Chloe and I are possibly two of the luckiest people in the world. Like seriously. Well, two of the luckiest country music fans, to be exact. We had the honor of going to the 44th Annual CMA Awards, otherwise known as Country’s Biggest Night.
To give a little backstory, I entered the contest on K102.com a few weeks ago…I believe it was a Wednesday. Two days later, our mom got a call informing her that she had won the grand prize—a chance to fly down to Nashville, TN, and see the CMAs live and in-person. She was stunned, and made the guy repeat it a couple times, just to make sure she was hearing correctly.
Chloe and I were actually on our way to a cabin in Wisconsin for the weekend with our dad, and got a call from our mom. The signal wasn’t that great, so she kept breaking up on me. Her voice sounded urgent, so I was worried that something was wrong. Turned out it wasn’t—in fact, it was very, very right.
I don’t get excited too often. And when I do, many times people can’t tell. But let me tell you—I was jumping up and down in my seat, clapping my hands, and yelping “OHMYGOSH! OHMYGOSH! OHMYGOSH!” over and over and over and over again, and threw in a “Dad! We’re going to the CMAs!” or “Chloe, we’re going to the frickin’ CMAs! The CMAs!” in-between it all. I was out of my mind. I could not believe it.
For the next couple weeks I still couldn’t believe it. I’ve only been to three real concerts in my life—American Idol the year of Rueben and Clay, Jason Mraz for Chloe’s 13th birthday, and Rocket Club’s free CD release party—soon I would get to see all of the country music stars I looked up to—in one night. I pinched myself several times a day, sure that one of them would wake me up from this fantasy.
When we flew down to Nashville on Tuesday (11/9), the dream began to seem more and more like reality. Let me add that Southwest Airlines is the best airline I have ever flown. The flight attendants were friendly, we were allowed to check TWO bags at NO charge (eh-hem! eh-hem! ALL airlines should do this!), and we were able to bring our guitar as carry-on (we had to practice for our shows Thursday at the Acadia Cafe in Minneapolis and Friday at the Wild Tymes in St. Paul). To top it off, they come around and take your drink order instead of clunking around that huge cart. My recommendation? Hot cocoa with hazelnut creamer (:
We stayed at the lovely Nashville Marriott at Vanderbilt University, who had the kindest front-desk staff. We had an awesome view…our room overlooked the Vanderbilt Stadium. The Marriott Shuttle staff was incredible as well. They were picking up and dropping off people right and left, managed to fit us in, and were also friendly as could be.
We received gift bags from the CMAs, which included shirts, a hat, a travel mug, posters, and SIGNED CDs from Josh Thompson and Montgomery Gentry! I am such a sucker for CDs…I listen to them in my car and pop them into my boom-box (my somewhat old-fashioned alternative to an ipod) and will replay them for hours and hours…there’s just something about getting to listen to an artist’s collection as a whole—song after song after song. To me, an album is like a book…you have to read every page to get the whole story.
It gets even better. Tuesday night we got to go to a private set to see Josh Thompson and Montgomery Gentry perform. There were probably 100 people there total. Josh performed first and had a Q&A session afterwards (totally awesome!). We found out he’s from Wisconsin. Yay! Another country artist with Midwestern roots! Montgomery Gentry had some fantastic harmonies. It was fun to see Eddie Montgomery ham it up—picking up the mic stand, twirling it a few times and giving a signature chuckle in-between songs.
Afterwards, we decided to stay downtown to eat because when we’re in Nashville, we EAT (on a road trip down to Nashville this summer we ate the best pulled pork sandwiches we’ve ever had at Puckett’s Grocery in Leiper’s Fork). This time we had dinner at Jack’s Bar-B-Que and it was absolutely DELICIOUS. I had baked beans, green beans, corn bread, Tennessee Pork Shoulder and plenty of BBQ sauce slathered over it all. Mmm-mm good. The meat was so flavorful…I didn’t want dinner to end. What I love about the food down there is that it feels like home-cooking when you’re out to eat. It’s simply splendid.
We ended up walking all the way back to our hotel from downtown, which was a measly two miles. NBD. Haha. We didn’t know it was that far away…but at least it was a good workout! Mom happened to be wearing heels, so Chlo pulled her up this mini-hill and we ended up breaking down and stopping for dessert, which was also AH-MAZING!
A HUGE thumbs up to Amerigo (the italian restaurant we stopped at). We enjoyed their delicious Tiramisu and Pecan Butter Crunch Cake. Their gelato of the day happened to be orange-cranberry, and they accidentally put a generous scoop of that on the Pecan Cake instead of the regular vanilla ice cream…but it was INCREDIBLE. So we told our waiter just how tasty it was. He felt terrible for the mistake, but we kept reiterating the fact that it was so scrumptious and not to worry about it. He offered to remove it from our bill AND bring out a whole new Pecan Butter Crunch Cake with the right ice cream, but that wasn’t necessary. The manager came out to apologize (again, we said it wasn’t a problem at all…and if it was a problem, it was a delicious one!) and the cake was comped from our bill. Talk about some serious customer service! I highly recommend going there, especially if you’re in the mood for dessert! Five stars!
The CMA Awards themselves were something else. We got to dress up (I wore one of my homecoming dresses—nice to get some good use out of it!) and took the coach bus with other winners from around the country. We were all buzzing with excitement. It was awesome to be around so many people who have the same passion for country music as I do!
I don’t think I’ll ever be able to watch an awards show the same way. They have every detail prepped to a T, and it was funny to see them read off the teleprompter. They read off of it so well…such energy and personality! They’ve had me fooled all these years (:
We got to see the pre-show (a half-hour before the televised show started), where they handed out awards that included musician of the year, announced by none other than Rodney Atkins (we are huge fans of If You’re Going Through Hell and Watching You). Our seats were to the left of the stage, and we weren’t too far back.
Carrie Underwood came on first, singing away with that ginormous voice of hers. She has such an energy when she performs. How she hits some of those notes is beyond me. Brad Paisley followed her onto the stage, and I think I may have had a mini heart attack. If you know Chloe and I, we are HUMONGOUS Brad Paisley fans—his genius lyrics, his voice, his guitar-playing skills. To see him going away on that guitar in person was otherworldly for us. I am still trying to recover from that.
The stars had to pass by our section before they went to perform, so we got friendly waves from artists like Jason Aldean, Loretta Lynn, Taylor Swift, and Reba McEntire. This definitely got a good crowd reaction—people were screaming and jumping out of their seats. Gotta love dedicated fans. They are the real deal.
The stage was divided into two sections. Each side was sectioned off by walls, and behind these walls is where they would set up the next performance. It was insane how quickly they would do it! During break they had roughly five minutes to take down an entire set and rebuild a new one. I commend the crew for their speediness. It was intense. My favorite set was probably Sugarland’s Stuck Like Glue. I loved how Jennifer Nettles had on that tutu and walked right out of it!
It was neat to see the artists bobbing around behind the walls before they would perform. I watched Lady Antebellum pacing about shortly before the walls rose up. A voice would say “We’re on in 10, 9, 8…” and then BAM! they would put on their game faces and go for it. It was interesting to see how the whole process of the show works.
The most memorable performance for me was Dierk’s Bentley’s Up On The Ridge. I think I’d heard the song a few times on the radio, but seeing that performance made it really stick out. They circled up at the beginning, smoke was floating all around, and there was a sick fiddle solo at the end that blew me away. I’ve been listening to that song ever since I got back.
I was a little sad that Reba wasn’t singing one of her songs for her CMA performance, but she surely did not disappoint with Beyonce’s If I Were A Boy. In my opinion, she had the best vocals of the night, hands down. Seeing Reba perform live was unreal. I’ve only seen her live performances on YouTube, which are awesome—don’t get me wrong—but to actually see her LIVE is something I think every person should do before they die. Write that down on your bucket list. You won’t regret it.
I wasn’t sure if The Band Perry was going to perform, but sure enough, they got to sing a shortened version of their hit If I Die Young, which completely made my day (not like my day wasn’t already made, but it just added to the greatness!). We love The Band Perry and got to see them perform at the Best Buy in Richfield a few weeks ago when they were here in Minnesota. If you haven’t heard of them, give Hip To My Heart, If I Die Young, and All Your Life a listen. They write beautiful lyrics and their voices mesh wonderfully together.
Props to Gwyneth Paltrow for performing Country Strong on the Bridgestone Arena stage! She had to have been nervous, but she hit some really nice notes. I will certainly be going to see Country Strong when it hits theaters January 7, 2011.
I have to add in a tidbit on Rascal Flatts, because Chloe and I are…well…obsessed. I was sooooo excited to hear Gary LeVox’s vocals in person. They performed their most recent single Why Wait (which I’ve had on replay ever since it was released) and Joe Don Rooney had probably the sickest guitar I’ve ever seen—it lit up! They performed on the left side of the stage—nearest us—which made me so incredibly happy. My happiness in that moment cannot be expressed.
That night was a lot for me to take in. We got to see all of our favorite country artists…one after another…BAM! BAM! BAM! I was a little kid in a candy store.
Many thanks to the folks at Gaylord Opryland Hotel. This is the hotel that normally hosts the contest winners, but because of the devastating flood last spring, their renovations weren’t quite finished. Even though we couldn’t stay at their hotel, they booked our flights and were in charge of all the transportation to the events. A special shout-out to Kimberly, who booked us personally.
A big thanks to K102 (and Matt) for setting this whole thing up and making it happen. I never thought in a million years that I would be the recipient of a grand-prize and get to go down to see the CMAs. It was a dream-come-true, and you guys made it happen for three people who would’ve never otherwise had the means to do something like that. We continue to listen to your station and are devoted fans. Thank you for playing GREAT country music here in Minnesota!
I would also like to personally thank Cory Chapman and the CMAs for making the Josh Thompson and Montgomery Gentry event, and the 44th Annual CMAs extra special for us. That was completely above and beyond our wildest expectations, and really made it an experience that we will never ever forget. So thank you, thank you, thank you!