast at 8 p.m. Pacific.

ABC News Live will be streaming a live preshow with Lara Spencer starting at 7 p.m. Eastern too.

The Country Music Assn. has tapped Reba McEntire to cohost alongside newcomer Darius Rucker. The “Wagon Wheel” hitmaker (and Hootie & the Blowfish frontman) is the first Black artist to emcee the ceremony in 45 years, and only the second in the show’s 53-year history.

The 2020 CMA Awards will be hosted by Reba McEntire and Darius Rucker, the first Black artist to cohost the ceremony in 45 years — and the second ever.


McEntire has previously hosted the show four times, including last year opposite Carrie Underwood and Dolly Parton.

The cohosts will be sing “In the Ghetto” together, paying tribute to Mac Davis. The songwriter to Elvis Presley and 1970s solo star died late last month at 78.

Rucker will perform with country trio Lady A, and McEntire is set to collaborate with Thomas Rhett, Chris Tomlin and Lady A’s Hillary Scott for another number.

In a statement, Robert Deaton, the CMA Awards’ executive producer, said that safety during the show is the top priority.

“We have worked tirelessly over the past several months to fully transform Music City Center into a breathtaking setup that resembles the very first ‘CMA Awards Banquet & Show’ from 1967, and ensures our nominees, performers and their guests a fully safe and physically distant environment,” said Deaton.

Artist Lee Brice and Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard recently dropped out of the show after testing positive for COVID-19.

The Country Music Assn. also faced criticism last week for declaring that the show would be “a no drama zone,” encouraging participants to remain apolitical amid the result of the presidential election, which have continued to be contested by President Trump.

The association backpedaled, later saying it will “welcome every artist’s right to express themselves,” according to the Associated Press.

Chris Stapleton continues to buck country orthodoxy on his new album, “Starting Over.”

Speaking of AP, the global wire service, which The Times subscribes to, rescinded its planned coverage of the ceremony after a dispute over restrictions being placed on still photographers and screen captures of the broadcast.

But the show, just like many in 2020, will go on anyway.

Country stars Jason Aldean, Dierks Bentley, Brothers Osborne, Jenee Fleenor and Ashley McBryde will open the show Wednesday night with a multisong tribute to Charlie Daniels, the firebrand “Devil Went Down to Georgia” fiddler who died in July at 83.

Country-pop hitmaker Kenny Rogers, who died in March, also will be honored with a performance by Little Big Town; Jon Pardi will pay tribute to Joe Diffie, who died this year after testing positive for the novel coronavirus. And Old Dominion will perform Johnny Lee’s “Looking for Love.”

Ashley McBryde
Ashley McBryde is among top nominees at tonight’s CMA Awards.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

The live-music event also will feature performances by duo Dan + Shay and pop star Justin Bieber, who’ll perform “10,000 Hours.” Keith Urban will perform his new single, “God Whispered Your Name,” from his native Australia. Gabby Barrett and Charlie Puth will join forces onstage, as will Carly Pearce and Charles Kelley to sing her single “I Hope You’re Happy Now.”

Chris Stapleton will perform “Starting Over,” and Ingrid Andress will sing “More Hearts Than Mine.” Morgan Wallen, who recently got booted from his “SNL” performance over COVID-19 safety concerns, will perform “More Than My Hometown.”

Jimmie Allen will perform “Best Shot” and present the 2020 CMA Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award to Charley Pride, who, in 1975, was the last Black country artist to cohost the CMA Awards.

Other solo stage acts include Kelsea Ballerini, Eric Church, Luke Combs, Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris and Rascal Flatts.

Among this year’s top nominees are Lambert, Combs, Dan + Shay, Jay Joyce, Pearce, Bieber, McBryde and Urban.

Established stars Church, Carrie Underwood, Combs, Lambert and Urban will compete for the show’s top honor — entertainer of the year. Each of the nominees are also in the running in the top male and female vocalist categories.

This year’s presenters include author Lauren Akins, country artist Lauren Alaina, radio and TV personality Bobby Bones, singer-songwriter-actor Charles Esten, artist Sara Evans, supermodel Taylor Hill, artist Jake Owen, actor Patrick Schwarzenegger and gospel artist CeCe Winans.