CMA Awards 2018: An Insider’s Perspective

I’m writing this post about the single greatest night of my life. Two weeks ago, I attended the CMA Awards at Bridgestone Arena. In the pit. And then went to class the next day because the awards were, for some reason, on a Wednesday night (tragic!).

Florida Georgia Line performing “Meant to Be.” That’s me in the red circle. Not my best moment.

The way this came about is one of my wildest streaks of luck. I filled out a form a few weeks ago to be randomly selected to attend rehearsals (this was open to the public and done through the audience coordinators). I was picked to attend two on Monday night of awards week – Thomas Rhett and Old Dominion. The rehearsal process was a bit different from what I expected; the rehearsal audience (of which I was part) spent the majority of the time waiting in the wings while the artists went through endless soundchecks and run-throughs, starting and stopping every few seconds. They then brought the audience in so the artist could run through their performance with an approximation of what they would see Wednesday night. The whole process was extremely technical and focused primarily on the mechanics of the upcoming broadcast rather than the performances themselves.

And so I went to those rehearsals, with Rhett’s going what I assume to be smoothly; after an hour break, I came back to the arena for the Old Dominion rehearsal, but at the end of this one they took our group to a separate room where they briefed us on what we needed to do to attend the actual awards in the B-Stage pit. I would’ve been overjoyed if this is where it ended. But that’s not what happened.

Broadcasts like these are incredibly intricate and require elaborate preparations, and so I found myself at the arena again Tuesday night to receive my wristband to be allowed entry Wednesday night. I gave the coordinators my name, they highlighted it off a massive list, and I was told to receive a bronze wristband. They were out of bronze and just gave me a silver one instead. I had no idea what this meant, so I asked someone who worked for the company. She told me not to say anything because I was in a way better place now than I was initially. I have no idea what this means. She won’t tell me what it means. But I go along with it.

And then I show up Wednesday night for the actual show. I think this is the nicest I’ve dressed/looked since prom. Eventually, we get into the arena just as we did Monday and Tuesday, and I find out the silver wristband designates seat fillers, people selected to ensure there are no empty chairs at the front of the floor whenever industry personnel leave their seats for whatever reason. I brag to my family about this. My sister hates me by now.

My arm is on the CMA Awards stage. I’m not convinced this is a real photo.

Then I’m approached by a coordinator. Of course, my first thought is that I’m going to be put back in my original position, which would be a disappointment but still an incredible opportunity. Instead, it’s “hi, would you be okay with being in the front mosh pit for tonight?” (For some reason, the staff insists on calling it a mosh pit. Having been to a Distillers concert, this is decidedly not a mosh pit.)

And of course I would be okay with being in the front mosh pit for tonight, so I go over to a separate area where they take our phones to put them in a bin under the stage and I meet my new best friends for the night. They file us into the pit, and I think I started having heart palpitations as celebrities began walking to their seats.

A note about awards shows: people show up right before they start. Like, right before. I can’t count how many people I saw filing in at 6:59 for a 7:00 show. Kacey Musgraves looked incredible. I don’t remember much else.

The next few hours are a blur, with us staying primarily in our same spot but then leaving so Carrie Underwood can have space for her choirs. I cried during that performance. We then go to a small circular stage for Brett Young. One friend sent me a picture pointing out my clear presence on live television. Casual.

Brett Young performing “Mercy,” featuring yours truly.

On the way back to the pit, I walked by Kacey Musgraves. We made eye contact. I almost fainted. Then there were other performances which were also a blur, but I remember enjoying them.

Kacey won Album of the Year and I cried. Chris Stapleton won everything else. Dan+Shay did not receive the awards they deserved. Keith Urban won Entertainer of the Year and was in complete shock, and wife Nicole Kidman could not have been more proud of him.

On the note of that award, the most unexpected experience of the night occurred right before it. Lionel Richie presented Entertainer of the Year and got in place to walk out to the stage at the beginning of the preceding commercial break. His waiting spot was right behind the pit, so I was seeing Lionel Richie up close. Then he started talking to us. My conversation with him went something like this:

Lionel: Hey, do you think I’m gonna make it out to the microphone?

Me: For sure, you’ve got this!

Lionel: I don’t know, man, are you sure I’m not gonna mess up this walk out there?

Me, in shock: Of course not, you’re the man!

Lionel: Thank you, I appreciate that, my man!

Just a casual ending to a pretty typical Wednesday night.

Some other highlights of the night:

  • Brad Paisley thanking us for volunteering. As if we need to be thanked. You’re welcome, Brad!
  • Watching Nicole Kidman FaceTime her children
  • Seeing Mason Ramsey take selfies with more or less everyone in attendance
  • Keith Urban waving to me
  • Ricky Skaggs making eye contact with me
  • Garth Brooks asking me how I’m doing and high-fiving me
  • Dan+Shay existing
  • Kacey Musgraves, also existing
  • Eric Church presumably making eye contact with me (unclear, since he was wearing sunglasses)

Me on my way out of the arena. Security was yelling at me while I took this.