It says something about the country music business when Garth Brooks is the biggest concert attraction in 2017.
Could it have something to do with support for young, aspiring artists? Or the staying power someone from the 1980s and 1990s still has?
Whatever the prognosis, next week’s Country Music Awards should either be a vote of confidence for the past or a peek at who’s likely to pop in the next year.
Look for Brooks to repeat as Entertainer of the Year. Even though Keith Urban is due, Garth is such an 800-pound gorilla in this world, it’d be a shame if he was denied. Need proof? How difficult was it for you to get tickets to his recent shows in Lincoln, Nebraska, and Sioux Falls, South Dakota?
Similarly, Miranda Lambert hasn’t become an afterthought (like others in her Female Vocalist category). She still plays well with industry regulars and could come home the night’s biggest winner – even though she had better hits a handful of years ago.
If there’s an artist to watch, it’s Thomas Rhett. Steeped in the past (his dad is country singer Rhett Akins – who’s also nominated) and married to the future (he’s one of the few artists willing to try new things), he could come home with several of the biggest awards.
Who will win? Your guess is as solid as anyone’s. Luckily, Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood are hosting, so if the results aren’t all that spectacular, at least the opening monologue will be.
By category, here’s how the races shake down:
SONG OF THE YEAR: Taylor Swift is in this category (for writing Little Big Town’s “Better Man”). If the hatchet is buried (and some say it isn’t), she should win. The song was good and it checked a lot of boxes. If Lambert is going to march through the night, this is where she could start. PREDICTION: “Better Man” (with “Blue Ain’t Your Color” on deck)
SINGLE OF THE YEAR: While the same five songs are nominated in both song and single categories, it’s not likely one will win both. The CMA likes to spread these things around. So, look for “Blue Ain’t Your Color” to tower here if it doesn’t win in other slot. That would give Keith Urban a prize, which he deserves.
DUO OF THE YEAR: Florida Georgia Line has a lock on this one most years. But Brothers Osborne could be spoilers. Still, FGL had a big album, so there’s that.
GROUP OF THE YEAR: It still looks like Little Big Town’s to lose. Old Dominion is a pretender, but with “Better Man” in the arsenal, LBT is hard to beat.
MUSICAL EVENT OF THE YEAR: Old (Willie Nelson and Glen Campbell); new (Thomas Rhett and Maren Morris) or married (Tim McGraw and Faith Hill). That’s the choice, unless you think Pink and Kenny Chesney or Eric Church and Rhiannon Giddens deserve it. PREDICTION: “Craving You” with Rhett and Morris.
MUSIC VIDEO: This is usually the consolation prize for someone who doesn’t win another category. But there are strong contenders, visually, and if Rhett is going to make a move, this could be in his wheelhouse. “Blue Ain’t Your Color” looked good, too, and Lambert has experience in the category. PREDICTION: Going out on a limb with “Craving You,” which means it won’t get Musical Event.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR: Miranda Lambert. She put a lot into “The Weight of These Wings” and it shows.
FEMALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR: Miranda Lambert. Maren Morris or Kelsea Ballerini might have a shot, but they didn’t have the career album Miranda did. One more time, folks.
MALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR: Keith Urban should win this. Chris Stapleton probably will win this. But Thomas Rhett could win it. That leaves Dierks Bentley and Eric Church on the outside, as usual. MY CHOICE: Thomas Rhett.
ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR: Garth. Garth. Garth. (But an Urban vote wouldn’t be bad.)
The Country Music Association Awards airs at 7 p.m. Nov. 8 on ABC