Diversifying country music industry on full display at first CMT Awards show in Texas

Chase Matthew, Jelly Roll and Kelsea Ballerini were just some of the new faces on the red carpet in Austin.

By Kristen CabreraApril 3, 2023 3:07 pm, ,

For years, the Country Music Television Awards have been hosted in Nashville, Tenn. But after moving the award show to the spring, the “live music capital of the world” stepped up to host the event. What ensued was one boisterous and iconic night of country music in Austin.

Tejano musician and music archivist Veronique Medrano covered the awards show as a correspondent for Wide Open Country, and she joined the Standard with some highlights. Listen to the story above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: So what were you doing there? Can you just tell folks what your job was?

Tejano music artist and archivist Veronique Medrano served as correspondent for Wide Open Country at the CMT Awards show in Austin.
Courtesy of Veronique Medrano

Veronique Medrano: So I am a Tejano country artist and so I was there before Wide Open Country. I was a red carpet correspondent for them. So we were chit-chatting with the country stars, new upcoming the folks that are, you know, the most popular as well as some entertainment stars – because there were a lot of entertainment stars – that were coming through for the show. And so I was just kind of chit-chatting with them, artist to artist, just trying to talk about where they’re at, because a lot of them, you know, are getting ready for new records – have new projects coming out. And so getting to catch up with everybody in my backyard is kind of nice. 

So what did you want to find out from these people when you were talking to them?

Really, what I wanted to do was to give a different perspective of the artistry that these people put out there. A lot of the time, of course, we’re all excited to be at the show. All of our heads are on a swivel because it is a hundred miles an hour when you’re on a red carpet. Because you’re going from carpet to walking. And mind you, the walking for that carpet was almost a football field-like length from start to finish. And then once you finish, you’re getting into the show. And so a lot of these people were performing that night. So it’s really just kind of getting, from artist to artist, a perspective of these people, their artistry and also just overall how they’re making what they’re making in a market that is just becoming more and more diverse. Having those really honest and beautiful conversations with these artists was so easy to do because, like, it was this environment that didn’t feel so stuffy. It was really more, you know, like meeting with your friends.

That’s a lot of country music anyway, you know. I mean, that’s sort of the vibe that’s trying to be cultivated in a lot of the art form.

The vibe was there. 

Well, tell me more about the vibe. What did it feel like to be there? 

It was wonderful. When I say “it was wonderful,” I really, truly mean it. I was just astounded by the fact that just so many of these people were just ready to party. They were in the Austin mood. They were in the Austin spirit to really get down. And, you know, one of the most interesting parts that you’ll see on the coverage from a lot of people, if you look at any of the coverage from that night, is that we had just like people talking with artists. And then you had artists talking with other artists behind the people talking with artists. And they’re you know, they’re chit-chatting, they’re catching up. It was like a little country mixer at the CMT. That’s what it felt like. It felt more like a really down-to-earth mixer with everybody than “oh my God, this is an award show. Who are you wearing? What are you doing?” Like that it was not that at all, and I really enjoyed that. 

Courtesy of Veronique Medrano

Veronique Medrano interviews actor Steve Howey on the CMT Awards red carpet.

Well, as you were taking all this in, you’re looking at the artists talking to each other. You’re in the awards show, you’re seeing who’s winning, you’re seeing the performances. It’s kind of a little time capsule of country music 2023. And I wonder what impressions you took away from that, about where country music is?

Country music is in a place of diversity. When we talk a lot about DEI – which is diversity, equality and inclusion – it’s something that, you know, a lot of organizations are talking about, but we are seeing it in action at this show. And it gets really emotional because a lot of these people were like, “I never thought I could see myself here. And here I am.” That was a lot of the conversation where they’re like, “I didn’t know that there was a place for me here.”

Like who, specifically?

Chase Matthew was such, I mean, he was so great and so down-to-earth. And when I was talking with him, you know, we were talking about the fact that he had dropped out of high school and immediately went into country music. Now, he’s one of those really, like, just blossoming stars that is really making an impact. But he was like, “I knew that this is what I wanted to do, but I knew this was a risk – like just dropping out of high school and doing this. That’s not a risk that a lot of people would take. They would wait. But this industry has seen my work and feels that I am representing it in the best way possible.”

You have different age ranges. You’re looking at people like Jelly Roll. My God, he was a rapper – still is a rapper – but he is a country rapper and he is winning one of the biggest awards of the night. You know, and this is a fan show. This is a show about fans by fans for fans. So the fans are voting and the fans’ voices are the loudest at this show. And so when you look at the winners, you’re looking at Jelly Roll, you’re looking at Lainey Wilson, you’re looking at all these different people. There is a variety of winners.

And on top of that, like you’re seeing this diversity, but then you’re also seeing this upliftment of the other people who are different. You know, the fact that we saw – and especially for what’s going on right now and the conversations that are happening right now – that, you know, we see Kelsea Ballerini. She is on the up and up. She had SNL and now she’s having all these things and she’s using her platform as a host to bring out drag queens for one of the songs that is starting to climb the charts, “If You Go Down (I’m Goin’ Down Too).” And that that song, you know, had a very different meaning when it premiered on TV with the music video. And then she did something completely different – brought out drag queens. Like that alone, that is a statement. And you know and her, you know, doing a commemoration for the recent shooting and she’s using her platform in such a clear way to say where she stands. How many times in country can we say that that was successful? 

Well, it goes to just what you were saying about expanding the country music tent. You know, it’s not just these people look different than Garth and George do, but maybe they think differently, as well. But before we go, I want to ask – Veronique, as an artist yourself, what do you think about awards shows for music in general? You know, a real subjective form. It’s dependent on what people you know, the individual, what they hear. How does it strike you just to be saying “this is the best song, this is the best record?” 

I think it’s more, you know, what is the song that performed the best that got people to come out, that got people to request it on the radio? I think one of those things that a lot of people do not talk about, especially in a streaming era, is that country is very much the one industry that balances between radio and streaming, and they are still very radio heavy. So the radio stations are the ones that are like, “okay, what these people are requesting?” Like, it is very much on the ground. And so because of that, I think in this industry and the awards like this… yeah, you know, there’s industry awards and then there’s fan awards and there’s all that. But it’s looking at what is making an impact and making people come to the concert, making people request on the radio, making people love country music again. And if people can do that, the industry rewards it. You saw it last night. You’re going to see it as the rest of the year goes on because there’s more shows. You know, there’s ACM is coming up, there’s so many others. And so like the industry, just looking and talking with everyone, the industry rewards those who build on country music. 

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