Give credit to the CMT awards show on Wednesday for pretty much getting it right. Unlike their counterparts - the Country Music Association Awards and the Academy for Country Music gig - this one was not over the top (for the most part).
However that wasn't necessarily clear it was going to be the case at the start. Co-hosts Kristen Bell and Toby Keith did not mesh very well at all. Bell, who is an actress ("Saving Sarah Marshall" and on Broadway "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer") was over the top. I was more than a bit surprised to know she was even going to host the awards because she was an unknown to the country crowd (in contrast to Carrie Underwood and Reba McEntire on the other awards shows). And Keith, who has acting experience, seemed a bit stiff in delivering the dumb lines. Fortunately, they didn't get a lot of time as the hosts.
I'm also tired of the novelty song, Red Solo Cup. That was the focal point of not only the beginning but later in the show also. It's just overdone to say the least.
The show fortunately got a lot better from there. The performances generally worked well, with Brad Paisley and Hank Jr. turning in a solid number of the new song I'm Gonna Get Drunk and Play Hank Williams . The song seems a bit ironic (maybe funny), considering he is the son thereof.
Willie Nelson also was very strong on Roll Me Up & Smoke Me When I Die, getting help from Keith, Jamey Johnson, Zac Brown and Darius Rucker.
What was most refreshing was the emphasis on more traditional country songs. And new act Pistol Annies also got into the fray with Miranda Lambert leading the trio. Funny about the focus because Nelson and Williams don't get radio play these days. Give the CMT folks a lot of credit for giving significant airtime for the old schoolers.
The only sour note for me was Rascal Flatts and Journey. Rascal Flatts turned in a strong reading of their hit Banjo with some great banjo playing from Ashley Campbell, daughter of Glen. But then they joined with Journey on Don't Stop Believin'. The song was well done, but an odd closer of the night.
Underwood, of course, was the "big" winner, such as it was, with two awards for Video of the Year for Good Girl and Best Collaboration with Brad Paisley for Remind Me.
The show did not drag. The CMT organizers put on a good show and deserve the praise.
P.S. Apologies to Laura Bell Bundy and her fans for having a brain drain in a previous version of this where she was listed as the co-host.