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9/27/13 6:41 PM








9/24/13 9:36 AM


yo u r g u i d e t o c o u n t ry ’ s b i g g e st n i g h t

D e pa rt m e n t s


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Country legends reflect on their big wins.

Vo t i n g C at e g o r i e s

the band p e r ry Page 18

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cover photograph: Donn Jones; paisley & underwood: Bob D’Amico/ABC; nelson tribute: John Russell/THE CMA

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bl ake ­s h e lt o n Page 22 barbar a mandrell Page 25 roy c l a r k Page 28

meet the night’s hosts For Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley, winning isn’t everything—MC’ing is. Find out why they keep coming back for more.

al an ­ja c k s o n Page 30

By d e b o r a h e va n s p r i c e

The Oscars Of Country

Music’s longest-­running awards show has come a long way from its humble beginnings. It’s “Country’s Biggest Night” and one of TV’s highest-rated events. By b o b d o e r s c h u k


A host of country stars paid tribute to Willie Nelson at the 2012 CMA Awards. voter guide

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C m a Awa r d s 2013


9/27/13 6:42 PM

A Letter From The Country Music Assn.


hat you hold in your hands is a first: the inaugural Country Music Assn./Billboard CMA Awards Voter Guide. This publication reflects the values and traditions of both organizations. The CMA and Billboard are recognized brands that have an earned reputation for maintaining a high degree of integrity and passion for the foundation of what drives our business—music. The annual CMA Awards are recognized and celebrated as “country music’s biggest night” with superstar performances, cross-genre collaborations, recognition of the best radio professionals and stations in the country, and the presentation of trophies in 12 categories. Brad Paisley, who is co-hosting for the sixth time with Carrie Underwood, calls the CMA Awards “the Oscars of country music.” And we couldn’t agree more. The CMA has more than 7,000 professional members around the globe. The association was formed in 1958 as the first trade organization to promote an individual genre of music. The first CMA Awards Banquet and Show was held in 1967. The following year, the CMA Awards were broadcast for the first time—making it the longest-running annual music awards program on network TV. The awards moved to ABC in 2006, where it will remain through 2021. The winners of the 47th annual edition will be determined in a final round of voting by eligible members of the CMA and tabulated by the international accounting firm of Deloitte & Touche. Voting for the awards’ final ballot ends Monday, Oct. 28, at 6 p.m. ET. The three-hour live broadcast will originate from the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville on Wednesday, Nov. 6, at 8 p.m. ET. Orchestrating the night is executive producer Robert Deaton and a top-notch production team dedicated to providing the best possible musical experience for our artists, our audience and the viewers at home. We are fortunate to have another great partner in the ABC Television Network with Paul Lee and Mark Bracco. They embrace the format, support our artists and contribute the vast resources of the network to help us achieve our goal of advancing country music. Now, it is in your hands. If you are a member of the CMA, I encourage you to vote. If you love great music and performances, I encourage you to watch. And if you are a nominee, I encourage you to enjoy every moment of this well-deserved recognition. I hope to see you in Nashville on Nov. 6!





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9/27/13 6:07 PM


A Letter From The Editor

illboard loves to celebrate success. For 70-plus years we’ve been doing that with our music charts, which today span more than 200 weekly tabulations viewed not only by the music industry, but by tens of millions of music fans around the globe, through our international partnerships, fan site and the Billboard Music Awards. But while charts might be our thing, we love to see music supported in all the myriad and historical ways that it happens. That’s why we’re pleased to deliver to you this Billboard voter’s guide for the CMA Awards— the fruits of a first-year partnership with the storied Country Music Assn. It’s been an amazing year for country music, with superstar releases, established acts reaching new heights and the rise of new stars. Looking at our charts, newcomer Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” set the record for the longest reign on Hot Country Songs at 24 weeks. It also became a huge pop crossover hit, reaching No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. Meanwhile, iconic veteran George Strait notched his incredible 86th top 10 on Hot Country Songs and Tim McGraw scored his milestone 50th top 10 on Country Airplay. Speaking of the latter star, seven years after Taylor Swift arrived with the song “Tim McGraw,” she and the real thing topped Country Airplay with their duet “Highway Don’t Care.” The song became McGraw’s 26th No. 1 and Swift’s seventh, and it surely helped her win the “first-half MVP” accolade in’s midyear poll. Exhibiting the blurred lines, so to speak, between country and rock, Darius Rucker rolled “Wagon Wheel” to No. 1 on Hot Country Songs, granting Bob Dylan his latest chart leader. Dylan is credited as a co-writer of the song, as Old Crow Medicine Show reworked it in 2004 from a Dylan bootleg, commonly referred to as “Rock Me Mama.” And country music recently has dominated the Billboard 200, occupying half of the slots in the top 10 for the first time in nearly three years, with albums from Justin Moore, Chris Young, Luke Bryan, Keith Urban and Billy Currington. While we don’t envy the voters, we do want to help them. So, please, enjoy the colorful stories about the nominees and their music that you’ll find in these pages. There’s also an interview with the hosts of the CMA Awards, Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood, and some early details on what you can expect during the awards show, which will air live on ABC on Nov. 6. You can view this entire guide online at We’ll also be sending it as a tablet-friendly PDF direct to voters. So you don’t have any excuses to pick anything but the best for this year’s awards. We’ll be there and watching, right along with the best that country music has to offer.

E ditorial D irector , B illboard

voter guide

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C m a Awa r d s 2013


9/27/13 7:01 PM

Brad Paisley performing at the 2013 CMA Music Festival.

All CMA Award nominees are eligible for an email service that sends blasts to all members, enabling them to campaign for their nominees and court voters.

The greatest perk of joining the Country Music Assn. is getting to vote for and attend the annual CMA Awards show—of course. But membership in the 55-year-old organization does have many other privileges. Just ask John Esposito, president/ CEO of Warner Bros. Nashville and secretary/treasurer of the CMA board of directors By Deborah Evans Price

What Yo u G e t

One of the biggest advantages is access to the CMA’s market research. “There is wonderful data available to members to find ways to market their music,” Esposito says. “A mission of ours is to expand our promotion of that so people will take greater advantage of it. We are keeping a pretty good repository of who the country consumer is, and it’s helpful information.” CMA members also receive a subscription to CMA Close Up, the organization’s magazine, as well as access to the CMA directory, a comprehensive guide that includes country radio stations, syndicators, record labels, managers, booking agents and publicists. In addition to the printed directory, members have exclusive access to info on, which is updated daily. Insurance is another main draw, whether of the health or musical-instrument variety. Affordable health-care options are available through or at My.CMAWorld. com, by clicking on the CMA Instrumental Healthcare link. Meanwhile, Clarion Musical Instrument Insurance offers members a price break. Check out or call 800-848-2534 to get a quote. Other companies offering discounts are American Airlines and Billboard. Further membership benefits include two four-day passes to the CMA Music Festival for country radio stations to use in listener promotions. The CMA also helps members network by providing a link to its site from CMA’s official website,, and by allowing organizational members to use the special CMA Organizational Member Logo on their site or social network.


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voter guide

9/27/13 6:17 PM

dipIero: courtesy of the cma; kelley: kristen barlowe; schlapman: Williams + Hirakawa

Membership Has Its Benefits

So now that you’re sold on becoming a member, how can you make it happen? There are two main ways—you can join as an individual or as an organization as long as you fall into one of the 17 categories listed, such as composer, media, talent agent, touring personnel and studio engineer. If the primary source of your income comes from the country music industry, you’re eligible for individual membership. You can also apply for organizational membership through your company, and can choose from three levels—bronze, silver and gold. Annual dues are $200, $500 and $1,250, respectively. The higher the membership tier is, the greater the rewards. There’s also a patron organizational membership available for companies that aren’t directly and substantially involved in the country music industry but support the genre. The CMA has more than 7,000 members involved in country music in 40 countries. Since it was launched in 1958, the CMA has continued its mission of promoting country music. The organization showcases the industry’s top talent through three impressive TV properties—the CMA Awards, the CMA Music Festival special “Country’s Night to Rock” and the annual “CMA Country Christmas” show. It also spotlights the songwriting community through a series of showcases in venues around the country and in the United Kingdom. By constantly developing new ways to find fans in new markets, while hitting its hardcore base with the greatest impact, the CMA has long been the hub of country music, something its members find invaluable.

paisley: Jon LeMay/abc

How To Join

Why I Vote



n Oct. 10, the Country Music Assn.’s more than 7,000 members receive their third and final CMA Awards ballot through e-mail. They’ll have until 6 p.m. ET on Oct. 28 to cast their votes online in a dozen artist categories and

nine radio ones. Once votes are counted and validated by international accounting firm Deloitte & Touche, you’ll have to wait until the Nov. 6 telecast on ABC to find out the winners of the 47th annual CMA Awards. CMA members say being able to shape an artist’s career is its own reward. But it’s not the only one.



“ARTISTS ALWAYS talk about dreaming of being onstage at the CMAs. But I dreamed of being involved on the business side, to take part in determining who won the awards. Every time a new ballot hits my inbox, I remember those moments when I wanted so badly to have my voice heard, and realize how lucky I am now that it is.” “PART OF the fun of the awards show is seeing all of your friends and celebrating the past year in country music together. Voting for the CMA Awards is a way for me to give a shout-out to my friends and show support for their accomplishments. That’s why I never miss a vote.” —Brian Kelley, singer, Florida Georgia Line

“I CARE about the music I play every day, and it’s an honor and privilege to be able to ‘speak into’ the songs and artists that are making an impact in the country format right now. And isn’t it always a nice feeling when someone asks you what you think about something?”

“WE FEEL honored that we have the opportunity to participate in CMA Award voting. And any time we have the chance to vote for ourselves why wouldn’t we take it?” —Kimberly Schlapman, singer, Little Big Town

—Laurie DeYoung, morning host, WPOC Baltimore

—Jon Loba, executive VP of BBR Music Group; CMA board member

“ONE VOTE CAN CHANGE a nomination. Only the accountants know how many votes separate the sixth nominee from the fifth nominee. And multiple nominations can really change the perception of an artist’s career and, in some ways, have more impact than actually winning.”

—Fletcher Foster, Red Light Management “SOME PAST CMA wins have come down to the difference in a small amount of votes. That’s why I feel it’s important I make my vote count. In this era of block voting by corporate entities, the little guy’s vote can make a difference.” —Bob DiPiero, songwriter; CMA board member


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C M A AWA R D S 2013


9/27/13 6:34 PM


Meet The Night’s

With The Mosts Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley are the CMA’s returning champs, MC’ing the awards show for six years. What’s behind their crazy chemistry? Read on.




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o this is the sixth time you guys have hosted the CMA Awards. What propelled you to say, “Yes, we want one more round of it”? And is it a package deal? Paisley: Yeah, it’s a package deal. It works so well with the two of us that I feel like it is. She may not be faithful. I don’t know, but I am. No, we both talked a little about it, and I can’t see hosting that show with somebody else. There are things that you can see yourself doing in the future with other artists, but as far as this goes, it really works for the two of us. We’ve figured out who each other is up there. We go into it—both of us—working very hard to make sure it’s unique, fun and entertaining. Does that teamwork come naturally to you? Underwood: It does. When you are around somebody as much as I’ve been around Brad, he really is like the brother I never had, and that’s wonderful. He’s such a great guy and has a gorgeous family, and I’m lucky I get to call him my friend and be around them. They are good people. When you find good people that you work with and work around, it makes everything better. Compare and contrast hosting that first year to now, when you have a few years under your belt. What’s changed? Underwood: Our comfort factor. Paisley: The first year you probably have a fairly equal distribution of people who are excited and hopeful for you as are skeptical, thinking, “How’s that going to work?” They hadn’t seen us perform together at that point, or stand up and command a room or bring laughs, especially together. You look at situations that obviously didn’t work, like the Oscars. Take two fantastic actors—James Franco and Anne Hathaway—and it shows you not everybody works together as hosts. So the first year was nice to get out of the way. I think we did fine, but I feel like we’ve gotten better.

“brad ­really is like the

brother I

What are some of your fondest memories of watching the awards show growing up in Oklahoma? Underwood: It’s hard to pick. I remember rooting for Reba [McEntire] and hoping that she’d win everything. I remember her doing “Does She Love You” with Linda Davis in what she called “the backwards dress.” Did you pick up anything helpful from watching earlier broadcasts and the other hosts? Paisley: Vince [Gill] is just a master of everything he does, and my favorite years of the show were when he was [hosting] because he glued it together and did everything. He gave it a face, and a likable face, and he was so creative with it. The year that Shania [Twain] rode in on a motorcycle—that was her entrance—and he sent somebody out that day when he saw that and said, “Go buy me the smallest tricycle they have at Target.” And after Shania finished, he rode a tricycle out, which was just fantastic. Brad, what things do you dread about the show? Paisley: I dread hour three, when they start pulling cool things out of it because they run out of time.

never had.”

Carrie, what does Brad bring to the show? Underwood: Brad is quick-witted, whereas I consider Is there extra pressure now because people know myself kind of a teleprompter reader. I can deliver the what you can deliver and expectations are news. Brad is good on his feet, and he contributes a lot in higher? the planning stages, a lot of ideas and stuff for gags and —Carrie Underwood: Each year our monologue, things like that. ­Underwood especially, and the jokes get better and better. Paisley: She does, too. Some of the greatest things we’ve We want to top that every year, so it’s a good ever had, like the year [2010 when] she said, “What if you challenge, but it’s a challenge to try to beat sang Lady Gaga?” what you did the year before. Underwood: Then I had to teach him how. Paisley: You mostly want to be an added Paisley: Then the year before that, we had this discussion bonus to a show full of great music. If you see about who to talk about in the monologue, and I said, it that way, it’s a little less pressure. But at the “We’d love to get Tim [McGraw] and Faith [Hill], but we same time, every year we do this, we’ll start out aiming just don’t know how.” And Carrie said, “They both have for a four-minute monologue and we’ll end up with seven, fragrances.” She has the best ideas of anybody. because there’s so many things you don’t want to get rid of. It’s a great thing to realize, “Wow, we’re going to do By the end of it, are you thinking, “I’ll never do this again,” or seven minutes by ourselves out there—or with the help of “I can’t wait until next year”? How does it feel when it’s over? somebody like Hank Jr.” Underwood: I like to revel in what we just did and go celebrate somewhere. It’s not like I’m thinking too far ahead. Carrie, I bet you had no idea that you’d be using your broadIt’s just like, “That was awesome!” cast journalism major this much. Paisley: I do wish that when we’re finished with it, we Underwood: I’m actually using my college degree. It’s could go next week and do next year’s, because it’s such a amazing. muscle that you stretched and fully prepared and worked


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voter guide

9/27/13 6:39 PM


M c G R A W
















for a third I thought, “I can’t believe they did that. We’ll see. He’s going to be brutal.” And I felt like the third year, he was a lot more tame, and I enjoyed it again. I do think to myself, “How would we do that?” I remember watching Anne Hathaway and James Franco and going, “Oh, man. I wish they’d try this, because I think that would be actually charming and funny.” Underwood: I should point out, though, how every other awards show pretty much now has a male and female host. Paisley: A lot of them do. Yeah, you’re right.

out and toned . . . it would be so second nature. We’d walk out there just as confident as could be. But then we go away from it and go back to what we actually do for a living for the rest of the year. With such busy careers, how do you handle the time commitment it takes to host the show? Underwood: Now that we’ve done it for a few years, we know approximately how much time things are going to take, the meetings that we need to have, and it’s easier to build that time in since I know what to expect. Paisley: Basically, at the end of October, I say goodbye to my family. We’re pretty busy that week—the week before the show. We have meetings prior to that, too. But it’s a lot of fun to work on this. It’s such a privilege. We want to have fun with it, but at the same time make everybody proud in our hometown.

“It goes by so

fast, and the first time you

think about it is when it’s over.” —Brad Paisley


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Does this affect the way you look at other award shows? You mentioned the Academy Awards before. But do you look at the Grammys and others and scrutinize them a bit more now? Underwood: I always say, “We could have done it better.” Not seriously, of course . . . Paisley: I think to myself, “Thank goodness I’m not hosting that show.” No, it was funny [in 2010] that the day we were hosting the CMAs, the Oscars lost their host. Remember when Eddie Murphy bailed out? We went on camera, thinking, “Our show is working, it’s clicking.” And then there was the situation with the Golden Globes with Ricky Gervais. I am a big fan of his and loved his first year. I felt uncomfortable his second year, then when they asked him back

Do you have any after-show rituals? Underwood: The past few years we’ve gone to the Sony party for pictures and stuff like that and to congratulate the other artists, and then after that we kind of have our own little party with my friends and people I work really closely with. We dance and act silly together. There’s, like, 20-30 people and we all have fun together. We go back to somebody’s place and usually play DJ or something like that—food and drinks and fun. Paisley: There’s been nights after an awards show that I’ll get in a fast car and drive until three in the morning, just go out and take back roads because it really does take a while to wind down. My mind is racing, especially on nights when I’m hosting, because I’m thinking back on the whole thing. In the moment it goes by so fast, and really the first time you think about it is when it’s over. I go to the party and thank the people I need to thank and then go and take a drive. [My wife] Kim has gone with me, but usually I have to drop her off halfway at least, because she’s ready to go to sleep and I’m not. I’ll turn the radio off [and] just drive, just silence and think. Because nothing clears my mind like driving. What did you learn about each other in this capacity that you didn’t know by recording or touring together? Paisley: How she looks without makeup. Underwood: How he looks without makeup. Paisley: You have no idea that you’re talking to Joan Rivers right now, do you? Underwood: Daddy always said, “Every old barn looks better with a fresh coat of paint.” Paisley: That’s true—and you are an old barn.

paisley & underwood: Bob D’Amico/ABc

Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood

Do you have any plans to prank anyone on the show? Paisley: Most of them, probably in some way. We try to roast a little bit, but it’s not a Golden Globes. Underwood: We’re still nice. We don’t tease anybody about things they wouldn’t joke about themselves. Paisley: Maybe, but more importantly I think you want to be able to face them.

voter guide

9/27/13 6:40 PM

The Oscars Of Country It’s the longest-running music awards show on TV and a night country never forgets




here’s no surer sign of country music’s mass appeal than the CMA Awards broadcast, which hits the airwaves at 8 p.m. ET on Nov. 6 on ABC. Last year’s show was watched by 13.7 million viewers, according to Nielsen, despite its move to Thursday from Wednesday and ongoing power outages that were the result of Hurricane Sandy. The 45th annual CMA Awards in 2011 had an audience of 16.3 million viewers, and on its broadcast night, the awards helped ABC win in every demographic—not bad for the longest-running, yearly music-awards program on TV. Long before blinding spotlights plied the skies in Nashville, what is now called “Country’s Biggest Night” began as a more intimate gathering of industry insiders, debuting in 1967, when the Country Music Assn. was just 9 years old. The CMA Awards Banquet and Show was hosted by Sonny James and Bobby Gentry and was held in the Nashville Municipal Auditorium. And though TV personalities like Eddy Arnold won entertainer of the year and Minnie Pearl was in the running for comedian of the year, it was aired only on radio. It moved to TV the following year, though taped in black-and-white and broadcast at a later date. Then, in 1969, the hourlong special went live and became an annual TV event. In the decades that followed, the broadcast grew as artists began pushing the envelope with more elaborate sets and stage design, from a neon-bathed honky-tonk for Merle Haggard’s “Good Ole Boys” in 1981 to the castle tower erected for Taylor Swift’s performance of “Love

Story” in 2008. Others surprised audiences with funny takes on their hits, like the time Mary Chapin Carpenter sang “Shut Up and Kiss Me” in 1994 and kept getting interrupted by knocks on the door of her ersatz, onstage apartment. Vince Gill, then Brooks & Dunn, showed up, only to get the door slammed in their faces until a final, emphatic pounding revealed Little Richard, whose demand of “Shut up! Kiss me!” was met. But the broadcast made for more than just good TV. The CMA Awards have also embodied the changing face of country music. When Charley Pride took home entertainer of the year in 1971, it was viewed as a smashing of the color barrier. Pride noted the significance of his win in his acceptance speech: “I used to pick cotton and listen to the Grand Ole Opry from here at the Ryman [Auditorium],” he said on live TV. “Thank you for being so loving.” Through the years, the show reflected social changes, whether bridging the gender gap— Loretta Lynn became the first woman to win entertainer of the year in 1972 at the height of the women’s liberation movement—or becoming a unifying force in a country ripped apart by tragedy. Less than two months after the 9/11 attacks, the show opened with the rousing “Only in America,” performed by Brooks & Dunn. The final number was “America the Beautiful,” sung by Willie Nelson with an all-star chorus that included Muhammad Ali, Mariah Carey, VOTER GUIDE

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Top, from left: Alan Jackson, Taylor Swift, Dolly Parton, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Reba McEntire. Left: Charley Pride and Loretta Lynn.

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voter guide

continues, “from ‘Good Morning America’ to daytime on ‘The Chew,’ ‘The View,’ ‘Live With Kelly & Michael’ and ‘Katie’ to prime time with ‘In the Spotlight With Robin Roberts,’ ‘Dancing With the Stars’ and ‘Nashville’ to late night with Jimmy Kimmel. ‘GMA’ loves doing the show from Nashville on the day of the awards. We’ve even done great things with Taylor Swift on the Disney Channel. So it’s a network-wide initiative.” Much of this stemmed from the vision of Walter Miller, who worked as producer and executive producer on the show for nearly 40 years. “Walter brought class to our broadcast,” executive producer Robert Deaton says. “He made this the Oscars of country music—that was his phrase.” Deaton worked with Miller on the awards show until succeeding him upon his mentor’s retirement. He continues to hold that position with the other two CMA properties on ABC: “Country’s Night to Rock” and “CMA Country Christmas.” “Walter produced from the perspective of the director,” he says. “Staging and flow were first on his mind. That’s what he taught me. Because of his tutelage, I was able to then add my background, which was music video, single-camera, interpreting the music and getting to the core of who the artist is. I’m not throwing 16 or 17 artists onstage and saying, ‘OK, perform your song.’ I’m trying to make 16 or 17 individual moments.” These days, the broadcast is one-part nail-biting award presentations, one part show-stopping numbers, one-part country celebration—with lots of humor and heart woven throughout thanks to six-time hosts Underwood and Brad Paisley. It’s a golden formula that most take for granted, but not its first executive director. “Country music was not widely known and was very little played on the radio when we started giving the awards,” Walker-Meador says. “But that brought a whole new audience for country music and the people who make it. I like to think that’s one of our greatest achievements.”

Top: Sheryl Crow, Loretta Lynn and Miranda Lambert (from left) perform Lynn’s “Coal Miner’s Daughter” in 2010. Bottom: A 2012 tribute to Willie Nelson (center) featured artists like Blake Shelton and Faith Hill.


From top: Stars who have graced the CMA Awards stage include Ray Charles (in 1984); Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard (1985); and Little Richard and Tanya Tucker (1993)—in 2005, that stage moved to New York.

Halle Berry, Danny DeVito, Clint Eastwood, Jack Nicholson, Julia Roberts, Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Sylvester Stallone, Robin Williams, Stevie Wonder and Neil Young—a star-studded show of patriotism for a nation shaken by the wreckage of terror. The highlight of the night, though, was Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning),” which he premiered to thunderous applause. Perhaps the CMA Awards’ greatest accomplishment has been its ability to change the perception that country music is an outdated, regional style. By honoring its roots, the CMA Awards have shown it to be a universal and contemporary language, full of nuance and variety. Through various manifestations, ranging from the “Urban Cowboy” fad through the “Outlaw” period, the show has won over new fans and opened the doors for talent, from Garth Brooks and the Dixie Chicks to Blake Shelton and Carrie Underwood, enabling them to cross over to mainstream success. By broadcasting a diverse array of acts, the show also challenged longstanding stereotypes that overalls, haystacks and cornpone humor are what the scene’s about. “We had to fight against the hillbilly image that country music had,” says Jo Walker-Meador, the CMA’s first salaried employee and its executive director for 30 years. “The awards helped to change that and show people that country music was much, much more than that. It brought more attention, more awareness and more fans, and it even made a lot of careers.” It also affected corporate America, which found brand ambassadors in the genre’s superstars, from Keith Urban teaming with Samsung and AT&T to Swift becoming a face for CoverGirl to Underwood’s partnership with Olay. The CMA’s annual two-day Marketing Summit introduces business leaders to the power of the genre. Country’s transformation was well underway when ABC acquired broadcast rights for both the CMA Awards and “CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock” in 2005. “In the eight years that the franchise has been with ABC, country music has gotten broader and more popular,” says Mark Bracco, VP of alternative series and specials at ABC Entertainment Group. “You’re seeing more artists outside of country music wanting to be a part of country music. That’s great for us, because we want to appeal to the most people, not just to country fans. In fact, country music is becoming the new pop music, with Lady Antebellum, the Band Perry, obviously Taylor Swift and so many country artists getting play on non-country radio stations.” Country’s rise has led to programming opportunities for ABC, too, which promotes the CMA Awards on many of its other shows. “The entire network embraces it,” Bracco

Entertainer Of The Year From trad to rad, these performers pull out all the stops By tom roland

Jason Aldean

Luke Bryan

Blake Shelton

This marks the third straight year Jason Aldean has contended for entertainer of the year, an award that’s generally, though not entirely, thought of as a gauge of personal appearances. A road warrior since the beginning, Aldean reached another level in 2013 by filling three stadiums. He drew a reported 66,000 for the first-ever concert at the University of Georgia’s Sanford Stadium in Athens, became the first country artist to headline ­Boston’s Fenway Park and also played a show at Chicago’s historic Wrigley Field. Aldean brings a lot of attitude—he’s essentially a country singer fronting a rock band—and it says a lot about his public stature and drawing power that one of his rivals in this category, Luke Bryan, was a supporting act on his last tour.

There’s no pretense with Luke Bryan, and that’s a big part of his charm. His songs are a celebration of Southern guys and girls connecting, and his annual spring break concerts— performed since 2009 at Spinnaker Beach Club in Panama City, Fla.—bring that celebration to life. (He sometimes seems to see his onstage role as the orchestrator of one big spring break blowout, with chatter about audience members hooking up.) A compilation of the resulting EPs, Spring Break . . . Here to Party, earned him his first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 in March. The single “Crash My Party,” released in April, went to No. 2 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart and provided the title for his most recent studio set, released in August, which sold 528,000 copies in its first week, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

When Blake Shelton claimed the CMA’s top prize a year ago, it was a confirmation that his performance on NBC’s “The Voice” has opened a lot of doors for country music. In a digital-era entertainment landscape, where audience attention spans are short, he’s managed to convey his personality perfectly, balancing wit and sarcasm on the air and on Twitter, where he lets it all hang out in front of 3.9 million followers. Shelton’s comic edge works even better because he’s able to put it aside at the right moments and profess his passions— and his self-doubts. It’s that kind of vulnerability that helps him sell a ballad, and he’s managed to show off all those facets in a personable way, even in the expanses of the arenas he’s now headlining.


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George Strait This entertainer of the year nomination gives George Strait 82 CMA nods so far in his career, breaking a tie with fellow traditionalist Alan Jackson for the all-time lead. He’s won a record 22 CMA ­trophies, including those for entertainer and producer of the year. This year’s nomination is his 18th in the category, coming as he prepares to close his formal touring life in 2014 with dates in 26 markets, capped by an appearance at the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas—apropos because it’s in his home state, but also because he inaugurated country’s current love affair with stadium dates 15 years ago. Like his character in the 1992 movie “Pure Country,” Strait has routinely brushed aside big-­production elements when on the road—a video screen, his classic smile and song-centric performance seem to do the trick.

Taylor Swift Taylor Swift won the CMA’s entertainer of the year trophy in 2009, the year she launched her Fearless tour, and again in 2011, in the midst of her global Speak Now jaunt. Now, with the ambitious Red tour in progress—with its whirl of costume changes, dancers, pyrotechnics and satellite stages—it could be her year yet again. As much as Swift is hailed as an ambassador for country music outside of its stylistic borders, her vision outside of U.S. borders is particularly impressive. Country has traditionally focused on America, but the entire world has been Swift’s market. She started touring overseas territories early on in her career and has taken her seamless blend of country and pop to Europe, Australia, South America, Japan and even Indonesia.

aldean: James Minchin III; bryan, shelton: kristen barlowe; strait: vanessa gavalya; swift: Brian Doben

Clockwise, from top left: Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton, Taylor Swift and George Strait.

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9/27/13 6:05 PM

Single Of The Year



Florida Georgia Line


A jangly banjo, a hiphop-inspired melody, a summertime storyline, trash percussion and the distinct harmonies of Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley made Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” one of the most irresistible cuts of 2012, though one could argue that Hubbard’s unique enunciation of the word “song” is the hook that really cements it. Initially released by FGL’s publishing company, “Cruise” started selling immediately after SiriusXM debuted it on May 15, 2012, which led to a deal with Republic Nashville two months later. The song went on to set a record: 24 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart.

“HIGHWAY DON’T “MAMA’S CARE” BROKEN HEART” Tim McGraw With Taylor Swift & Keith Urban PRODUCERS: Byron Gallimore, Tim McGraw

The last voice a listener hears on Tim McGraw’s album Two Lanes of Freedom isn’t his. It’s a haunting echo from Taylor Swift: “I can’t live without you, I can’t live without you, baby.” As the songwriters envisioned it, Swift portrays a singer on the radio in a car as a woman drives through the night in aching isolation. There’s a lot of drama implied—McGraw calls the song “cinematic”—and Keith Urban’s epic guitar work adds to the impact and tension on the track. It’s a powerhouse lineup: All three artists are past CMA entertainer of the year winners.


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Miranda Lambert

PRODUCERS: Frank Liddell, Glenn Worf and Chuck Ainlay

Kacey Musgraves wasn’t a pushover when it came to giving “Mama” away, but Miranda Lambert was adamant—so much so that she spent part of her wedding day trying to convince Musgraves to surrender it. Musgraves’ album wasn’t yet finished at the time, and a week later, she agreed, on the condition she could sing the backing vocals. “Mama” became the fourth single from Lambert’s Four the Record album in December 2012. It’s also the fourth title Lambert has fielded in the single of the year category, following “Gunpowder & Lead” in 2008 and a pair of 2010 nominees, “White Liar” and “The House That Built Me.”


Kacey Musgraves

PRODUCERS: Luke Laird, Shane McAnally and Kacey Musgraves

Kacey Musgraves was unfamiliar to many radio programmers when she took the stage to play one song on Feb. 22, 2012, during a Country Radio Seminar luncheon sponsored by Universal Music Group at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. As her performance of “Merry Go ’Round” wound down, the place erupted in a standing ovation, aiding the belief that this artful song would work commercially. Shipped to radio on Aug. 24, 2012, it took a slow ride to No. 10 on the Country Airplay chart, going gold in March and selling 745,000 downloads, according to Nielsen SoundScan.


“WAGON WHEEL” Darius Rucker

PRODUCER: Frank Rogers

It’s a four-chord song with an easy, singalong melody, which is why it’s pretty much a guarantee any country cover band will be kicking out “Wagon Wheel” in the foreseeable future. Old Crow Medicine Show turned it into a cult classic with a 2004 release off O.C.M.S., but Darius Rucker didn’t connect with the song until he saw a performance by the faculty at his daughter’s school. He then persuaded the members of Lady Antebellum to sing background vocals on his recording, which has sold 1.4 million downloads, according to SoundScan, since it was released on Dec. 17, 2012.



“We were on the road with Reba McEntire, and when we got back to the tour a few days later, she threw us a little party and told us, ‘You’re never going to win a first CMA again, so you need to sit back and take it all in.’” — R E I D P E R RY, T H E B A N D P E R RY ( A R T I S T, S I N G L E A N D S O N G O F T H E Y E A R F O R “ I F I D I E YO U N G,” 2 0 1 1 )


9/27/13 5:42 PM

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Album Of The Year Big-time stars and breakthrough artists square off in this year’s competition By tom roland

Based on a True Story... Blake Shelton producer: Scott ­Hendricks

Based on a True Story . . . reflects the split personality of Blake Shelton in his current role as one of country music’s ambassadors. The songs are a mix of good ol’ boy romps and easygoing ballads. The recording process took place in Nashville and at Shelton’s rented home in Los Angeles, where he serves as one of the coaches on NBC’s “The Voice.” Several of the songs represent pieces of his own life—“Doin’ What She Likes” plays off his marriage to Miranda Lambert, “Small Town Big Time” captures his multi-home existence and “Granddaddy’s Gun” reflects his Oklahoma heritage—making the album’s title backwoods legit.


Blown Away

Carrie Underwood producer: Mark Bright

Blown Away took a notably darker tone than Carrie ­Underwood’s previous albums, as three of the first four songs hinged on morbid storylines. “I didn’t plan for that to happen,” Underwood says. “It just kind of did.” Those first four songs—“Good Girl,” “Blown Away,” “Two Black Cadillacs” and “See You Again”—were all released in order as singles, contributing to 1.5 million in sales for the album, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Following 2007’s Carnival Ride and 2009’s Play On, it became her third straight album to both debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and earn a nomination for CMA album of the year.

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Taylor Swift

producers: Jeff Bhasker, Scott Borchetta, Nathan Chapman, Dann Huff, Jacknife Lee, Max Martin, Shellback, Taylor Swift, Butch Walker and Dan Wilson

Taylor Swift is clearly a trend-setter, not a follower. When Red was released a year ago, the title track seemed, like many of the songs on the album, not quite right for country radio. By the time it arrived as a single in June, it fit right into the evolution of country’s sound. Built around her romantic travails from the previous two years, Red became a commercial juggernaut, selling 1.2 million copies in its opening week and 3.8 million total, according to Nielsen SoundScan. It’s her third consecutive project nominated for CMA album of the year.

Same Trailer Different Park Kacey Musgraves

producers: Luke Laird, Shane McAnally and ­Kacey Musgraves

“If you’re ever gonna find a silver lining/It’s gotta be a cloudy day.” That line from the opening track provides a strong clue to the tone of Same Trailer Different Park, in which Kacey Musgraves uncommonly balances youthful ambition with worldly pragmatism. Drawing its title from a line in “Merry Go ’Round,” the project, released March 19, quickly made her country’s new “it” girl as she approached difficult subjects with witty frankness and refreshing subtlety. “I don’t want the production to slap you in the face,” she says. “I want it to sound real.”


Little Big Town

producer: Jay Joyce

Joining Carrie Underwood’s Blown Away, Tornado is the second album among the finalists with a title track with a twister theme. The album was, in fact, a new twist for Little Big Town, as producer Jay Joyce (Eric Church, Cage the Elephant) did preproduction and recording for the entire project in just a week, getting an edge from the quartet’s performances without allowing the group to overthink the process. Several members of the road band—bassist John Thomasson, drummer Seth Rausch and guitarist Johnny Duke—also took part, leading to LBT’s most representative album to date.

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Jessi Alexander, Connie Harrington and Jimmy Yeary ARTIST: Lee Brice

An act of heroism brought Sgt. 1st Class Jared Monti of Raynham, Mass., a posthumous medal of honor and inspired a powerful Lee Brice ballad. Monti was killed while rescuing a wounded battlemate in Afghanistan in 2006. When his father told NPR he still drives Monti’s pickup in memory of his son, songwriter Connie Harrington (“Girls Lie Too,” “Mine Would Be You”) revamped the story with fellow writers Jessi Alexander (“The Climb,” “Drink on It”) and Jimmy Yeary (“Why Wait,” “I’m Gonna Love You Through It”). The end result speaks not just to military survivors, but to anyone who’s lost a loved one.

“MAMA’S ­BROKEN HEART” Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally and Kacey ­Musgraves

ARTIST: Miranda Lambert

The mother/daughter battle described in “Mama’s Broken Heart”—where Kacey Musgraves includes a lyric about when she once chopped off her hair in defiance—was fashioned with the same two songwriters, Shane McAnally (“Come Over”) and Brandy Clark (“Better Dig Two”), who collaborated on Musgraves’ album track “Follow Your Arrow.” McAnally and Musgraves also share credit on “Merry Go ’Round,” making them the first co-writers with two simultaneous song nominations since Don Schlitz and Paul Overstreet doubled up in 1987 with “On the Other Hand” and “Forever and Ever, Amen.”


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Kacey Musgraves, Josh Osborne and Shane McAnally

ARTIST: Kacey Musgraves

There are plenty of songs in modern country music that champion small-town America, but “Merry Go ’Round” isn’t one of them. Echoing the suburban dysfunction captured in the Tom T. Hall-penned “Harper Valley P.T.A.,” it is that rare piece that conveys the numbness and emptiness also found within the American dream. And its nuanced message paid off, resonating with fans and prompting critics to hail its sharp lyricism. For her part, Musgraves hails from Mineola, Texas, and sees both the positives and the negatives of smalltown life: “I get it. I’m just observing and I’m not condescending.”


Natalie Hemby, Luke Laird and Barry Dean

ARTIST: Little Big Town

When songwriter Luke Laird (“Downtown,” “Beat This Summer”) founded the Creative Nation publishing company with his wife, co-owner/GM Beth, in 2012, they were off to an auspicious start. The first writer they signed was Barry Dean (“1994,” “God’s Will”), and the first song Beth started pitching was “Pontoon,” even though it wasn’t their copyright. Luke and Dean had penned it with Natalie Hemby (“White Liar,” “Tornado”) while at Universal, and the summer song found takers in Little Big Town, which rode it to a single of the year win at last year’s CMA Awards.

“My whole body felt numb. My mind went blank and I’m pretty sure [my wife] Miranda [Lambert] felt those same feelings as we just stood there and stared at each other in disbelief.” — B L A K E S H E LT O N ( E N T E R T A I N E R A N D M A L E VO C ALIST OF THE YE AR, 2012)

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“WAGON WHEEL” Bob Dylan and Ketch Secor

ARTIST: Darius Rucker

Bob Dylan has written several songs that made it into country’s top 10, including Johnny Cash’s take on “It Ain’t Me, Babe” (No. 4, 1965), Garth Brooks’ version of “To Make You Feel My Love” (No. 1, 1998) and Chris Hillman & Roger McGuinn’s cover of “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” (No. 6, 1989). But his first CMA nomination comes with a collaborator of sorts. Dylan wrote a chorus and melody to “Rock Me Mama” while working on the movie “Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid” in 1973. Old Crow Medicine Show’s Ketch Secor penned new verse lyrics, restructured the phrasing and introduced “Wagon Wheel” on an album in 2004, eight years before Darius Rucker took it mainstream.


Song Of The Year

Male Vocalist Of The Year

Luke Bryan

A finalist for a third consecutive year, Jason Aldean owns one of the most distinct voices in contemporary country, a blend of swaggering style and exaggerated, Southern enunciations that makes him instantly identifiable to a radio listener who punches in on one of his songs. Aldean’s current album, the platinum Night Train, spawned four hooky singles during the CMA eligibility period—“Take a Little Ride,” “The Only Way I Know,” “1994” and the title track—that underscore his gritty sonic core and cement his position as a voice for the heartland.

A nominee in this category There’s a nasal quality to for the second straight year, Eric Church’s voice that’s Luke Bryan has solidified reminiscent of classic his place as one of councountry acts. He does, in try’s mightiest vocalists. fact, cite Johnny Cash and His intensity is audible not Merle Haggard among his only through his voice but rebel icons, though he also also in the way he gasps draws from a wide array for air in between phrases, of artists. They’re evident something intentionally in the title of his signaleft in recordings. “Drunk ture “Springsteen”; in the on You,” “Kiss Tomorrow descending vocal style of Goodbye” and “Crash “Creepin’,” derived from My Party” all hit No. 1 David Bowie’s “Fame”; on either Billboard’s Hot and the skull imagery on Country Songs or Country the cover of his live album, Airplay charts during the Caught in the Act, released eligibility period, while in April. Church won his Bryan officially ascended first CMA trophy last Nofrom opening act to bona vember when Chief swiped fide headliner. album of the year.


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Eric Church

Blake Shelton There’s no denying the appeal of an easy-going vocalist, and Blake Shelton is perhaps the latest example. A winner in this category for the last three years, he may well become a quadruple threat. Should the “Voice” judge claim the trophy this time out, he’ll be within one year of tying Vince Gill’s record-setting five straight male wins between 1991 and 1995. If not, he can always compete with George Strait, another singer known for his laid-back style, who joins Gill as the only other five-time honoree in the category. Like those other greats, Shelton’s vocals sound deceptively simple, but his range is far greater than he’ll ever show.

Keith Urban This year marks Keith Urban’s 10th consecutive nod as a male vocal finalist, and it will hardly be his last. Though he hasn’t taken home the gold since a lucky streak early on in his career from 2004 to 2006, he sounds better than ever, thanks to the removal of a vocal polyp in November 2011. As a result, his vocals are more robust, exhibiting greater range and more confidence during his live performances and on his album Fuse. The first single, “Little Bit of Everything,” merely hinted at the new and improved Urban when it arrived in May. aldean: James Minchin III; bryan, shelton: kristen barlowe; church: john peets; urban: Luis Sanchis

Jason Aldean

voter guide

9/27/13 5:59 PM

Female Vocalist Of The Year


KELLY CLARKSON When Kelly Clarkson competed on the first season of “American Idol,” she met a brick wall when she suggested to producers they consider a country-themed show. Since winning, she’s demonstrated her affinity for the genre repeatedly, most notably by enlisting Nashville-based Starstruck Entertainment for management and by moving to Tennessee. One of pop music’s most powerful female singers, Clarkson mines her home turf in her new single “Tie It Up,” which is in the top 40 of Billboard’s Country Airplay chart. And she’s nearly finished recording an entire country album—her first. “I just love country music,” she says.


MIRANDA LAMBERT With 25 CMA nominations since 2005, Miranda Lambert has been a female vocalist finalist for the last six years, winning the past three years. Should she prevail on Nov. 6, she’ll tie Reba McEntire’s record, claiming the title four straight times. It would be another notch in the belt of a woman whose songs pack plenty of female ammo (“Kerosene,” “Gunpowder & Lead”). But Lambert’s music shows she also can be disarmed. A pair of tunes that have won additional awards for her since 2010, “The House That Built Me” and “Over You,” showcase her soft side.

KACEY MUSGRAVES It’s telling that Kacey Musgraves’ two biggest influences are Lee Ann Womack and John Prine: Womack possesses a tonal purity, while Prine’s delivery is conversational. “If I can somehow blend the two and never over-sing,” Musgraves says, “that’s where I’d like to stand.” Her subtle approach to storytelling on Same Trailer Different Park is part of what made her a critics’ darling in 2013, and they weren’t the only ones who loved her voice. Dierks Bentley and Miranda Lambert both employed her as a background singer on singles in the past 12 months.

TAYLOR SWIFT The 2009 winner of the CMA’s female vocalist trophy, Taylor Swift is the only contender in the category this year who didn’t rely on “Nashville Star” or “American Idol” to earn her first hit. A nominee for six straight years, the 23-year-old is still the youngest woman on the ballot. But she’s no dewyeyed ingénue. Much of the material on Red may have a young bent, but “Begin Again”—which reached No. 10 on the Hot Country Songs chart and No. 3 on Country Airplay—is an adult view of romantic risk, delivered with wisdom and maturity.

A CMA Awards co-host for the sixth time in a row, Carrie Underwood is very familiar with the title she’s up for. She won it from 2006 to 2008, the first three years she was nominated, and has been a finalist the past eight. Her chops are unquestionable— her voice has uncanny power, amazing pitch and enviable range, and she can stretch high notes to super-human lengths. “I don’t baby my voice at all,” she says. “So far, it’s worked for me. I’m blessed at being able to be loud for long periods of time.”

“When I won it, it was . . . ‘Wow! Thank you, Lord! This is it!’ We had booked a suite at the Opryland Hotel. Win or lose, my family and friends were there afterward. My husband [Ken] and I were staying the night. I remember I didn’t want to go to bed. Ken was tired—I’m talking the wee hours of the morning, after everybody had left. I said, ‘I just want to talk about it!’ And I hear ‘Zzzz . . .’” — B A R B A R A M A N D R E L L ( E N T E RTA I N E R O F T H E Y E A R , 1 9 8 0 ; E N T E RTA I N E R A N D F E M A L E VO C A L I ST O F T H E Y E A R , 1 9 81 )


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Eli Young Band The act’s 2011 album, Life at Best, spawned the No. 1s “Crazy Girl” and “Even If It Breaks Your Heart,” setting the stage for the Eli Young Band’s first vocal group nomination in 2012. The Texas-based act built its reputation with an edgy sound and a busy, red-dirt touring ethic. The group’s current single, “Drunk Last Night,” is the first release from its new album, due in 2014. In the midst of recording it, the band played a raft of stadiums as one of the support acts on Kenny Chesney’s No Shoes Nation tour.


Lady Antebellum Charles Kelley, Hillary Scott and Dave Haywood have notched six consecutive vocal group nominations, winning half of them between 2009 and 2011. Having multiple lead singers contributes to its unique, varied sound, giving Lady Antebellum a competitive edge and drawing comparisons to Fleetwood Mac. The group’s latest album, Golden, underscores that versatility, threading together spare ballads with a Byrds-like rocker and the playful funk/country/ Southern rock first single, “Downtown.” Following Scott’s maternity break, Lady A will hit the road again on Nov. 8, two days after the CMA Awards.

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Little Big Town

The Band Perry

For six straight years, Little Big Town collected one or two annual CMA nominations without taking home a trophy. That changed in 2012, when “Pontoon” helped members Karen Fairchild, Jimi Westbrook, Kimberly Schlapman and Phillip Sweet snare two honors: single and vocal group. Each member of the quartet could work legitimately as a solo artist, but together they form an unbeatable combination, hell-bent on collective success since the band’s 1999 formation. LBT hosted the August ABC special “CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock” and won a Daytime Emmy Award for its 2012 TV theme to “Good Afternoon America.”

The CMA’s 2011 new artist of the year, the Band Perry—siblings Kimberly, Reid and Neil Perry—is enjoying its fourth straight vocal group nomination. The trio’s sophomore album, Pioneer, has yielded two No. 1s on the Country Airplay chart, “Better Dig Two” and “DONE.,” with both Perry brothers holding their own as members of the studio band alongside some of Nashville’s finest session players. Meanwhile, the group is taking its unique sound outside the United States, launching its We Are Pioneers world tour, its first run as a headliner, in Gothenburg, Sweden, on Nov. 8.

Zac Brown Band The Zac Brown Band has logged a lucky 13 career nominations as of 2013, but has won the CMA derby just once, claiming new artist in 2010. It’s the ultimate DIY act. Brown and company write their own songs and play on their own albums, while leader Brown developed the Southern Ground label, which has its own slate of artists, including Blackberry Smoke, Nic Cowan and Levi Lowrey. The Georgia-bred band has gradually increased its presence in Nashville, where it occupies space in the Broken Bow compound on a historic tract along Music Row.

eli young band: courtesy of big machine; lady antebellum: courtesy of capitol nashville; little big town: Williams + Hirakawa; the band perry: courtesy of bb gun press; zac brown band: Cole Cassell

Vocal Group Of The Year

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9/27/13 5:49 PM








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With the release of Hillbilly Jedi in September 2012, John Tyler Hubbard and Rich and Big Kenny Brian Kelley collected quelled any rumors four CMA nods this that they were year, thanks to the through as a duet. massive “Cruise,” a Their first project in fresh sound and a five years, the album high-energy show soared with the kind that’s reinvigoratof party anthems ing country music. their fans have grown With a look that’s to love. The two are as American as Jack already working on Daniel’s, but with their next album, production that boras well as on solo rows liberally from pursuits. Rich showed hip-hop, the hybrid up in the last year as a act’s concerts feel like regular on the CW sealt-rock shows. Their ries “The Next” and lyrics of partying and as a returning champ sexual angst speak on NBC’s “The to 20-somethings. Celebrity Apprentice.” “Get Your Shine On” Big Kenny worked on co-writer Rodney a country/EDM blend Clawson says that includes remixes Hubbard and Kelley of two Hillbilly Jedi are the real deal tracks. and speak to their generation.”


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LOVE AND THEFT Originally a trio, Love And Theft is a testament to persistence. The group scored a hit with the harmony-laden “Runaway” in 2009, only to see the Carolwood label, and then parent label Lyric Street, shut down within the next year. Co-founder Brian Bandas subsequently left the group at the end of 2010. But Stephen Barker Liles and Eric Gunderson stuck it out, signing with RCA and earning their first No. 1 single, on Country Airplay, with the easygoing “Angel Eyes” in August 2012. They earned their first CMA nominations for vocal duo and new artist a year ago.

SUGARLAND It’s been 10 years since Sugarland signed its first recording contract with Mercury, going from obscurity to one of country’s top headliners. With searing vocals and signature enunciations, lead singer Jennifer Nettles has one of the most distinct voices in country, while co-writer/harmony singer/mandolin player Kristian Bush helped forge Sugarland’s unique sound and creative style. This is their seventh straight nomination in the category, which they’ve won five times. Nettles is riding the Country Airplay chart with her first solo single, the Rick Rubin-produced “That Girl.”



Embraced by Americana, Joy Williams and John Paul White have an odd relationship with the CMA Awards—the act doesn’t consider itself country, yet the ever-expanding genre has now pegged the Civil Wars as finalists for vocal duo three years in a row. In reality, the pair doesn’t seem to consider itself much of an act anymore either. The day after last year’s awards, Williams and White canceled the final dates on a European tour and announced that they had “irreconcilable differences of ambition.” The Civil Wars haven’t performed since, though their sophomore album arrived in August.

When Keifer and Shawna Thompson claimed vocal duo a year ago, they joined 1987 victors Ricky Skaggs and Sharon White as the only married couple to win the award. Thompson Square’s sophomore album, Just Feels Good, debuted at No. 4 on Country Albums following its March 26 release, while the project’s first single—“If I Didn’t Have You,” a song in part about the 2012 death of Shawna’s father, Mickey McIlwain—reached No. 1 on Country Airplay in May. The duo is currently ascending the chart with the sexually charged “Everything I Shouldn’t Be Thinking About.”

“When I started toward the podium, I kept looking over my shoulder to see if somebody else was coming up. I thought I had been mistaken because I only heard my name. Up to the last minute, I was not that sure.” — ROY C L A R K ( E N T E RTA I N E R O F T H E Y E A R , 1 9 7 3 )


Vocal Duo Of The Year


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shelton: kristen barlowe; pistol annies: randee st nicholas; florida georgia line & mcgraw/swift/urban: christopher polk/getty images; clarkson: Frederick Breedon/getty images; aldean/bryan/church: ed rode/getty images

Musical Event Of The Year

“Boys ’Round Here” Blake Shelton Featuring Pistol Annies

“Boys ’Round Here” is as irresistible a combo as the cronut. The song folds in Dallas Davidson’s “redred-redneck” vocals from the songwriting session and references to ’90s rapper Doug E. Fresh and a Little League cheer (“chew tobacco, chew tobacco, chew tobacco, spit”), while Blake Shelton plays goofy good ol’ boy. Harmonies by Pistol Annies, featuring Shelton’s wife Miranda Lambert, help offset some of the testosterone, and RaeLynn and producer Scott Hendricks have vocal roles, too. The result’s a barn-burner, but not in a serious way. “Every movie can’t be ‘Gone With the Wind,’” songwriter Rhett Akins says.


Florida Georgia Line (With Nelly)

“Don’t Rush”

Kelly Clarkson (Featuring Vince Gill)

Nelly’s no newcomer to country—his 2004 single Kelly Clarkson and Vince “Over and Over,” featuring Gill’s performance of Tim McGraw, went to No. 3 “Don’t Rush” during the on the Billboard Hot 100— 2012 CMA Awards brought but “Cruise” brings him the house down. Released his first CMA nomination. Oct. 29, 2012, the recorded It makes him only the secversion is a mix of ’80s ond rapper to emerge as a country and classic soul, CMA finalist: Snoop Lion with Gill chipping in some was one of four acts on tasteful, fluid guitar lines. Willie Nelson’s 2012 entry Gill is an established pro “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me in this category. He’s been When I Die.” The remix nominated for musical with Nelly extended the event—or vocal event, as it life of “Cruise” for Florida was previously called—10 Georgia Line. The track times, winning four. Clarkreached No. 4 on the Hot son was nominated in 2007 100 and brought downfor the Reba McEntire duet loads to 5.8 million, accord- “Because of You,” and won ing to Nielsen SoundScan. in 2011 for the Jason Aldean collaboration “Don’t You Wanna Stay.”

“Highway Don’t “The Only Way I Care” Know” Tim McGraw With Taylor Swift & Keith Urban

The two vocalists on “Highway Don’t Care” have been bonded since 2006, when Taylor Swift released her first single, “Tim McGraw.” It didn’t take much coaxing to get her to sing on “Highway Don’t Care.” “It’s obviously a childhood dream come true,” she says. Neither Swift nor Keith Urban, who plays guitar on the track, were given any specific directions when they were asked to add their parts. She overdubbed her voice during sessions for her album Red, and Urban tackled his role several times before he finally sent it back to McGraw, who was impressed with the results. Swift’s voice, McGraw says, is “heartbreakingly beautiful.” And Urban’s guitar? “It was perfect.”

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Jason Aldean With Luke Bryan & Eric Church Broken Bow officially released “The Only Way I Know” on Nov. 2, 2012, the day after Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan and Eric Church performed it live for the first time on the CMA Awards. All three acts built their reputations as relentless road warriors, a trait that gives each of them a personal connection to the song’s hard-work theme. “We all had this slow, steady climb to our careers,” Aldean says, “and now all of our careers are exploding.” Indeed, Aldean, Church and Bryan took three of the five male vocalists slots on the CMA ballot in both 2012 and 2013.

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Primarily a mandolin player, Sam Bush is also a skilled fiddler and guitarist who’s appearing on the final ballot for the third straight time. One of the leaders of modern bluegrass (he co-hosted the International Bluegrass Music Assn. nominations with Jim Lauderdale in August), the former member of New Grass Revival also keeps a foot in contemporary country, having played on Dierks Bentley’s 2012 album Home and on both volumes of the soundtrack to ABC’s “Nashville.” Underscoring his versatility, Bush also played sideman on recent albums by Canadian folk artist Ian Tyson, Texas singer/songwriter Lyle Lovett and bluesman Keb’ Mo’.

One of the world’s leading steel guitarists, Paul Franklin has been a musician nominee for 21 of the last 25 years, though he has yet to take home a trophy. He’s a de facto expert on the steel’s history, sharing artist credits with Vince Gill on the Buck Owens/ Merle Haggard tribute Bakersfield and contributing to the lead track on The Big E: A Salute to Steel Guitarist Buddy Emmons. But Franklin has remained on the cutting edge with the instrument, lacing it into such recent country hits as Taylor Swift’s “Red,” Chris Young’s “I Can Take It From There” and Easton Corbin’s “All Over the Road.”

After playing on Los Angeles-based sessions for Michael Jackson, Celine Dion and Whitesnake, Huff returned to his native Nashville in the ’90s and emerged as one of Music Row’s busiest guitarists, winning musician of the year in 2001 and 2004. He’s now one of country’s leading producers, though he still has an active hand as a player on many of his productions, including such recent releases as the Band Perry’s Pioneer, Cassadee Pope’s “Wasting All These Tears,” Colt Ford’s Declaration of Independence, Rascal Flatts’ Changed and two tracks on the deluxe edition of Keith Urban’s Fuse.

With 18 nominations and two victories, Brent Mason is a near-perennial presence in this category. Promoted to Nashville’s A-list session circle by guitar legend Chet Atkins, he worked with Wampler Pedals to design his own Hot Wired foot pedal and brings an eclectic set of sounds to every session. Most frequently employed on electric guitar, he’s contributed to such recent releases as Brett Eldredge’s Bring You Back, Easton Corbin’s All Over the Road, George Strait’s Love Is Everything, Luke Bryan’s Spring Break . . . Here to Party and Toby Keith’s Hope on the Rocks.

Should Mac McAnally claim the award this year, he’ll tie fiddler Mark O’Connor’s ’90s record of six straight wins. An astute songwriter, McAnally’s composition “Old Flame” was reworked by Rascal Flatts for the album Alabama & Friends, and his “Down the Road” put his voice in the top 10 on a duet with Kenny Chesney in 2009, shortly after he won his first musician trophy. McAnally is part of the studio band on Chesney’s current Life on a Rock, and he contributed to such recent albums as Jimmy Buffett’s Songs From St. Somewhere, Katie Armiger’s Fall Into Me and Lionel Richie’s Tuskegee.


“After all those years and after I had been nominated so much, when I did win, it was pretty emotional for me. I felt blessed. It seemed like Garth [Brooks] and Vince [Gill] were nominated at most of the awards [shows] then. I used to say I was like that Energizer bunny—I kept coming back. Finally, I outlasted them!”


Musician Of The Year

— A L A N J A C K S O N ( E N T E RTA I N E R O F T H E Y E A R , 1 9 9 5 ; E N T E R T A I N E R , A L B U M , M A L E V O C A L I S T, S O N G A N D S I N G L E O F T H E Y E A R , 2 0 0 2 ; E N T E RTA I N E R , M A L E V O C A L I S T A N D V O C A L E VENT OF THE YE AR, 2003)


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9/27/13 5:54 PM


Music Video Of The Year


Carrie Underwood

DIRECTOR: Randee St. Nicholas

“The Wizard of Oz” meets Martina McBride’s “Independence Day” in Carrie Underwood’s ambitious “Blown Away” video. Like the former 1939 classic, the clip goes from black and white to color in a mailbox format to dramatize the story of a young woman whose fate lies in the path of a twister. And like the McBride clip, which won the CMA video award in 1994, a disaster devours a man who’s made the house a dungeon of domestic violence. The heroine here escapes through the cellar door, emerging into a field of golden flowers. It’s Underwood’s third nod as a video finalist, and director Randee St. Nicholas’ first nomination.

“DOWN“BOYS ’ROUND HERE” TOWN” Blake Shelton Featuring Pistol Annies DIRECTOR: Trey Fanjoy

A bouncing low-rider meets a jacked-up pickup in the opening scene of “Boys ’Round Here,” a clip that brings the boys in the ’hood out to the country, where they find Blake Shelton playing front-porch prognosticator and barn-dance party chief. Shelton and Pistol Annies, featuring Shelton’s wife Miranda Lambert, left Las Vegas immediately after he hosted the Academy of Country Music Awards on April 7 to shoot this video at the Walt Disney Golden Oak Ranch in Santa Clarita, Calif. And the three homies who end up having a big ol’ time in the barn? You can’t help but think of Lil Wayne and the Notorious B.I.G.

Lady Antebellum

DIRECTOR: Peter Zavadil

After Lady Antebellum shot its “CMT Crossroads” installment with Stevie Nicks in Los Angeles on Jan. 29, the band hung around an extra day in the Los Feliz neighborhood to act in the “Downtown” video, in which Hillary Scott tries to undo her goody-twoshoes reputation by going on a shoplifting spree with a wildchild blonde, played by Beth Behrs of “2 Broke Girls.” Clad in black leather, Scott smashes the windshield of a cop car, driven by two familiar, donut-eating policemen: Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood in the roles of “Garcia & Cash.”

“MAMA’S “HIGHWAY DON’T CARE” ­BROKEN HEART” Tim McGraw With Taylor Swift & Keith Urban DIRECTOR: Shane Drake

A cellphone is the focus of this video about the perils of texting while driving. The clip opens with a woman getting into her car, chucking her phone in the passenger seat and driving off in tears. As she hits the back roads, she increasingly gets distracted by her phone’s texts, and winds up near dead. Luckily, she gets airlifted to the nearest hospital, where she’s saved by her McDreamy, played by Tim McGraw. The artist has pledged to never text and drive and hopes others follow suit, so it’s “an automatic thought that you just don’t do that.”


Little Big Town

DIRECTOR: Shane Drake

Miranda Lambert

DIRECTOR: Trey Fanjoy

It’s hard not to think of “Mad Men” character Betty Draper while watching Miranda Lambert transform into a well-coiffed icy blonde in a ’60s mini-dress, washing down pills with booze in her perfect mid-century modern home. Director Trey Fanjoy paints a vivid scene of domestic loneliness with Lambert unraveling, her mascara streaking, her updo undone, in an interior of flocked wallpaper, crystal chandeliers and brocade drapes that also recalls such iconic films as “Valley of the Dolls” and “Stepford Wives.” Fanjoy has accumulated a dozen CMA video nominations since 2004, winning in 2009 with Taylor Swift’s “Love Story” and in 2010 with Lambert’s “The House That Built Me.”

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This nearly five-minute clip plays like a moody mini-movie, starting with ominous sights and sounds, then building into a full-blown musical storm. It’s more than a minute before the song even kicks in, and another 15 seconds before the band stomps into view, led by Karen Fairchild in thigh-high boots and hell-bent on vengeance. Their intended victim, played by actor Johnathon Schaech (“That Thing You Do!”), makes his escape, but ends up entangled in rusty barbed wire when the fierce foursome finds him, relieves him of a locket, then storms off. Appropriately, the spooky video— filmed in Watertown, Tenn.—made its debut on Halloween 2012.

C M A AWA R D S 2013


New Artist Of The Year

Brett Eldredge

A holdover from 2012’s CMA ballot, Lee Brice has proved himself even more versatile in the past year with two back-to-back singles: the pulsing “Hard to Love” and the gut-wrenching “I Drive Your Truck.” His single “Love Like Crazy” set a Nielsen BDSera record on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart by taking 46 weeks to reach the top 10 in 2010. But his slow build as a recording artist was enhanced by his acceptance as a Nashville songwriter: He’s written Garth Brooks’ “More Than a Memory” (No. 1, 2007), Tim McGraw’s “Still” (No. 16, 2010) and the Eli Young Band’s “Crazy Girl” (No. 1, 2011).

One of the first artists signed after John Esposito became Warner Music Nashville president in 2009, Brett Eldredge took several stabs at building a creative direction before the blue-eyed soul sound of “Don’t Ya” connected with the marketplace. The single reached No. 1 on the Country Airplay chart in August and his first album, Bring You Back, debuted at No. 2 on Top Country Albums. The Illinois native launches his first headlining tour this fall. “This label stood behind Brett because they knew they had a crazy, killer talent on their hands,” fellow WMN artist Charlie Worsham says. “It’s paying off now, and it should.”


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Florida Georgia Line What a difference a year—and a song—makes. In 2012, Florida Georgia Line was unable to land an established performance stage during the CMA Music Festival and sang for about 1,000 people outside Nashville’s LP Field. This year, the duo played for 50,000 inside the stadium. “Cruise” made a monster difference, but it was just an introduction to the act’s catchy blend of country, rock and hip-hop. When “Round Here” topped Country Airplay in September, FGL joined Brooks & Dunn as the only other duo or group in the Nielsen BDS era to start its chart life with three straight No. 1 singles.

Kip Moore His gruff vocals, conversational phrasing, working-class ethos and accessible songs have earned Kip Moore numerous comparisons to Bruce Springsteen. And this is something he doesn’t take lightly. Instead of partying, the day after MCA extended him an offer, Moore wrote “Faith When I Fall,” a prayer that he would stay the course as an uncertain creative journey unfolded. “That [thoughtfulness] gives me hope that he’s not going to burn out,” producer Brett James says, “that he can last a long, long time and keep the right perspective.”

Kacey ­Musgraves With six nominations, Kacey Musgraves joins Randy Travis (1986) and Brad Paisley (2000) as the only acts named a half-dozen times in their first year on the CMA ballot. She’s been chasing this moment for some time—she competed on the USA Network’s “Nashville Star” in 2007 and got limited airplay as a duet voice on the Josh Abbott Band’s “Oh, Tonight” in 2010—and learned much on the way up. “She’ll be a long-lasting artist in one way or another because she knows what she wants,” co-producer Luke Laird says. “She doesn’t buy into the hype. She just knows what works for her.”

brice: eric welch; eldridge: joseph llanes; florida georgia line: kristen barlowe; moore: Stephen Shepherd; musgraves: Kelly Christine Musgraves

Lee Brice

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9/27/13 5:57 PM

CMA Week Think the CMA Awards are a one-night deal? Guess again. The party lasts all week. Whether honoring big names or showcasing new talent, these events will keep you in the loop. Mark your calendars. By Phyllis Stark

November 3

SESAC Nashville Awards

Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum 6:30 p.m. Invitation only

sesac awards: jason kempin/getty images; ascap awards: ed rode/getty images; bmi awards: rick diamond/getty images

SESAC kicks off the week’s festivities by honoring the top songwriters, songs and publishers in the country and Americana genres. The black-tie event will showcase performances by many of the heralded songwriters and performers. SESAC VP of writer/publisher relations Tim Fink will host.

Clockwise, from top: BMI president/ CEO Del Bryant at the 2012 BMI Country Awards, ASCAP president/ chairman Paul Williams speaks during last year’s

ASCAP Country Music Awards, and actors Sam Palladio, Charles Esten and Jonathan Jackson (from left) at SESAC’s Nashville Music Awards in 2012.

November 4

ASCAP Country Music Awards Music City Center 7 p.m. Invitation only

Country music legend George Strait will be honored with the ­ASCAP Founders Award at this black-tie gala, to be held for the first time in downtown Nashville’s sprawling new convention center. The Founders Award celebrates songwriters who have made pioneering contributions to music. The 51st annual event, hosted by ASCAP executives John LoFromento, Paul Williams, LeAnn Phelan and Michael Martin, will also honor ASCAP’s top songs, songwriters and publishers of the year, and will feature live performances of the top five ­most-­performed songs by the songwriters and the artists who recorded them.

November 5

November 8

BMI Country Awards

“CMA Country Christmas” taping

BMI offices on Music Row 7 p.m. Invitation only

Songwriter Dean Dillon will be honored with BMI’s Icon Award and an all-star homage to his body of work at the 61st annual edition of BMI’s Country Awards. George Strait has recorded 54 of his songs, and Dillon has also written hits for George Jones, Kenny Chesney and Toby Keith, among others. Also during the black-tie event, BMI will crown the country songwriter, song and publisher of the year, and salute the writers and publishers of the past year’s 50 most-performed songs from BMI’s catalog. BMI president Del Bryant will host the ceremony along with VP of writer/ publisher relations Jody Williams and assistant VP of writer/­ publisher relations Clay Bradley.

CMA Songwriters Series Concert

Bridgestone Arena 7:30 p.m. Open to the public; tickets on sale at Ticketmaster

Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles is back for the fourth year as host of this ABC-TV special, which tapes in front of a live audience, then airs in December. Artists scheduled to share the stage with her include Trace Adkins, Luke Bryan, Sheryl Crow, actress/singer Lucy Hale, Jake Owen, Kellie Pickler, Rascal Flatts, Darius Rucker and Christian music star Michael W. Smith. Attendees are asked to bring a new, unwrapped toy for the CMA’s A Gift for All toy drive, which provides holiday presents for homeless children in conjunction with Nashville-based nonprofit group Generosity. Volunteers will be on hand at the Bridgestone Arena Plaza beginning at 1 p.m. to accept toy donations. Last year, the group collected more than 5,000 toys at the show.

CMA Theatre, Country Music Hall of Fame 9 p.m. Open to the public

Songwriter/producer Brett James (“Mr. Know It All,” “Jesus, Take the Wheel”) will host this Nashville-­style “guitar pull,” which will also feature Sony Music Nashville duo Love and Theft (“Angel Eyes”), artist/­songwriter Brandy Clark (“Better Dig Two,” “Mama’s Broken Heart”) and songwriter Shane McAnally (“Come Over,” “Alone With You”) performing in the round.

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9/27/13 6:45 PM

Big Wins, Big Gains Top Song And Album Sales Spikes Following the 2012 CMA Awards In true Billboard style, we take a look at the top titles, by overall unit gain, among the songs performed or honored with awards on-air as well as the albums from artists who performed or were handed awards on the broadcast.

+22 ,

go o Za he d cB r 36 ro ,

0 00

ch i e f Eric Churc h 23,000 +13,000



41,0 0


PONTOO Little Big ToN w 63,000 n +41,000








y ord awa R The rec wn e FOU Miranda Blo rri d a o C o Lambert erw Und 00 9,000 24,0 0 0 +6,000 +9,0

0 00

00 50,0

TailGive it Tan gates Luke line & s 24,0 Bryan 00 +11, Lit Tor 000 tle n 29 B , +9, 0 00 13,0 00 21, 00 0

o n ad ow T ig 00 0

w Hun anted te 74,0r Haye 00 s +33, 0 00

n ei s y b ye and e nB w 00 0

steen spring urch y a aw od Eric Ch wn derwo o 30,000 l n b ie U 00 r 0 +18,000 Car 69, 0 0 0 +19,



Little Big Town “Pontoon”

the big number

Not only did Little Big Town’s “Pontoon” earn the single of the year award—and a hysterical double-entendre reference by hosts Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood in their opening monologue—but the tune also tallied the largest weekly unit gain among the songs performed on the show. It rose from 22,000 downloads to 63,000 (a gain of 41,000) in the week ending Nov. 4, 2012.

Total weekly sales of nondebuting songs that were performed and/or won an on-air award at the 2012 CMA Awards.

Eric Church Chief Total weekly sales of thencurrent albums by 2012 CMA Awards performers and/or album of the year winner at the 2012 ceremony (excluding justdebuted titles).

597K 268K

(up 350,000 units; 142%)

Eric Church’s Chief claimed the biggest gain among all of the current albums by performers on the show. His album of the year-winning set jumped to 23,000 (a gain of 12,000 units).

(up 63,000 units; 31%)

S O U R C E : N i e l s e n S o u n d S c a n , w e e k e n d i n g N o v. 4 , 2 0 1 2


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9/27/13 6:21 PM


Billboard 2013 CMA Awards Voter Guide