It's time for a "draft Blake" movement. And we suspect Blake already drinks a lot of draft, but you know what we mean.
Monday night's inaugural American Country Music Awards drew mixed reactions from the music industry and fans. Whatever its merits or limitations were, we do have an idea that would make for an altogether more entertaining viewing experience in year two: Fox should just get Blake Shelton to move his after-party up by a few hours and broadcast two hours of that.
For the thousand or so people who attended the late-night jam at Las Vegas' House of Blues, it was the party of the year, lasting three and a half nonstop hours with rarely a lull in the energy. Many of the artists who'd been on the ACAs a few hours earlier showed up, including Reba, Easton Corbin, the Band Perry, Luke Bryan, Jerrod Niemann, and Jason Aldean. A few who hadn't been on the show also put in appearances, including—naturally—Shelton's fiancee, Miranda Lambert, members of Lady Antebellum, and Kelly Clarkson. At Shelton's behest, most of the guests sang an oldie as well as one of their own hits. And rarely has an audience gotten quite so much beyond their money's worth.
Moreover, Shelton is just one hell of a host—country music's own version of Vegas mainstay Dean Martin, as far as someone who can handle his liquor (real or pretending) while also handling a slew of irreverent one-liners. Trade Adkins did okay as host at the ACAs, but if the show gets picked up for a year 2, its salvation might lay in getting someone like Shelton to not just emcee and toss some wicked asides but also do some booking and set up some surprise duets. He alone might be the guy who could transform the ACAs into something appealingly like the loosy-goosy Golden Globes instead of the dully tight-as-a-drum American Music Awards.
For anyone with a long memory, this was reminiscent of the couple of times John Rich hosted a jam session at House of Blues after the ACMs, back in the heyday of the Muzik Mafia. But Shelton is such a consistently amusing presence that he may be country's most natural host.
And his love for vintage country—or semi-vintage country—lends itself well to a jam situation. "If the thought has crossed your mind tonight, 'I wish he would stop playing old songs'... if that thought has crossed your mind one time tonight, you can kiss my ass!" Shelton bellowed early in the epic proceedings. That was around the time he covered "I Love a Rainy Night"; later in the evening, he'd get to Jerry Reed's "Eastbound and Down" (the Smokey and the Bandit theme) as well as vintage Conway Twitty. He dueted with Nan Kelly—"not just a GAC host, she's a bad-ass singer!"—on the Kenny/Dolly chestnut "Islands in the Stream."
Late in the show, after an extended absence, he reappeared with tousled, bed-head hair, saying, "I have been drinking. And my stylist has gone home." But he was trying to make the mousse-gone-wrong look work for him, thematically. "My love for '80s music exists in my hair."
Eighties covers were indeed the common touchstone of the night, though covers reached back to the '60s, with Easton Corbin doing Merle Haggard's "Workin' Man Blues," to the '70s, with the Band Perry nailing Queen's "Fat Bottomed Girls," and the '90s, with a Lambert/Clarkson duet of Deana Carter's "Strawberry Wine."
Jason Aldean, Lady A's Charles Kelley, and Luke Bryan joined up as a trio to do the Steve Miller Band's "Space Cowboy"—with an impromptu sprinkling of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Maybe these three will be forming a Master Antebellum side project?
Laura Bell Bundy busted out "Queen of Hearts," followed by a duet with boyfriend Andy Davis on a sultry soul medley of "Let's Get It On," "Mr. Big Stuff," and "It's Your Thing." "Andy Davis is a great singer AND A GREAT KISSER," she bragged to the crowd. "That's bull---," retorted Shelton. "I've kissed him." It was that kind of a night.
Reba and her recent protege, Clarkson, revived the former superstar's "Why Haven't I Heard from You." Corbin was compelled by Shelton to cover George Strait's "You Look So Good in Love." Evan sang not only his recent "I Pray for You" but an acoustic version of Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World."
The Band Perry were only going to do "Fat Bottomed Girls," but Shelton said, "You're fixin' to die young if you don't get your asses back out here and do THE NUMBER ONE SONG IN THE COUNTRY." It was that kind of a night, too.
Besides dueting with Clarkson, Lambert took her own turn as a solo artist near the end of the night, segueing effortlessly from a bluesy take on Tracy Chapmans "Give Me One Reason" to Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll" to her own "Kerosene."
You might say this kind of parade of loosened up stars lends itself to a club more than an awards show. In answer to that, I'd say: Look at the Grammys, and how they've made nearly the entire telecast about star pairings and even cover tributres instead of trotting out the same hits as production numbers. If the ACAs took a lesson from the surprising nature of the performances at the Grammys and the liquored up atmosphere of the Globes, they could find a niche in the country awards circuit. Shelton's HOB party showed he's just the man to shepherd both those things.
Closing up shop at close to 12:30 in the morning, with no visible loss of attendance since the 9:00 start time, Shelton said, in a rare exultation without any zinger attached, "Hope I'll see y'all next year!" With any luck, or wisdom, it'll be as the host of the actual ACAs as well as the after-party.