They gathered to honor CMT's five artists of the year, but the night was more like a celebration of music without borders.
CMT feted Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, Lady Antebellum, Jason Aldean and Zac Brown Band at the taping of "2010 CMT Artists Of The Year" on Tuesday night, and befitting a show dedicated to genre-bending acts there were unusual juxtapositions all over.
You could find Smokey Robinson and Kid Rock hugging in the crowd, Joe Perry turning up the volume on a version of Jason Aldean's "My Kinda Party" that had Swift, members of her band and friend Hayley Williams of Paramore dancing around their table, and Maroon 5 laying down a reggae-flavored backbeat over Swift's love song "Mine."
"I want to thank Maroon 5 for coming out here and taking on such a wordy, girlie song," Swift said.
The band pulled it off, though, and it fit the theme of the show, which airs Friday night. So did the teaming of Adele and Darius Rucker on Lady Antebellum's omnipresent hit "Need You Now" and the Zac Brown Band's invitation to Amos Lee to join them on "Colder Weather." CMT looked at album and ticket sales and other traditional success markers when choosing its artists of the year. But as host Kevin Costner noted: "It's not about the numbers, it's about the impact."
And the five acts honored have rewritten the rules, spearheading a new sonic diversity in country music that has spilled over traditional borders into the worlds of pop music, jam bands and classic rock.
Swift has led that charge, setting records, sweeping awards and opening doors for the success of acts like Lady Antebellum, the best-selling country act so far in 2010. Underwood rode an unquestioned bond with her fans to new heights in a career that had already seen plenty. The Zac Brown Band defied classification with appearances at Bonnaroo and the CMA Music Festival on the same weekend and Aldean finally got a little bit of recognition for his quiet rise to the top.
He took advantage of just his second acceptance speech to honor his parents and to correct an omission from the last time he held a trophy on stage, thanking his producer Michael Knox. He didn't stop there, though.
"I don't get to do this a lot, so I may be a while," Aldean said. "Y'all bear with me."