CMT Awards Taps Nashville’s Energy for Unique Vibe

Awards shows frequently take on the style of those being honored: The Oscars are stately, the Tonys flamboyant, the Golden Globes unpredictable. But the team that will produce the CMT Music Awards, to be held June 10 at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, knows that the Music City event is as much about those in the seats as it is about those on the stage.

Since the event’s inception in 2002 as the CMT Flameworth Video Music Awards (and renamed with its current moniker in 2005), the aim of the performers — this year including such radio favorites as Carrie Underwood, Florida Georgia Line and Keith Urban, among many others — has always been clear: to bring down the house for the fans who nominated them.

And the aim of the artisans who work on the awards has been to create the physical surroundings and production values that capture show’s unique vibe.

Production designer Anne Brahic, who first worked on the show in 2009, is a veteran of music-based kudocasts, including the “MTV Video Music Awards” and “VH1 Rock Honors.” She attributes the event’s singular sensibility to its Music City setting, which distinguishes it from awards shows taking place in Los Angeles or New York. “The Nashville crowd loves these artists, and the artists are really performing for them,” Brahic says. “The energy in the crowd is half the show.”

Brahic’s design focuses on harnessing that intensity. “It’s all about getting people into every nook and cranny of the stage, and bringing the stage far into the house,” she says.

Joe Lewis, segment producer for the red-carpet portion of the program, has produced carpet events for shows ranging from the Oscars to the “Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.” He agrees that the CMT awards feed on the tradition of Nashville, but notes that today’s country music landscape is vastly different from the early days of the CMA kudos, when acts like Johnny Cash and Eddy Arnold were honored.

Lewis strives to make the atmosphere on the carpet “similar to country music right now,” which means that part of the evening must reflect the youthful buzz of the crowded honky-tonks that populate the city.

The promotional campaign leading up to the big night tapped Music City’s iconic venues, announcing the nominated musicvideos on the CMT website by posting photos of fans holding signs in front of places like Tootsies and the Bluebird Cafe.

As is the case with other awards shows, a priority for the small army of artisans behind the scenes is to infuse the production with a unified feel. “Part of the challenge is to be on-brand,” Lewis says. “You have to be sure the red-carpet show has a creative through-line to the main show.”

Naturally, the nominees, like Underwood, Darius Rucker, Kenny Chesney and Lady Antebellum, will be a focus for Lewis, Brahic and their teams. But Brahic explains that the program is performance-driven. “It’s a very heavily video-based show,” she says. “It always has been, because country artists are there to do their music, and not there for a lot of gimmicks and big effects, so it’s about taking the video and molding it into architectural shapes and making it interesting.”

If done right, the cumulative effect of the night can be infectious, even for the pros helping to create it.

“After doing this show for so many years,” Brahic says, “I have become a country music fan.”

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