'Twas the night after CMAs, and all through the house, lots of hungover stars were creeping, even though it was hotter than Taos...
"Nothing like a Christmas special and it's 85 outside," said Brad Paisley, addressing the crowd at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena Thursday night. That was a slight exaggeration of the current Tennessee heat wave, but temperatures have been reaching the balmy high 70s in Music City this week, which, as Paisley indicated, didn't exactly put everyone in a Perry Como mood. Nonetheless, ABC and the Country Music Association were shooting a special called CMA Country Christmas, scheduled to air on Nov. 29.
Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles hosted the occasion, which also featured performances from Reba McIntire, Leann Rimes, Sheryl Crow, Rascal Flatts, Martina McBride, Darius Rucker, Kellie Pickler, and Little Big Town.
It made sense for the parties involved to shoot the special the night after the CMAs. After all, they already had the arena rented out and full of equipment, and the stars involved hadn't yet resumed their touring schedules after the previous night's partying. CMA execs could be heard indulging in a lot of good-natured grumbling about the wisdom of mounting another arena-sized revue less than 24 hours after "country's biggest night" had ended. But at least they picked a talent lineup less likely than some other candidates to be too hung over to carol... In other words, Kid Rock did not make a return appearance.
(Also, it would appear there were plenty of fake snowflakes left over from Taylor Swift's performance of "Back to December" the previous evening to dump on Thursday's audience.)
Sugarland, who released a Christmas album just last year, kicked the proceedings off with their rock version of "Winter Wonderland," joined by Little Big Town on harmonies. Rascal Flatts did a full-band version of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and then an a cappella "I'll Be Home for Christmas," with three-part harmonies that were surprisingly tight and barbershop-smooth. What followed that was a big, full-cast finale, not even a half-hour into the show... with two full hours left to go. Presumably, the Flatts boys had to go get on a bus, which would explain the lack of orderliness.
Recent tabloid queen Leann Rimes performed "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" while eight dancers in sailor costumes rocked around her with some serious Broadway-style choreography. Rucker induced some severe sugar shock with his alleged "new standard," "Candy Cane Christmas," the only non-oldie of the evening. Martina offered up "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and then, inevitably, the most octave-spanning of Christmas hymns, "O Holy Night."
Little Big Town resurrected the clever rock arrangement of "Go Tell It on the Mountain" they released to radio a few Christmases ago. In a flashy red dress, Pickler vamped it up with her version of Eartha Kitt's materialist Xmas classic, "Santa Baby." (I ain't saying she's a golddigger, but she ain't messin' with no broke Kringles.)
Reba did one of my favorite Christmas songs of all time some years back with a fairly obscure but brilliant original number called "Santa Claus is Coming Back to Town," a rueful look at Christmas in a divorce household. But the song she did Thursday was "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," the song you know and possibly love. No offense to Gene Autry, but Reba's other "Santa" song is better. This one, however, did feature about a dozen Santas running through the audience, handing out... good vibes.
As for Paisley, you might think that he'd already had his Christmas the night before, when he finally achieved his dream of being named Entertainer of the Year at the CMAs. But he endeavored to share the good cheer with the assembled at this taping, first doing a solo rendition of "What Child is This" that found him working his acoustic guitar in a distinctly less twangy, more classical style. Later, to cap the taping, he sat in with Crow, peeling off more characteristic electric licks on her interpretation of Chuck Berry's "Run Run Rudolph."
Host Nettles introduced Paisley's appearance by showing a brief clip of the newly crowned Entertainer of the Year at age 12, performing a song he'd written then called "Born on Christmas Day." "It turned out pretty good," Paisley noted. "I've written worse songs lately." Nettles also took note of some then-protruding facial features and told Paisley, "You have really grown well into your ears." His hands and voice, too.
CMA Country Christmas will air on ABC Nov. 29 at 9:30 p.m., 8:30 central time.