This two-hour celebration of country music’s brightest lights is filled with tributes, history and performances wrapped in a something-for-everyone presentation. Viewers not immersed in the genre probably won’t tune in, while those who do won’t see or hear anything they haven’t experienced before, but should enjoy it nonetheless.
Program, part of the Country Music Assn.’s 35th anniversary salute, made news during its taping when Ricky Van Shelton refused to accede to producers’ request to sing in what he deemed an inappropriate key. Security escorted Shelton off the Grand Ole Opry grounds and Waylon Jennings later joined the fray, calling for the formation of an artists-rights organization to deal with such matters. CMA remained tight-lipped but said it “regretted the incident.”
Show is divided into segments that salute the roots of country music, with performers who intro the artists also wrapping up the segs with performances of their own.
Travis Tritt spearheads the ’50s- and ’60s-era tribute, which includes healthy doses of Elvis. Reba McEntire bumpers the women in country music segment , which fittingly opens with Wynnona groove-rockin’ to “A Little Bit of Love” and closes with McEntire doing “Take It Back.” An awe-inspiring performance by Mary-Chapin Carpenter contributes to making this segment the show’s best.
A tribute to the late Hank Williams Sr., intro’d by Glen Campbell — who is about to release a new album via Liberty Records — is highlighted by a haunting , film noir-like performance of “Midnight in Montgomery” by a mustache-less Alan Jackson.
Stalwarts of the genre may grimace and tune out during Lyle Lovett’s spoken word/vocal perf with his Large Band, or when they notice that the big guns of country music’s new guard, Garth Brooks and Billy Ray Cyrus, are conspicuous by their absence. Also missing are the old-guard Georges, Strait and Jones.
The Dolly Parton tribute segment is led by Kenny Rogers, who sings and speaks alongside plenty of retrospective film clips.
Parton is the first recipient of the CMA’s Country Music Honors, which honor her contributions to the entertainment industry.