4:50 PDT:

Greetings from backstage at the Academy off Country Music Awards!

So we just got the word that Brad Paisley, one of the night's big nominees, is home with wife Kimberly, who, apparently is due any minute now. We have to call him on our cell phones if he wins Entertainer of the Year.

If you haven't heard yet, Tim McGraw pulled out of the show over production issues. We're trying to find out more.

5 p.m.:

The show kicks off with Brooks & Dunn bascially as Taylor Swift's opening act. We just want to push Ronnie Dunn's hair out of his eyes. Flash to a cutaway of George Strait who looks like he'd rather be having root canal. He better get his smile on by the time he's honored at a taping tomorrow night.

Sugarland is on now. Basically, the premise is that nine acts will each do a bit of their hits and it looks like they go back to Brooks & Dunn, who have won more ACM awards than anyone else, each time. Sugarland--or Jennifer Nettles and that other guy as we like to call them-- managed to get through "Sh-- Happens" without getting beeped.

It's an interesting tactic-- frontloading the show with all the performers everyone wants to see. Will people tune out because they've seen Taylor and Carrie already or will they keep watching?

5:05 p.m.

We're still in the opening act with Rascal Flatts, who have pulled out "Me and My Gang." They need a stylist bad.  Oh, there's Matthew McConaughey with sunglasses on.

5:08 p.m.

Reba McEntire, in her 11th year of hosting, is on. She's a great natural host. Her timing is perfect. She just said "Michael Phelps and Willie Nelson" are working on an album together: songs by the Doobie Bros.

 

5:10 p.m.

Reba just brought up that Underwood is the first woman to be nominated for entertainer of the year in quite a while. Very true.  Entertainer remains a bastian of boyhood... Only a handful of women have won in the 44 years.

5:12 p.m.

Kenny Chesney is on. He clearly got dressed up for the occasion-- his standard issue outfit of sleeveless T and jeans.  He's debuting a new song, "Out Last Night." The video running behind him is basically a G-rated Girls Gone Wild  DVD.  Really boring song, unless you're drinking Corona, who's sponsoring his tour.

5:15 p.m.

Song of the year, which goes to the songwriter, is "In Color," from Jamey Johnson. Not a fan of the song his story is a compelling one. Weird speech. Thanks for my band for going in on an off day and recording an off record." Huh?

5:22 p.m.

Heidi Newfield, formerly of One Trick Pony, is singing her hit "Johnny & June." It seems like there's been an amazing number of country songs over the last few years that have namechecked artists, like this one and Taylor Swift's "Tim McGraw." She's now surrounded by a ring of fire.. .that's original. Again, no idea why this song is so popular.

5:27 p.m.

We're hearing Blake Shelton is getting Tim McGraw's spot. Talk about being in the right place at the right time. Rascal Flatts wins vocal group of the year and has the humility to look surprised.  The only votes any of their fellow nominees got were from their mothers.

5:29 p.m.

We have our first backstage appearance. It's Jennifer Love Hewitt, who presented an award. She looks gorgeous. She sometimes looks hippy in photos. She's maybe a size 2.. if even. She likes George Strait. She says her boyfriend, Jamie Kennedy, is doing well after hurting himself.  In an adorable move, someone asked who she's wearing and she had to look at the tag. It's Robert Rodriguez. Isn't he a director? She doesn't tweet and she doesn't get the whole Twitter thing. Someone just asked her if she feels comfortable in her own skin and she answered very honestly that "I'm getting there. I just turned 30. I'd like to feel more comfortable in my own skin." I just fell in love with her.

 

5:33 p.m.

James Otto, co-writer of "In Color," is back here. He tells Peter Cooper from the Tennessean to please mention his wife since he forgot to mention her from the stage. Someone's not getting any tonight. "In Color" was first cut by another artist and was never a single and got a second life when Johnson got his second record deal. I love that. You can't keep a good song down.

Otto fans, rejoice--he's working on a new album with producer Paul Worley that will be "country soul," he says.

5:40 p.m.:

Jamey Johnson is singing "In Color." It must be much more fun to sing ater you've won instead of after you've lost.  They're showing him in black and white. Man, this show is a literal interpretation of the songs. We saw Miley  Cyrus rehearse today. Guess what she does during her performance of "The Climb?"

5:42 p.m.

Darius Rucker is backstage. His second single just went to No. 1.  He's put Hank Williams Jr.'s "Family Tradition" back into his solo show after taking it out of Hootie & the Blowfish's show years ago.  He says the song says everything he feels about country music.

He's getting ready to tour with Rascal Flatts this summer: "We're going to play golf every day, drink some beers and play some music. " Sign us up. He just told the cutest story about how someone came up to him and said "are you Darius Rucker, the country singer? I'm so used to people saying 'are you Hootie?' Last year I was here as the outsider, now I feel like I'm here as part of the family." He says there are a few more country records he wants to make before Hootie & the Blowfish record again.

I've known Darius since 1994. He's a great guy. It was fascinating to see fame hit them with full force and what that did to them and then to see them come back down to earth.

 

5:48 p.m.

Jamie Foxx is riffing and some of the jokes are working some aren't: "What's next? White folks going to a Tyler Perry movie?" zoomed over the audience's head, but it made the press room laugh.  As he brings up, I wonder when the last time two black men were on a country awards show?  He's introducing George Strait.

5:50 p.m.

George Strait is performing "Troubadour," as clips of his life flash behind him.  It's one of his better songs. You gotta give it up for the man. He's had 57 No. 1 songs--that's more than Elvis or the Beatles or Madonna or anyone and he's always, always stayed true to his musical roots. You know exactly what you're going to get with Strait.  He's still looking good, but he's breathtaking in some of the early shots before I had any clue who he was. Wowza.

 

5:54 p.m.:

Julianne Hough just won best new artist. Her dress ripped. Bless her heart.  She seems honestly excited to win, which is always nice to see.  I think it's going to be like the Sports Illustrated jinx though. She's hardly someone that I think anyone thinks will have a long, fruitful career in country. 

Lee Miller, co-writer of  "In Color" is backstage. He jokes that he "blacked out" when he heard his name called. He thought "Waitin' on a Woman" would win.

 

5:58 p.m.

Commercial break with David Copperfield, who's appearing at the MGM --who the awards are- is wearing a 10-gallon hat. One of my absolute pet peeves is when no-country folks wear exaggerated country gear- like HUGE hats or belt buckles. Jay Leno still does it.  It's insulting.

6 p.m.

Man, that was a fast first hour. If you want time to pass quickly, try blogging something. Copperield is back on and he says when the ACMs contacted him, they figured they didn't want him to sing. You can hear crickets. Apparently, they shouldn't have gotten him to tell jokes either. Now he's back to the magic and he's about to make Taylor Swift appear.  Could he magically make her sing better?  I have a feeling I'm going to hell for that comment.  She's so talented, but she sounds flat to me when she sings a lot of the time. Maybe it's just me.

Okay earlier she was rocking out on her guitar, now she's on piano. There's clearly an effort to make people see her as an instrumentalist. She's singing  "You're Not Sorry." Is this the one about Joe Jonas?

6:05 p.m.

Zac Brown band is backstage. All six of them are wearing black and red in some form. It's pretty tacky... turns out Brown's five-month pregnant wife  designed them all. i dno't really know what to say about this. Google a picture of them. I bet she'll make a great mother. Designer...not so much.

6:07 p.m.

Swift just got presented an award for selling a boatload of records. She seems very surprised, which she may be, but I know when I was at Billboard and we gave out discretionary awards at the Billboard Music Awards, it was usually to guarantee they'd show up. She might not have known, but someone in her camp did.

6:09

Lady Antebellum is performing. I really, really like them.  I've discovered them mainly through listening to the radio in the car and I'll hear a song that I don't know that I love and it will be them.

6:12

Jake Owen, winner of best new male, is backstage. He looks like a really hot Luke Wilson.  He's about as charming as you can be and has the line of the night. Someone, as only happens in country music, just asked him about his dog, Vern. "Vern's good," said Owen. "He's getting ready to get his nuts cut off. That should calm him down a bit."

6:17 p.m.

Jack Ingram, last year's best new male artist, is backstage.  Someone asked him how he knew George Strait songs and he said "you just know, like you know English."  Great answer. Lee Ann Womack is performing a ballad that doesn't sound nearly as strong as "Last Call," which is a classic tune. The performances so far (we see them on a monitor) seem pretty flat.

6:20 p.m.

Ingram's talking about going to Guantanamo in Cuba. "It's not about politics." He's smart and gives great answers.

6:21p.m.

Sugarland wins vocal duo, but no one's listening to Jennifer Nettles' speech-- they're all watching to see if she's going to fall out of her dress. Thank God for two-sided tape.

6:23 p.m.

Keith Urban is on and is bringing a badly needed upbeat song and some energy to the proceedings. He's singing "Kiss a Girl," the second single from "Defying Gravity." It comes across much better live than it does on record.  Robin Leach just walked by me. I don't know who he's covering the awards for, but it always seems a little surreal to see him out and about.

6:31 p.m. We've been chatting with Peter Cooper from Nashville paper, The Tennessean, whom Toby Keith is on the warpath against. Read our exclusive interview with Keith about it here. Keith's publicist came and had "words" with Cooper. I'm hoping Keith comes back to the press room, but I bet he doesn't.

6:35 p.m.

Miranda Lambert, whose "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" just celebrated its 100th week on the country chart, sang new song "Dead Flowers."  There really is a huge youth movement going on in country these days-- Lambert, Swift,  Underwood... country was always a place where artists could have decades-long careers and still get radio play (witness George Strait), unlike pop which you age out of at 25 or so.

 

6: 38 p.m.

LeAnn Rimes is getting a humanitarian award. All anyone wants to know about is if she's sleeping with Eddie Cibrian or i f it really was all a publicity stunt for her lifetime movie.

6:39 p.m.

John Rich is getting ready to sing "Shutting Detroit Down," which the New York Times called the first great song of the recession. I agree. My politics couldn't be more diametrically opposed to Rich's, but this is a great song that captures the zeitgeist of the moment. It's almost possible--but not quite--to forgive him for "Raising McCain."

6:42 p.m.

Rich amends the song's lyrics to an executive "jets his lazy ass" out of town and gets a huge crowd response. I feel  a standing ovation coming.

6:47 p.m.

Billy Ray Cyrus is talking about how nice it was to get back to Tennessee and manages to get in a plug about how that's the theme for his new single and album, coming out soon. There's something a little unsettling about his comeback being completely at the hands of his 15-year-old daughter.

Miley is now singing "The Climb," which is about as country as a Metallica song. She's got a  movie to push, but please. Now there's a staircase she's going up...uh, climbing. Now she's swirling her hand and writhing-- she's more Tawny Kitaen than Reba McEntire.

6:53 p.m.

Rascal Flatts is backstage. This is their seventh win for vocal group, breaking Alabama's record.  In response to what they're going to do differently this year, Jay Demarcus  joked "we're going to perform nude."

"We had a great time with Jessica Simpson on tour," says Gary Levox, though he admits all the press was a little strange. "It  was kind of weird, that was probably the most press, we thought look at all these people who want to talk to us, that's crazy.. oh, you're here for Jessica..."

Then in the funniest moment since Owen's comment, Demarcus addressed all the tabloid press  Simpson got for looking 2 ounces overweight on the tour. In a complete deadpan delivery, he said, "I got a little bloated on the tour and no one said anything."

7:02 p.m.

Carrie underwood is in a burgundy dress that seems to take up about half of the stage. It has its own zip code.  It has its own staff.  What's with the bejweled microphone? Anyway, she's singing her cover of Randy Travis's "I Told You So." Her voice is the best of the night.

7:05 p.m.

Martina McBride is presenting top male vocalist. Brad Paisley, who's  not there. He accepts via remote and says "as you can see, we had the baby" as the camera pans to Little Jimmy Dickens.  I'm a latecomer to Paisley's music, but have become a big fan and, boy, can that boy play guitar. Check out "Play," his current, largely instrumental, album.

7:12 p.m.

Julianne Hough is backstage.  Robin Leach calls her a superstar... Uh, no... Budding star, yes. Superstar...let's give it a few more years.   She is so tiny, she's tearing up that George Strait asked her to tour with him and how great it was to tour with Brad Paisley. She said she's getting no sleep at all Maybe that's why I'm crying, I'm exhausted." She's got a long phone list-- she's getting ready to call her mom, her dad, her grandparents. "I'm going to be on the phone all night."

She's taken a night off from Dancing with the Stars or today, but she's back at it tomorrow "and so upset that I can't be here tomorrow" when he's honored.Her beau, Chuck Wicks, just stuck his head in.

7:16 p.m.

Carrie Underwood just won for top female vocalist- another forgone conclusion.  We can't hear her speech because our headphones that we have to use to hear what's going on on stage if an artist is backstage.

7:19 p.m.

Trace Adkins was just introduced by a marine who lost his legs in the war, who reminds us to rmember that it's not "the war, it's the warrior." Not a lot of dry eyes.   Adkins' performance of  "Til the Last Shot's Fired," about soldiers through the centuries, is clearly this year's "If You're Reading This Letter" moment-- two years ago, Tim McGraw performed a heartbreaking song about if you're reading this letter it's because the soldier has died in battle. When he finished, the camera panned to families of fallen soldiers. Adkins is backed by the West Point Glee Club. No matter your politics, it's far and away the evening's best, most touching moment and it's the kind of moment that country music pulls off effortlessly in a way that pop music just can't.  If you go buy the song on iTunes or CBS.com, proceeds go to the Wounded Warrior Project.

7:30 p.m.:

Sugarland is back.  I wish I could like them. I think Jennifer Nettles has a good voice, but she just seems rather impressed with herself and her voice has so many affectations now that it's hard to listen to her. Oh, look, she's getting a crystal award too, like Taylor Swift. They're handing them out like candy.

Now Sugarland is handing out single of the year, which goes to "You're Gonna Miss This" by Trace Adkins.  From the stage he gives a great speech. "This song was recorded by a father whose oldest daughter had just got married. I didn't think other people would react to it like I did. It was put on a greatest hits album as a bonus track. [my label president] said they were going to make it a single. I said, 'go ahead, ain't no one gonna play it....Glad I'm an idiot."

 

7:37 p.m.

Here comes Toby Keith. He comes in looks at Peter and says 'Are you Peter?' Glares and walks up on stage. If I were Peter, I'd be feeling a little uncomfortable right now. Actually, probably crapping in my pants.

Toby's going to Afghanistan in an USO tour with Earl Brown, Kris Kristofferson and Hilary Duff.  He does three shows a day, for 14 days.

Cooper raises his hand and starts to ask about the Rolling Stone piece because Kris Kristofferson has sent a letter to Rolling Stone saying the incident where he calls out a singer never happened (as we reported yesterday). For the next seven minutes, there is an unbelievable back and forth between Keith and Cooper that i'm going to post about separately, but let's just say that my prediction that the most amazing show would not be the one happening on stage was correct...That post is coming in a second.

7:52 p.m.

We missed Taylor Swift winning album of the year and Rascal Flatts performing.

 

7:53 p.m.

Trace Adkins is in the press room. He's talking about his song and how he hated it. "I didn't want to expose myself for being such a mush." After his previous single failed at radio, they decided to release "You're Gonna Miss This." In an infamous comment, he shakes his head and says "What the fuck do I know?"

Adkins cut "In Color," but he gave it back to Johnson who wanted it for his album. Asked about Dennis Rodman and "Celebrity Apprentice," which Adkins appeared on last season, he says, "I think he's trapped himself in that character and he's in it all the time and he needs to get out of it or it's going to kill him."

7:58 p.m.

Carrie Underwood just won entertainer of the year, breaking Kenny Chesney's four-year streak. We can't hear a word she's saying, but she's crying and is clearly really moved.

8:08p.m.

"We bring a little 'stank'," says Jennifer Nettles, who's backstage, talking about how they usually shake up their performances a little bit.

Nettles is asked about her crystal award, presented to her as a songwriter. She won the award in recognition of "Stay," which she penned winning song of the year last year. She was the first female songwriter to take home the award since 1972.

8:20 p.m.

We now have Brad Paisley via satellite. People are asking him questions on the phone. He loved the show. He felt like Jamey Johnson was "rooted in tradition" and then we had "the other end...we've probably seen the end of a chart that's full of all tradition songs in the top 20, but as long as we have a couple of people around who do that sound, I think we're going to be okay."

 

Paisley jokes that his very pregnant wife, Kimberly is "on her way to the hospital, I'm just going to lay low..."  Seriously, her due date was today and the last baby was early, so he felt he couldn't leave home. Smart man.  Paisley's next album, "American Saturday Night" comes outin June.

8:32 p.m.

Carrie Underwood, winner of  fan-voted entertainer of the year, comes backstage. She's only the seventh woman to win the award in 42 years. "I accept it for all the women before me who kicked butt and never got the recognition they deserve and didn't get the opportunity to get nominated."

A reporter, who's obviously fishing for info about Underwood and her hockey player beau, Mike Fisher, asks whom she's celebrating with tonight. She says "my mom and my sister." No sale.

Of her awesome dress, she talks about how since she knew she didn't have to move and dance around to perform "I Told You So," she decided to wear a dress that was the exact opposite of the calm, stillness of her performance. "'I Told You So' is such a simple song, you don't need bells and whistles. i wanted to create something that's really visual. I loved it. People are either going to love it or think I'm weird."

8:43 p.m.

Taylor Swift, who's vibrating she's so excited about her win for album of the year with "Fearless,"  says "I obsessed over making this album. I labored over it for two years. The fact that you can write songs in your bedroom about your feelings and boys and you can win album of the year is incredible. i freaked out when I heard my name."

Swift is the first country artist who is a true myspace phenom. She may not have the time anymore, but she used to communicate directly with her fans that way and she still spends a fair amount of time on the site. "When I have a bad day, I go on and read those wonderful, beatiful comments they've written about me."

Even though album of the year is voted on by the industry, not the fans, she knows whom she really owes a debt of thanks to: "My fans are the reason the album was so big and I'll spend my whole life trying to thank them."

 

We're over and out. Time to go gamble.