Are the country musicians okay? The state of the upcoming CMA Awards raises some doubts. Just under two weeks ago, one of country’s flagship ceremonies announced it would be moving forward with an in-person event at Nashville’s Music City Center. “You won’t want to miss it!” promised Sarah Trahern, CEO of the Country Music Association, in a statement to Billboard. Fast-forward to today, when Lee Brice and Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard are dropping out of the festivities after testing positive for COVID-19. Brice was set to perform “I Hope You’re Happy Now,” his duet with Carly Pearce; he’ll be replaced on that song by Charles Kelley, who is already performing separately as a member of Lady A (yes, that Lady A). Hubbard announced his positive test on Instagram, revealing he’s quarantining away from his family in his tour bus in his driveway. The band will no longer perform their song “Long Live” at the event. In a statement to Rolling Stone on Brice and Hubbard’s positive tests, the CMA said, “It does reassure us that our protocols are working. Our process enabled us to manage each situation immediately and before either artist ever entered our set. Most importantly, it prevented anyone else from being exposed.” People will continue to be tested ahead of the awards, the CMA added, in addition to practicing social distancing and wearing personal protective equipment.
Coincidentally, Hubbard’s bandmate Brian Kelley recently posted a photo of crowds celebrating Joe Biden’s election win to his Instagram Story, writing, “Time to go back to work AMERICA. Booking shows ASAP.” Morgan Wallen, who was cut from SNL last month for partying without a mask ahead of the show, also commented on the crowds, writing on his own Story, “If it’s okay for us to party in the streets with no ‘social distancing’ then we can book shows right now.” (Of course, the celebration photos were outside — like this summer’s anti-racism protests, which weren’t found to cause a spike in COVID-19 cases. Meanwhile, some country musicians haven’t exactly been the safest during the pandemic, with singers like Chase Rice and Chris Janson packing maskless concerts earlier this year.)
Even outside the pandemic of it all, the CMA found itself in hot water last week after making a statement encouraging artists to remain apolitical amid the election. “It’s been a year, y’all. But for three hours next Wednesday on ABC, this is a no-drama zone,” the group tweeted on November 4, before the race had been called for Biden. “More than 20 one-of-a-kind performances will help you forget the weight of the world for just a little while.” Country journalists and industry figures criticized the statement, including singer-songwriter Margo Price, who tweeted, “Once again, the CMA’s are censoring/white washing their show but who’s surprised? anyone still participating is a socially unconscious pawn. artists pander woke authenticity when it benefits them and then sit in silence as they collect their plastic trophies.” The CMA later backtracked with an apology on November 5, tweeting, “While our intentions with our social campaign was to communicate to fans that the show will offer a brief escape, we recognize that our phrasing did not convey that message. We welcome every artist’s right to express themselves.” All the while, the CMA Awards have been using Eric Church’s protest song “Stick That in Your Country Song” in ads for the ceremony.
On top of it all, Garth Brooks announced earlier this year that he won’t compete in the Entertainer of the Year category at the upcoming awards, where his dominance has been controversial. So Eric Church, Luke Combs, Miranda Lambert (our forever entertainer of the year), Carrie Underwood, and Keith Urban will compete for the top prize, with Lambert also claiming the most nominations. Reba McEntire will return to host alongside Darius Rucker. With this much drama ahead of the show, yes, we don’t want to miss it.
Update, November 11, 10:30 a.m.: Maybe it’s for the best that Florida Georgia Line won’t be performing tonight. The duo faced rumors of a breakup yesterday, after fans noticed that Tyler Hubbard (a.k.a. Georgia, a.k.a. the one with COVID) and his wife, Hayley, unfollowed Brian Kelley (a.k.a. Florida) on Instagram. A source pushed back to Us Weekly, saying, “All is good with the FGL family. Tyler and Brian’s friendship is as strong as ever.” Hubbard refollowed Kelley after the magazine published its story.
Some fans suspected the members had disagreed over election politics. Kelley had recently posted that story criticizing celebrations of Biden’s victory. When one fan implied Kelley voted for Biden in an Instagram comment, Kelley replied, “Think again bub 🇺🇸.” Meanwhile, Hubbard had previously criticized President Donald Trump. On November 8, his wife posted a photo of their daughter to Instagram, writing, “Thank you @kamalaharris for standing on the shoulders of strong women so my daughter can stand on yours.” (We’d be remiss not to note the parallel: It looks like Georgia went for Biden and Florida went for Trump!) So much for that “no-drama zone.”
Update, November 11, 1:15 p.m.: The Associated Press has now pulled out of covering the 2020 CMA Awards after the CMA placed restrictions on its coverage. The outlet claims the CMA wouldn’t allow a live AP photographer into the ceremony that it previously insisted be in person and indoors during the COVID-19 pandemic. The CMA then suggested the AP pay for photos of the show. When the AP declined and asked about screenshots (which many outlets have used to cover virtual events during the COVID-19 pandemic), the CMA said the AP could not use screenshots of in-person audience members. “The AP covers award shows as news events and we must be able to assure the public that the information they are receiving from us is accurate,” Anthony McCartney, the AP’s global entertainment editor, said in the outlet’s story. “By denying independent news organizations, including AP, access to take images of a publicly broadcast event, the CMA Awards is infringing upon the news media’s ability to tell the full story of the event.” The CMA did not comment for the AP’s story on its coverage. As a wire service, the AP provides its event photos to hundreds of news outlets that can’t cover the events themselves. So if you’re looking for photo evidence of that living, breathing CMAs crowd tonight, you might have to look a bit further.
Update, November 12, 2:30 a.m.: Well, the show did go on, but not exactly as planned. Multiple artists scheduled to perform at the CMAs had to bow out at the last minute due to exposure to COVID-19, including Rascal Flats. On Wednesday, the band posted on social media the following message: “Hey Y’all, we wanted to let you guys know that we have received a positive COVID test within the band. As much as we were looking forward to performing at the CMA Awards tonight, we will no longer be attending in the interest of everyone’s safety. Some of our favorite moments have happened on the CMA Awards stage, and we cannot wait to return!” Rascal Flats were not the only artists that missed the festivities, as Jenee Flower bowed out of the award show after testing positive for COVID and Lady A also dropping out due to a positive COVID test in one of the band member’s families. As they say, it’s not over until
the fat lady sings every person contracts the novel coronavirus.