Manhattan Hosts the Country Music Awards

Mike Pesca dons his Stetson cowboy hat and saddles up his microphone, headed to the Country Music Awards. The site of the awards show indicates just how far "country" music has gone mainstream — it's being held for the first time in New York City.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Welcome back, you listeners in New York, where for the last few weeks, DAY TO DAY has been pre-empted by country music. This in advance of last night's 39th annual Country Music Awards ceremony which was held in Madison Square Garden, the first time it's ever been held outside Nashville. NPR's Mike Pesca went to the ceremony and brought back this report.

MIKE PESCA reporting:

Country music always tells a story, and last night's tale of red carpets, cheering fans and Dixie divas in designer dresses was the melody, front and center, the thing you noticed first. But the backbeat was provided by an undercurrent running through the ceremony, which was the location of the event itself. Outside Madison Square Garden, Lance Lamanz(ph) was surveying the usual crush of commuters. He was an honoree as the program director of radio station KSSN in Little Rock, Arkansas. He loves the big city, but says some in the country community wondered if coming here was a case of the CMAs ignoring the pretty girl called Nashville for the glamorous lady known as New York.

Mr. LANCE LAMANZ (Program Director, KSSN): Everyone's kind of torn on why we're here. Do we belong here? The bottom line is it's about the dollars and they need--record companies need to sell a lot of records, obviously, in the largest market in the world. So that's why we're here.

PESCA: Indeed, the ceremony went out of its way to juxtapose country stars...

(Soundbite of CMA awards show)

Unidentified Announcer: ...Garth Brooks, Kenny Chesney...

PESCA: ...with New York icons.

(Soundbite of CMA awards show)

Unidentified Announcer: ...James Gandolfini, Billy Joel...

PESCA: Tony Soprano once owned a horse, but what's James Gandolfini doing at the Country Music Awards? And the last time New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg was greeted this warmly by a crowd of people wearing cowboy hats at Madison Square Garden, George W. Bush was about to receive the Republican renomination for president. But that time, fiddlers didn't play Bloomberg onto the stage.

(Soundbite of CMA awards show)

Mr. KIX BROOKS (Brooks & Dunn): His honor, the mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg.

(Soundbite of applause; music)

Mayor MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (New York): Thanks, Kix.

PESCA: Michael Bloomberg and Kix Brooks of Brooks & Dunn--they go together like lox and grits. But many of the artists honored paid homage to their time in New York. Country music events have been going on for over a week, and good crowds have been turning out for most. But the comments of newly inducted Country Music Hall of Fame member Glen Campbell illustrate where New York is on the radar of a lot of country musicians.

Mr. GLEN CAMPBELL: I know there's not a country radio station here, and I thought--I didn't know that until today, that there wasn't a country music station in New York.

PESCA: There's some thinking that satellite radio and country music cable stations can overcome this lack of terrestrial radio, but fan Sandy Stevens of Holyoke, Massachusetts, disagrees. She says the country radio station in her town is pretty much the glue of the entire country scene.

Ms. SANDY STEVENS (Country Music Fan): The station that I listen is KIX 97.9. And they are bringing in all kinds of newcomers constantly for after-work parties. We get to meet them. They introduce them to the area where, you know, there wasn't a whole lot happening in Massachusetts before. They're the ones who introduced us to them. You know, we can take it from there, but we have to hear it the first time somewhere.

PESCA: Overall, Recording Industry Association of America statistics show that country music is in fairly good shape. Though sales of the genre always trail rock, there has been a slight uptick as of late, so country music now accounts for over 13 percent of all music sold, its biggest piece of the pie in five years. If you separate R&B from rap, as the RIAA does, country was the second-most popular genre last year. And next year for fans of traditional country in a traditional setting, there's good news. The 40th annual CMA Awards will be in Nashville, the Manhattan of central Tennessee. Mike Pesca, NPR News, New York.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) And if you want a little bang in your ying-yang, if you want a little zing in your zang-zang, if you want a little ting in your tang-tang, come along, come along, come along. Yeah, we're coming to New York City.

Thank you.

(Soundbite of applause)

CHADWICK: DAY TO DAY is a production of NPR News with contributions from slate.com. I'm Alex Chadwick.

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