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The CMAs and Bon Jovi

Country Standard Time Editorial, November 2005

The CMAs welcome Bon Jovi? The Country Music Association awards are billed as "Country Music's Biggest Night." There's a lot of hoopla and festivities surrounding the annual event. Perhaps none more so than this year because the awards will be held in New York City in November on an apparent one-time basis.

There are many concerts planned with the likes of Dierks Bentley, Shooter Jennings, Lee Ann Womack playing around the Big Apple.

As for the awards themselves, can anyone guess what Sir Elton John, Billy Joel, Paul Simon and James Gandolfini of "The Sopranos" fame have to do with country music?

Still scratching your head?

We are too because we can't understand their involvement with country music. But on the big night, Elton will sing with Dolly Parton. Simon will sing with Willy Nelson and present the Song of the Year award. Joel will present the entertainer of the year award, the biggest award of the night. Gandolfini also is a presenter.

Bon Jovi will perform "Who Says You Can't Go Home" from their new album "Have a Nice Day" with Sugarland front woman Jennifer Nettles, something the groups did recently on CMT Crossroads.

About the only non-country folks who deserve to hit the stage are actors Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix. And that's because they play June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash in the movie "Walk the Line" out in November. They do not confine their activities to acting either as Witherspoon and Phoenix both actually sang the songs in the movie and dominate the soundtrack.

CMA head Ed Benson explained the mix this way: "The interest from the artistic community to be involved this year really demonstrates the excitement about the CMA Awards and overall appeal and universal quality of the format. Country Music crosses genres and touches people with stories that speak to the heart and performances that touch the human spirit."

It was later said by the CMA that Joel's involvement in country was supported by the fact that Garth Brooks recorded his song "Shameless." Did that make Joel part of country music or was it really a case of Brooks veering more towards the pop end of country? Bon Jovi's involvement? Jon Bon Jovi has written songs in Nashville.

Those are pretty strong ties to country music apparently.

Womack was quoted as wondering why non-country performers were added to the Country Music Association awards. That takes some courage to do so, and she is to be applauded for saying how she feels.

In reality, the decisions made were based on the idea of trying to grab as big an audience as possible and marketing by all concerned. It seems that country isn't strong enough to stand on its two legs and needs folks like Joel and John to help prop it up.

Doing so could expand the crowd for one night anyway, but in the long term the music has to speak for itself. Having Bon Jovi and other non-country participants is the wrong decision.

Maybe it's time for the Country Music Association to head back to Nashville.