Before this years ceremony, the CMA threatened to remove journalists asking about the Las Vegas shooting. Despite a reversal, it raises questions about the industrys close connections with the NRA
In the years since the Dixie Chicks were exiled to the Island Of Misfit Toys for denouncing George Bush, the country music industry has fostered a fear-driven culture, in which artists have shied away from making statements that might be perceived as controversial.
Indicative of this mindset is an utterly tone-deaf policy issued by the Country Music Association (CMA) roughly a week in advance of the 51st annual CMA Awards ceremony. Claiming that they wanted to focus on celebrating the year in country music, the CMA decreed that any journalists who broached topics of last months Las Vegas shooting, gun control, or any other politically unsavory subject when interviewing artists on the events red carpet would risk having their press credentials revoked and being removed from the grounds by security.
When the policy was announced, writers in the country music community expressed their outrage on social media, but the CMA remained silent for more than 24 hours. It only reversed its policy after a handful of artists including the female vocalist of the year nominee Maren Morris and the CMA Awards long-standing co-host, Brad Paisley, in addition to acts like Margo Price, Will Hoge, Gretchen Peters, and Ryan Adams, who typically are not offered a seat at the CMAs table denounced it. The apology statement was, predictably, half-hearted, insisting that the intent of the restriction on the press questions had been misinterpreted.
By that point, the CMAs had lost control of the conversation and had no way to feign any type of moral high ground. Outside of CMTs Artists of the Year special, which focuses on only a small group of acts, the CMA Awards ceremony will be the first high-profile event for the country music community since the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history occurred during the Route 91 Harvest festival, a country music concert series in Las Vegas. The CMA Awards broadcast presented the most prominent opportunity for the country music industry, as represented by its most prestigious and most visible guild, to offer a forum for healing or, at the very least, some type of collective acknowledgment of the devastation wrought by the attack.
Instead, the CMA initially opted to issue a statement that journalists would be punished for bringing up the attack at all.
That decision raises the question of what the CMA was so worried about. In the aftermath of the Route 91 Harvest festival shooting, the number of artists who have made definitive statements has been relatively small. Morris recorded a studio version of her song Dear Hate, long a fan-favorite at her live shows, and donated the proceeds to charity. Eric Church gave a moving performance of a new song, Why Not Me, a thoughtful and well-written tribute to the victims of the shooting, during his gig at the Grand Ole Opry a week afterward. Jason Aldean, the artist who was on stage when Stephen Paddock opened fire on the festivals crowd, opened Saturday Night Lives 7 October episode with a cover of Tom Pettys I Wont Back Down, paying homage concurrently to both the late Petty and the shooting victims.
Beyond that, the acts who have made the most forceful and potentially controversial statements regarding country musics ties to Americas gun culture were never going to be featured prominently on the CMA broadcast in the first place. Price, Rosanne Cash, and Caleb Keeter, the guitarist for the Josh Abbott Band who shared a post about how the shooting had caused him to change his views on gun control, arent among the nominees or presenters for the show. While a few artists including the A-listers Thomas Rhett and Florida Georgia Line have distanced themselves from the National Rifle Associations NRA Country promotional push, the 2017 CMA Award nominees Luke Combs and Jon Pardi both remain affiliated with NRA Country.