Here’s what we learned at Monday’s taping for the Academy of Country Music’s salute to Brooks & Dunn at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand Garden Arena: seemingly everyone who ever sung a country song has toured with the duo, the most successful in the history of country music. The pair starts its final tour, “The Last Rodeo, later this week and will hang up their collective spurs in August.
The tribute won’t air on CBS until May 23, but we were at the taping and can reveal some of the more exciting moments.
Taylor Swift, who was still in diapers when Brooks & Dunn scored their first chart topper in 1991, introduced the duo, setting a pattern for many of the artists to follow: she told a hilarious story about being on tour with them. She was summoned to their dressing room and feared she’d done something wrong, only for Ronnie Dunn to tell her he wanted to show her his imitation of her.
Virtually every artist who followed, whether it was Keith Urban, Faith Hill, Kenny Chesney, Reba McEntire, Miranda Lambert. Sugarland or Brad Paisley, has entertaining road tales to share about touring with Brooks & Dunn. One even involved Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl.”
While plenty of artists, including Carrie Underwood, Lambert and Swift talked about growing with Brooks & Dunn, they meant it figuratively. Only Lady Antebellum’s Hilary Scott could make the same claim literally. Her parents were in McEntire’s band during the four years that McEntire and Brooks & Dunn toured together. “So if you saw a little girl sitting on a road case by the side of the stage, that was me,” she said. She and band mate Charles Kelley sang a beautiful duet of “If You See Him, If You See Her,” originally recorded by the pair with McEntire. They were joined by some special guest.
We want to keep some of the surprises intact for those who plan to watch the special, but among our favorites were Urban’s rollicking “Brand New Man,” George Strait’s playful “Boot Scootin’ Boogie,” Darius Rucker’s “Hard Workin’ Man,” in which he channeled Bob Seger as much as B&D, Underwood’s soulful “Neon Moon,” and Tim McGraw’s “That Ain’t Now Way to Go.” He sounded better than we’ve ever heard him.
However, the performance that will have everyone buzzing the morning after the special airs is Jennifer Hudson’s take-us-to-church take on “Believe,” a meditation on faith.
Not every song seemed a good match: Swift’s take on “Ain’t Nothing ‘Bout You” seemed a strange fit perhaps because at 20, she seems a little young to be singing, “In my life, I’ve been hammered by some heavy blows.” Similarly, McEntire’s choice of a lesser B&D song, “Indian Summer,” about a school girl’s misguided relationship with the quarterback, felt like an awkward choice.
Brooks & Dunn announced their decision “to call it a day” last April and are doing the Last Rodeo tour in order to give fans a chance to see them together for the last time. While the days of their touring together may be gone shortly, Dunn has no plan to fade away: his first single as a solo artist comes out late Spring and as he told the audience at the taping’s close: “I’m gonna find me a beer joint and keep singing.”