54th CMA Awards, hosts Reba McEntire and Darius Rucker adapt to COVID pandemic

NASHVILLE -- It's called Country Music's Biggest Night, and once again, Nashville's biggest stars are gathering for the 54th annual CMA Awards seen on this ABC station.

The show, hosted by Reba McEntire and Darius Rucker, will look a bit different this year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the need for social distancing, but there will be no shortage of great music.

A year ago, Nashville's Bridgestone Arena packed in with tens of thousands of fans. They will absent this year, and the show will take place in a much smaller venue -- but the spirit of the event remains the same with the hosts providing a link to past celebrations.

McEntire won her first CMA Award 36 years ago, and Rucker was dubbed Best New Artist of 2009 after a long career in pop music with his band Hootie and the Blowfish.

He gave an unforgettable acceptance speech, thanking country music for taking a chance "on a pop singer from Charleston, South Carolina, and God bless you for that. Thank you so much."

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The two hosts are part of the great continuum of country music, which makes them the perfect hosts for this show.

"It's going to be different," Rucker said. "But we're trying to bring the country music family together, and I love that."

An awards show in the time of COVID-19 presents a challenge to the Country Music Association: How to gather, give out awards, and play music while still following proper protocol.

"We're the CMA Awards," Executive Producer Robert Deaton said. "It had to look like us and feel like us."

He came up with two stages in a room, with a place to give out trophies in the middle.

The space resembles a cabaret or club setting, and it's a back-to-the-future approach.

"It really harkens back to the very first CMA Awards in 1967, that was an awards banquet and dinner," CMA Chief Executive Officer Sarah Trahern said. "Obviously, it's grown to be a much bigger show, but I think the intimacy and the energy it will create in the room with Robert's design is great."

The CMA has brought the stars to Nashville for a party with each other, while we watch.

"For me being a host, I get to see my friends and meet new people in the music business that I haven't got to meet before," McEntire said. "There's 23 brand new first time nominees this year for the CMA."

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Organizers will continue the show's unique pairings of artists from different genres of music that have become part of its tradition. ABC's promos promise "epic collaborations from your favorite artists you can only see here."

The show is also looking to meet the moment and embrace the move towards greater diversity.

"The efforts are really starting to be made," Rucker said. "Sure, country music could be more diverse if these efforts were being made 20 years ago, but they're being made now."

And he is, of course, very much in the vanguard of these welcome changes.

Two of the artists who were supposed to perform had to call in sick when they tested positive for COVID-19, but the show will go on without them.

McEntire is hopeful it will work out so well that the broadcast can serve as a model for other awards shows.
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