Southern darlings ruled the Academy of Country Music Awards on Wednesday night with Lee Ann Womack and the Dixie Chicks claiming three honors each at the Universal Amphitheatre.
The Dixie Chicks took home honors for Entertainer of the Year, top vocal group and best video, marking a career total of seven awards from the academy.
Womack won for best single, song and vocal event for the song “I Hope You Dance,” which she performed with the neo-country band Sons of the Desert.
“I want to thank country radio,” Womack said, accepting the award for vocal event of the year. “Thank you, thank you, thank you for playing that song so many times.”
“I Hope You Dance” also won for best song, which recognized songwriters Mark D. Sanders and Tia Sellers.
Martie Siedel accepted the Dixie Chicks honors alone, saying bandmate Natalie Maines was busy taking care of her newborn baby and sister Emily Erwin was “trying to have a baby of her own.”
“I’m not going solo,” Siedel joked. “I feel kinda naked up here without my best friends.”
The band members won their second award for the video to their comical revenge fantasy “Goodbye Earl,” which featured Dennis Franz as a ne’er-do-well husband who gets knocked off for his abusiveness.
The vocal group award marked the third consecutive win in the category for the all-women band.
The often-snubbed Toby Keith won twice, including album of the year for “How Do You Like Me Now?!”, which featured his in-your-face ballad of the same name. He also won for best male vocalist.
“How do you like me NOW?” a smiling Keith hollered, flexing his muscles onstage as he accepted the first honor. “I’ve waited a long time for this! Nine years!”
Award favorite Faith Hill won for female vocalist, her seventh win from the Academy of Country Music.
“Thank you, God, for putting music in all our hearts,” she said, casting her brown eyes skyward.
The 18-year-old country-pop star LeAnn Rimes was host of the 36th annual awards show.
Rimes, who was 13 in 1996 when she scored the hit “Blue,” is currently involved in lawsuits against her father and record company over a contract she signed as a minor.
The singer mocked her legal woes and recent tabloid headlines with a parody of Kenny Rogers’ broken-heart hit “Lucille.”
“They say she’s dyslexic, that she’s anorexic, that she’s gone and run off with a fan,” Rimes sang mockingly. “Tell me what’s going on with LeAnn.”
Rogers accepted the special Career Achievement Award, which is reserved for artists who have made a comeback after falling out of fashion.
He thanked his fifth wife, Wanda, who beamed at him from the audience. “Wanda was with me when nobody cared,” he told the crowd. “That was a long time, wasn’t it?”
Backstage, Rogers said he understood why he suffered a lag in his career – he wasn’t breaking new ground with his music.
“Most of the guys who are running radio stations now weren’t even born when I had my last hit,” he said. That changed this year with his hit song “Buy Me a Rose,” the 22nd No. 1 single of his career.
The Career Achievement honor has been presented only three other times in the show’s history, in 1977 for Johnny Paycheck, 1986 for Carl Perkins and 1993 for John Anderson.
The Pioneer Award was presented to Barbara Mandrell for expanding the boundaries of country music.
“I don’t cry very much from sadness but I cry from joy,” an emotional Mandrell said backstage. The singer, who has retired from performing to take care of her children, joked, “I have never worked so hard in my life for no money.”
She said she has no plans to return to music.
Nominees and winners of the Academy of Country Music Awards are selected by nearly 3,000 voting members of the Academy of Country Music.