The Hodgepodge: 2015 CMA Awards Reactions & Thoughts

Chris Stapleton Traveller

Last night the 49th annual CMA Awards took place where all kinds of awards and performances took place. There were certainly a fair share of ups and downs throughout the night. So let’s get to what I thought of each part of the show. We have to start though with the biggest and best of the show…

Chris Stapleton Shines Bright & Wins Big

Without a doubt the biggest story of the 2015 CMA Awards was Chris Stapleton. Going into it many of us critics and his fans didn’t give him much of a chance to win a single award. We just thought it was neat he was even nominated. One of the first awards given out is New Artist of the Year. Lo and behold Chris Stapleton wins it, beating out the likes of Sam Hunt, Thomas Rhett, Maddie & Tae and Kelsea Ballerini. This was an amazing feat. Then they get to Album of the Year, the one award everyone thought Stapleton had an outside chance at winning. He wins this too (with a Dave Cobb appearance too). This is turning into a euphoric show for Stapleton, his fans and fans of traditional country everywhere. He was nominated for one more award, Male Vocalist of the Year, going against the likes of Blake Shelton and Eric Church. And he wins again! A year ago many never even heard of Chris Stapleton, unless you were country music insider or songwriter. Now he’s beating out the biggest and hottest names of the genre and winning three major award on national television.

This wasn’t all that happened with Chris Stapleton on this show. Stapleton and Justin Timberlake delivered the undisputed best performance of the night when they sang Stapleton’s “Tennessee Whiskey” and Timberlake’s “Drink You Away” together. The entire place erupted after the performance and social media was ablaze. Both Miranda Lambert and Luke Bryan mentioned Stapleton in their acceptance speeches for their wins. As of this writing Stapleton has the #1 selling album on all of iTunes and “Tennessee Whiskey” is #2 on the all-genre chart, only trailing the record-breaking Adele song “Hello.” This night and this show was all about Chris Stapleton. It was a historic night not only in the career of Stapleton, but perhaps all of country music. Think about it. Stapleton walked away with three awards, while Sam Hunt and Thomas Rhett walked away with nothing. We could be looking back on this night as one of the biggest moments in country music history and could signify a drastic shift in mainstream country and country radio.

This couldn’t happen to a better person in Chris Stapleton, who was in tears when he accepted his third award of the night. I know I was teary eyed with several others watching too. He’s such a humble and hard-working guy who puts his heart and soul into all of his music. The 2015 CMA Awards was the Chris Stapleton show and he was deserving of every bit of adulation he has received.

Little Big Town Wins Awards for Song of the Year, Single of the Year & Group of the Year

If it wasn’t for Chris Stapleton, this night would have been about Little Big Town, who took home three awards themselves. This wasn’t a big surprise at all, considering “Girl Crush” was one of the biggest hits in all of music this year. I didn’t see it winning all of these awards, but I probably should have seen it coming. I don’t mind it winning at all, as it’s better than 90% of the other stuff on country radio. Little Big Town needs to savor this though because I don’t see them ever having this big of a hit ever again (similar to Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now”). Their performance of the song was also one of the better ones of the night.

Hank Williams Jr. & Eric Church Open With “Are You Ready For The Country”

The show kicked off with Hank Jr. and Eric Church singing the Neil Young-penned “Are You Ready For The Country” and it wasn’t a bad performance. It wasn’t either’s best performance ever, but they were in-synch and they delivered for the most part. It’s the first single for Williams under the NASH Icon label and with Church being a part of the song might give it a good chance of getting radio play. Out of everyone in the mainstream to re-do this song with, Church was probably the best pick for Williams. And hey it’s definitely country music, which is a step in the right direction. This wasn’t the only big moment for Church of the night…

Eric Church Surprises The World With Brand New Album

In addition Church caught all of us off-guard and released a brand new album titled Mr. Misunderstood. His fan club had all received copies of it in the mail on Tuesday afternoon, which was the first inkling of it even coming out. Maybe he was inspired by Strait? Regardless this is an album many will be listening to and discussing in the coming week, including yours truly. Church may have only walked away with one award for the night, but this surprise album will surely be one of the buzzing stories in country music.

Blake Shelton Becomes The Most Hated Artist in Country Music

One of the biggest secondary stories of the night was Blake Shelton’s publicist announcing to the world 20 minutes before the show that he was dating fellow judge on The Voice and pop artist Gwen Stefani. It seems like a douche move to do this right before attending a show where your ex-wife is also attending. This screams Shelton wanting to “win” the breakup and basically rubbing it in Miranda Lambert’s face. It was a disgusting scene to watch and no doubt he pissed off several fans watching. Also if I were him I would avoid the Miranda fans because they were ready to throw daggers on social media.

Miranda Lambert Performs “Bathroom Sink” & Wins Female Vocalist of the Year

Lambert didn’t look too good up there performing “Bathroom Sink.” She definitely isn’t having the best year and you almost wanted to hug her. You can see why the anger for Blake was so high. Lambert was pretty short in her acceptance speech and just looked like she wanted to get off the stage quickly. But she accepted the award wearing a Chris Stapleton shirt and praised him for his big night. Look out for her next record because it could be her best yet.

Zac Brown Band Performs “Beautiful Drug”

This was such a godawful performance and I let everyone on Twitter know it. This song is bad enough at it is and what made it even worse was how flat Brown sounded throughout it. In fact he missed some big notes. The Zac Brown Band fanboys ate it right up, but the rest of us were waiting for it to just end. The good news though is that this song is at a snail’s crawl at country radio right now and we can only hope it flops to slap some sense back into Zac Brown. In my mind it was tied for the worst performance of the night. Speaking of…

Sam Hunt Performs “Take Your Time”

It speaks volumes that Hunt performed his mega-hit from months ago instead of his current single “Break Up In A Small Town.” Just like “Beautiful Drug,” this song is not gaining at all right now at radio. This of course a good sign that maybe country radio is considering dumping this un-country stuff and getting back to actual country music. We can only hope. This was tied for worst performance of the night.

Kacey Musgraves Performs “Dime Store Cowgirl”

This was without a doubt one of the top five performances of the night. Kacey sounded and looked absolutely stunning on the stage and I’m glad they gave her a full performance. Apparently her label has re-sent this song to radio in hopes that it gets a second chance from radio programmers. It’s one of her best songs off of Pageant Material and arguably the best single she has ever released. It deserves a chance, but I’m not confident.

Florida Georgia Line Performs “Confession” 

These two followed Chris Stapleton and Justin Timberlake’s mind-blowing performance with their blandest song yet. It was the most hilarious moment of the night. This is probably going to be their next single, which is a curious choice. They previously said they were taking a break after “Anything Goes” was done at radio, but that song didn’t perform nearly as well as they thought. It’s perhaps a sign that we’ve reached the Nickelback level with them? “Confession” will say a lot about this group’s standing moving forward. They might not be winning anymore Vocal Duo of the Year awards anymore. Also tied for worst performance of the night.

Fall Out Boy & Thomas Rhett Perform Together

Well this happened and I wish it hadn’t. I even enjoy “Uma Thurman,” but it has no business being performed on country awards show. This also tied for worst performance of the night. This is starting to turn into The Pulse.

The Rest

  • Keith Urban performed “Ain’t That America” with John Mellencamp and it was good thanks to Mellencamp mostly. Urban’s performance of “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16” was pretty forgettable, especially after following Church and Williams.
  • The Little Jimmy Dickens tribute was touching and appropriate. Kudos to everyone involved for making that happen.
  • Kenny Chesney performed “Save It For A Rainy Day,” which has dominated country radio recently. It was an okay performance and it did nothing to chance my thoughts about it.
  • I enjoy Carrie Underwood’s “Smoke Break.” But her performance was pretty stilted thanks to the audio. This on the production crew because Carrie’s voice sounded fine as always. It didn’t help she had to follow the absolute euphoria that erupted over Stapleton winning New Artist of the Year.
  • Kelsea Ballerini followed Stapleton winning Album of the Year and it was the most unintentionally comical thing I’ve seen at an awards show.
  • Brad Paisley performed “Country Nation” and it just made me long for his early days when he was singing “Too Country” with George Jones and Whisperin’ Bill Anderson. Bring back the old Brad!
  • Maddie & Tae did not get a full performance, which was a big bummer. But their short, stripped-down performance of “Girl In A Country Song” was really great. Plus they won Music Video of the Year, so they weren’t completely ignored. I’m sure they will be featured more in the future on these shows. Keep the faith in these two.
  • Pentatonix, one of my favorite pop groups, did a short a cappella performance of the Oak Ridge Boys’ “Elvira.” A lot of country folks were making snarky comments about them, but hey it’s their loss if they aren’t familiar with this group.
  • Jason Aldean sounded terrible performing “Gonna Know We Were Here.” I’ve dubbed him the Kim Kardashian of country music.
  • Reba performed with Brooks & Dunn and they still sound pretty good. Bring them back to radio I say.
  • Dierks Bentley performed “Riser” with Lindsey Stirling on violin. Dierks didn’t sound 100% tonight and it wasn’t his best performance. I always enjoy hearing this song though and Stirling getting to perform on the national stage was nice to see too.
  • Luke Bryan won Entertainer of the Year and the world pretty much yawned. But I applaud him for his classy acceptance speech and giving a shout out to Stapleton. This gives you a good idea though how big of a night Stapleton had when nobody cared about Bryan winning this award.


This was one of the best country awards shows I’ve seen in several years. Stapleton having a big night was a huge reason why. But there were also several good, country performances throughout the show and most of the award winners were of quality. Sam Hunt, Thomas Rhett, Cole Swindell, Jason Aldean and Blake Shelton walked away empty-handed. Sure there were some terrible performances too, including all-time awful ones in Zac Brown Band and Thomas Rhett with Fall Out Boy. But this was a night with overwhelming positives. I’ve haven’t been this positive about the future of mainstream country music in a long time. We can only hope this marks a major turning point in the genre returning to its roots and bringing quality artists in Chris Stapleton back to country radio.

Upcoming/Recent Country & Americana Releases

  • Eric Church surprised released his new album during the CMA Awards last night and it’s titled Mr. Misunderstood. We’ll have a review on it soon.
  • Tim McGraw will release his new album Damn Country Music tomorrow. We’ll have review on this early next week.
  • Josh Abbott Band will release their new album Front Row Seat tomorrow.
  • Jeff Crosby & The Refugees will release their new album Waking Days tomorrow.
  • Cam announced last week she will release her debut album Untamed on December 11.
  • Hank Williams Jr. announced he will release his first album under the NASH Icon label on January 15, 2016 and it will be called It’s About Time.

Great Music Currently at Country Radio

The very best of country radio right here in a nice playlist. In order for a song to be added to the list, it must currently be in the top 60 of the Billboard Country Airplay chart, so this will be updated weekly.

Throwback Thursday Song

Brandy Clark – “Stripes” – This past week I decided to go back and give a good listen to Brandy Clark’s 2013 album 12 Stories and I enjoyed it thoroughly. The standout from the album and one of the most popular songs on it is “Stripes,” a song about how a woman won’t shoot her husband for cheating on her because she doesn’t like to wear orange or stripes. This wry humor combined with your standard cheating song was a nice touch and definitely recommend giving this album a listen if you haven’t yet.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

Rise Against The Machine – “Bulls on Parade” – I’m not a big fan of rap metal, but this song just flat-out rocks.

Tweets of the Week

There were a lot of awesome tweets during the CMA Awards. But this has to be featured. For those unfamiliar, Jimmy Kimmel Live has a popular feature called Mean Tweets in which celebrities, artists and even President Obama read mean tweets about themselves. They’re hilarious and I warn you that they can be addicting to watch. Anyway tonight they came out with a country music edition and it’s very funny. In particular I was pumped to see Reginald Spears get featured twice, who has been featured in this space many times. If you’re on Twitter, he’s a must-follow. Anyway just watch this video.

iTunes Review That Rocks

Sam Hunt Isn't Even Bro Country

This was left under Sam Hunt’s new acoustic mix tape album Between The Pines. Like this reviewer above says it’s not country (you’d think acoustic would mean it would be a little country), not even bro country. We’re to the point where bro country is an upgrade. I’m just going to go back to listening to music on the Americana chart.

Thanks for reading and be sure to weigh in below! 

15 thoughts on “The Hodgepodge: 2015 CMA Awards Reactions & Thoughts

  1. Raymond November 5, 2015 / 11:36 am

    Ok what did I think of the CMAS.
    I love the Chris Stapleton love I did. His acceptance speech for male vocalist was great. Like really good.
    Hank Williams Jr and Eric Church performance was great both sounded great and like they were having fun.
    The first part of the Keith Urban performance was great mainly due to John Mellencamp.
    Brad and Carrie were good with their opening. There wasn’t a lot to go off of without sounding like an a-hole. The star wars stick was funny.
    Girl Crush dominance was expected but hey no Sam Hunt winning.
    New Arrist of The Year. This is where I am a little split on. I just wanted a Maddie & Tae speech cause the girls seemed like they should have won.
    Kenny Chesney performace safe forgetful but I still like the song.
    Vocal Duo. No comment. Hopefully Shut Up & Fish becomes a surprise hit.
    FGL performance not bad not great but I have seen worse. Didn’t like the creepy setting of it.
    Kelsea Ballerini performance. Well at least it wasn’t for long.
    Little Big Towns performace I liked it. But can we just move on from Girl Crush already. No offense
    Maddie & Tae should have performed big and performed Shut Up & Fish.
    Eric Church performance was amazing as well. Can’t wait for that album.
    Chris Stapleton and Justin Timberlake performance was amazing.
    Thomas Rhett and Sam Hunt should just leave country music. Please.
    Carrie Underwood sounded ok I guess. She was inaudible occasionally which stinked.
    I feel like with the Thomas Rhett collaboration he looked like he didn’t wanna be there.
    I don’t know I love Brad Paisley performance it was the stupidest thing I have seen but Brad seemed to enjoy himself.
    Blake Shelton I just don’t really care for him at all. Poor Miranda I hope she feels ok she seemed so sad like she wanted to get the hell out of there.
    Carrie should have won she had radio and critical acclaim. Whatever.
    Jason Aldean as the Kim Kardashian sounds about right both talentless and overrated.
    Reba and Brooks & Dunn sounded comfortable.
    Dierks performance was my personal favorite.

    That’s all I got.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Zack November 5, 2015 / 11:52 am


    – Chris F&*king Stapleton for President 2016 please
    – Justin Timberlake and Chris Stapleton……holy shit!
    – Dierks Bentley & Lindsey Stirling were awesome!
    – Blake Shelton, Sam Hunt, and Thomas Rhett got shut out!!!
    – Chris Stapleton
    – Eric Church and Hank Jr. preforming “Are You Ready For The Country”
    – Eric Church’s new song
    – Chris Stapleton
    – Reba and Brooks and Dunn brought a big nostalgia factor to the show…..and I didn’t even grow up with them!
    – Chris Stapleton
    – Miranda Lambert kept her head high. I give her credit for that.
    – The Little Jimmy Dickens tribute!
    – and of course, I can’t forget Chris Stapleton


    – I found out that Fall Out Boy is more country than Thomas Rhett
    – Sam Hunt is apparently NOT leaving country music to go to the church even though he was dressed like a priest
    – The fact that Brian Kelley didn’t have a matching man bun
    – The fact that Brian Kelley didn’t have a Yoakam or Cash shirt on despite them being their biggest influences!
    – I really wanted to see a fight between Chris Stapleton’s beard and Luke Bryan’s skinny jeans 😦

    (As you can tell, I’m being facetious)

    Overall this was a really good show despite the usual lows. But you know what? I was expecting the worst, I really was. The fact that this blew my expectations away is a good sign for country music. It surely wasn’t without its faults, but like I said, I was already expecting them, and there wasn’t nearly as many as I thought there’d be.

    Also, I forgot I had signed up for Eric’s fan club to get concert tickets last year, so I got the vinyl version of his album. I’m really interested to hear your guy’s thoughts.

    Also, will there be a review on Chris Janson’s album? I found it to be pretty average myself, and hard to find words for in a review. I’d give it a light 5 (and this is coming from someone who doesn’t mind “Buy Me A Boat”) Excited for the Tim McGraw review. I personally haven’t heard it, but I know Cobra liked it a lot so that gives me hope.

    You know, I don’t listen to rap metal either, and Rage Against The Machine may be the only band that I like from the genre. I know they’re political, but I honestly like them just because I can rock out to them. “Bulls On Parade” is my favorite song of theirs (that I’ve heard) behind “Snake Charmer”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Josh Schott November 5, 2015 / 11:57 am

      Yes I already have a review on the Janson album and it is set to come out next week.


  3. OfromG November 5, 2015 / 12:07 pm

    Saw the numbers a couple of minutes ago ( 3.8 (18-49) down from 4.5 last year. The show lost 2.3 million viewers.
    FGL, Kelsea Ballaballa, Rhett & Hunt have not enough talent to play any kind of award show except for the Scott Borchetta Nash-Trash Awards.


  4. Ron November 5, 2015 / 12:38 pm

    I thought the mention of Blake and Miranda’s divorce was tacky. I realize it was mostly aimed at Blake and thankfully they didn’t pan over to see Miranda’s reaction but it was very uncomfortable considering its so fresh. OTOH I guess they felt like it was the elephant in the room and needed to be addressed in some way but I would’ve left it at Kermit and Miss Piggy and moved on

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Kevin Davis November 5, 2015 / 3:54 pm

    The audio sounded terrible for several of the performances. As you note, Carrie’s performance was especially disappointing for this reason. The same is true for Miranda’s performance whenever the distorted guitars kicked-in. The reason Stapleton/Timberlake sounded amazing was, in part, because they didn’t have a wall of distortion surrounding them. This is also why Kacey sounded great, even though her vocals fell flat in a few places.

    The big performance highlights were indeed Stapleton, Musgraves, Maddie & Tae, and Williams/Church — and I liked Church’s new song. Too bad that Dierk’s couldn’t pull-off a stronger performance, but (as I have said before) he does not have strong vocals. I still love him. Keith Urban’s performance, after Mellencamp left, was an embarrassment. Somehow he managed to make a terrible song sound even more terrible. My dad stopped watching the CMA’s at that point, completely bewildered. Thomas Rhett is one of the great tragedies of this generation. He has the vocal talent to do some worthwhile country music, but he is wasting it on this soon-to-be-forgotten and embarrassing disco crap.

    I jumped off of my couch when Stapleton won his third award. I was stunned. The album is sold-out on Amazon, and it looks to be #1 in several markets this week. If you look on YouTube, both of the videos for Stapleton/Timberlake’s performance are crushing the other CMA videos for the night. They are both around a million views, compared to under 100,000 views for anyone else. As for LBT winning for “Girl Crush,” I expected at least one win, and I don’t have a problem with them sweeping their categories — given the competition. “Girl Crush” is a good song but nothing special. Without the contrived controversy, they would only have had a chance at winning Group of the Year.

    Sam Hunt won nothing! That was easily the biggest highlight after the dominance of Stapleton!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kevin Davis November 5, 2015 / 7:46 pm

      Oh, I completely forgot about Reba with Brooks & Dunn. That was also a performance highlight. I was pleasantly surprised by their song selection: Reba’s “Why Haven’t I Heard From You” from the mid-90’s and B/D’s “Play Something Country” from ten years ago. Okay, I never cared for the latter song, but it worked very well in this setting, with some solid harmonica work (not in the original recording, if I remember correctly). It was also nice to see everyone singing along in the audience.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Lisandro Berry-Gaviria November 5, 2015 / 6:31 pm

    You’re right about Florida Georgia Line. “Anything Goes” is currently at #55 on the Hot 100, #6 on Hot Country Songs, and #3 on Country Airplay, which I believe makes it their lowest-peaking single on all three charts (assuming that it doesn’t go any higher on any of those charts, which I don’t think it will). I suppose they can blame it on the album cycle being almost over, but it’s obvious they’re really slowing down. I’m not surprised that they’re releasing “Confession,” since that’ll be considered a “deep” and “thoughtful” song, just like “Dirt”…but what I’m really interested in is where they’ll go with their next album.

    Overall I don’t have much to say about the show that hasn’t already been said, but I agree with you that this could signify a turning point in mainstream country. Of course, it doesn’t mean Stapleton and artists like him are going to all of a sudden find huge commercial success as well as the critical acclaim they already have. But I’m optimistic.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. petemarshall724 November 5, 2015 / 8:58 pm

    My opinion about the CMA’s was very good. I like almost all of the performance except for Sam Hunt. I feel sorry for Miranda because she had a not to good of a year because her last 2 songs flopped at radio and the divorce from Blake but she won the female vocalist which was good. I was happy who won and I was shocked and glad that Chris Stapleton won 3 awards last night.


  8. Tom November 5, 2015 / 10:09 pm

    I’m a big ZBB fanboy, and like Beautiful Drug for what it is, but I hate seeing that preformed at the CMAs. There had to be a lot of very casual country fans shaking their heads asking, “what is this”. Had they done Bittersweet or Dress Blues, it would’ve been a huge hit.

    If nothing else, Stapleton showed how silly the Thomas Rhett’s, FGLs and Jason Aldeans looked.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. OfromG November 6, 2015 / 7:09 am

    The awards for Chris Stapleton are a strong sign for Country Radio too: play something COUNTRY!

    But it’s time for a change (or two) for the 2016 CMA Awards. Find better writers or stop with the bad jokes.
    After eight (?) years it’s time for new hosts. A new definition for some categories. “Song Of The Year”-Nominees can’t be “Single Of The Year”-Nominees too (for example). Vocal Duo, Vocal Group, Vocal Event…put duos, trios, groups in one category & change Vocal Events to Best Duet/Feature/Guest-Vocalist.
    It’s a COUNTRY MUSIC Award Show. No more Fall Out Boy, Miss America, Steven Tyler, Hollywood-Actors or Ariana Grande.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Ron November 6, 2015 / 9:39 am

    As of this morning Tennessee Whiskey is still #2 on itunes and Traveller is #6

    Liked by 1 person

  11. NoahHibiscusEaton November 6, 2015 / 10:04 pm

    A lot has been mentioned already over what actually happened at the awards, and I have nothing original to contribute there……………
    but I think it’s also important to zero in on what DIDN’T happen and who was conspicuously absent or relegated to the audience.


    I thought it interesting that Tim McGraw was virtually absent altogether, especially considering the impending release of his latest album and recent chart success. Granted he wasn’t nominated and that single-handedly may explain why. Still, a telling vacancy that speaks volumes.

    Steven Tyler is also pretty much an afterthought at this point. Less than a year ago his debut country album was burning the headlines as a point of discussion. Now, after the lead single flopped hard, you hear nothing about him. He has practically zero momentum, and his absence at the awards underscores that.

    Darius Rucker presented an award, if I recall, but between his lack of face time and underperforming latest single, it’s still remarkable this comes less than two years after “Wagon Wheel” became one of the largest hits of the past ten years that will easily enjoy recurrent/gold airplay for years ahead. How far he has fallen indeed.

    The Band Perry were only briefly displayed on camera, and you can tell they’re disgusted with the state of things on their end. Seriously, Kimberly looked pissy and immature in the brief footage we saw of them at the awards. I know it sucks that their album has been pushed back, but they brought it on themselves and appear in denial in owning up to the lessons here.

    We saw Reba McEntire and Brooks & Dunn, but no Alan Jackson, George Strait or Alabama despite recent releases? That was most unfortunate too.

    Liked by 2 people

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