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Country Music, past and present, in one evening

Mike Sudhalter  |  June 9, 2011

Lady Antebellum is pictured on the red carpet before the CMT Music Awards

Nashville is such a paradox of country music - the new, the old, the retro, the 'this-is-pushing-it, I'm not sure if it's still country'.

Never was that more apparent than last night when I watched consecutive shows - The CMT Music Awards at the Bridgestone Arena and Marty Stuart's Late Night Jam right across the street at the legendary Ryman Auditorium.

It was a case of where country is (and wants to be), and where it's always been.

Dolly Parton performs with Marty Stuart at his 10th annual Late Night Jam on Wednesday night at the Ryman Auditorium

And the interesting thing is that I embrace both types of country music.

The CMT Music Awards, being that it's a Viacom production, was very similar to the MTV Music Awards.

All kinds of special guests - musical (Kid Rock was the host, and Ludacris, Justin Bieber made guest appearances) to the miscellaneous (Football players Clay Matthews and Hines Ward, Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon and Top-Notch Chef, Cat Cora)

The show was entertaining, but I had a few issues with it.

It seemed like all of the nominees were the same for just about every award. And for Justin Bieber/Rascal Flatts to win an award in the fan-voted CMTs shows that there's a large voting bloc of teeny-boppers. How else could you explain The Biebs winning a country award in which Loretta Lynn was among the nominees.

Zac Brown Band's "Knee Deep", sans Jimmy Buffett in person, was really good. It would have been ever better if Buffett had been there.

And The Band Perry had a new intro to "You Lie." They used their harmonies and strong vocals in a strong performance of that song and also won an award for "If I Die Young," which I believe is one of the best (and most unique) country songs of the year. The melodical set-up, along with the unorthodox subject matter for a young female singer.

And Jason Aldean did "Dirt Road Anthem" with Ludacris. Let me tell you something. Whenever Aldean does a collaboration with a non-country artist, it's always country to me because of his distinct Georgia voice. Maybe not Marty Stuart Jam at the Ryman Country, but it's not pop either.

And the Aldean-Ludacris performance was the country/non-country collaboration highlight of the show. They had good chemistry on stage, and it's good to see country and other genres collaborate, because fans these days usually listen to more than one type of music.

Ludacris fans could start listening to Jason Aldean, and vice versa.

While pop-country music is good for the genre because it brings exposure (and more fans), it's important not to forget the genre's roots.

For example, I started listening to mainstream country radio 15 years ago, and that was a gateway to traditional country, Bluegrass, Cajun, Texas Country and Western Swing.

Who's to say that wouldn't be the case for someone else?

Traditional Country will always have a special place in my heart, and Stuart is trying to preserve that type of music.

Stuart, his band "The Fabulous Superlatives", and their guests all played for charity (MusiCares) and Dolly Parton's Imagination Library (a literacy program).

Stuart and his band were great, but Parton stole the show. I always knew she was a big star, and admired her. But there's nothing like seeing her in person.

She played about five songs, from her best-known song, "I Will Always Love You" - which was No. 1 37 years ago, this week. To "The Coat of Many Colors", a song about growing her youth in the mountains of East Tennessee.

She closed the set with an energetic "9-to-5", and brought down the house at the historic Ryman.

Legendary Cajun Musician Doug Kershaw and Bluegrass phenom Ricky Skaggs was excellent too, and "Diggy Liggy Lo" has been running through my head all morning.

Unfortunately, we left Stuart's Jam around 12:15, because we'd woken up at 5 a.m. for the flight to Nashville.

Note to self: Arrive on Tuesday (or later, Wednesday) so I can catch and appreciate the whole show.

Both shows were great and unique in their own way, but I think I'm going to have to tip my hat to Mr. Stuart and his late night Jam. An awesome time and a great cause - along with some of the most talented people in country music.

:: Posted at 10:35 AM by Mike Sudhalter ::
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