Mark Humphrey, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Brad Paisley fully endorses the format of the CMT Artists of the Year celebration.
Paisley was one of five country music stars honored Tuesday night during a taping of the second annual event, joining Jason Aldean, Kenny Chesney, Lady Antebellum and Taylor Swift. He loved the idea of already knowing he was taking a trophy home when he showed up.
"It's great," Paisley said in an interview before the event, which will air Dec. 13. "It's neat. It's not like an awards show where you have to wonder if you're going to win. And if you don't, they were mean. They psyched you out. And it's one where they feed everybody and give you alcohol. We need more of those shows."
It was a night full of cross-pollinated moments, with host Rob Lowe, Lionel Richie, William Shatner, Joe Walsh, Gavin DeGraw, New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton, former St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, The Avett Brothers and The All-American Rejects on hand to celebrate country's biggest entertainers. But it was Hank Williams Jr. who turned in the night's most buzzed about moment, leaving the stage quickly mid-song after singing his part during a duet with Aldean.
Williams' spokesman Kirt Webster said after the taping that Williams left because he didn't feel like he was giving an adequate performance while joining Aldean on his song, "Tattoos on This Town." Williams told the show's producers the night was meant to honor Aldean, a friend. Turning in a poor performance would only ruin that effort, Webster recounted.
Aldean did a second run-through of the song after Williams left without problem. The singer praised Williams as a hero in an interview before the show and said it had been fun hanging with him during rehearsal.
"It was really kind of funny watching him go about music the way he does," Aldean said. "He's kind of like, 'OK, this is the way y'all do it. I'm going to do it the way I do it.' It's just the way it is. And you go, 'It's Hank,' you know. 'Make it sound like you want it to sound, bro.' But he's awesome. I don't know what else to say about the guy. He's the real deal as far as country singers go."
Williams has been in the news quite a bit recently. A political analogy he made on television involving President Barack Obama and Adolf Hitler led to the pulling of his "Monday Night Football" theme song by ESPN. But he rallied and turned it into something of a public-relations victory, issuing a new song and appearing on "The View" where he found a sympathetic reception. He soon joined Paisley and Carrie Underwood earlier this month on the Country Music Association Awards, stealing the show with a single word.
He gave Paisley a necklace before Tuesday night's taping that bore his Ruger-like eagle logo with "Hank" engraved on the front and the words, "Thanks, Brad," engraved on the back. Paisley wore it with his camouflage sports coat.
"I'm honored to be friends with him," Paisley said.
Paisley and Chesney were first-time honorees at the event, which recognizes country's top achievers in touring, album sales and radio and video play.
A second trophy from CMT served as perfect book ends for Aldean, Swift and Lady A, who all reached milestones in the 12 months since. For Swift, that year included winning entertainer of the year at the CMAs and artist of the year at the American Music Association Awards and the Academy of Country Music Awards.
"This year especially has been crazy," Swift said. "Award season has been so amazing."
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