Carrie Underwood's big night

by Alison Bonaguro

Special to the Tribune

Published April 6, 2009


There was plenty of contentious competition at Sunday night's Academy of County Music Awards. Underwood vs. Chesney. Sugarland vs. Brooks & Dunn. "Fearless" vs. "Troubadour."

But for Chicago this show, which aired on CBS, made history. Because for the first time in its 44 years, the Academy honored an Illinois venue, Joe's Bar, as Nightclub of the Year.

The big news of the night was Carrie Underwood winning Entertainer of the Year award, undoing Kenny Chesney's four-year streak and breaking the virtual glass ceiling that has been in place since the Dixie Chicks won in 2000.

The rest of the awards came from a non-stop parade of celebrities, with Reba McEntire at the helm of the show at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Although George Strait, Keith Urban and Brad Paisley were vying for the Entertainer of the Year, the race really came down to Underwood and Chesney. This award is determined by a fan vote, instead of Academy members. And depending on whom you ask, that either makes the award more revered or completely worthless. Last year's winner Chesney criticized the Academy, saying that they changed the category "into a sweepstakes to see who can push people's buttons the hardest on the Internet."

Other winners included Sugarland for Top Vocal Duo, Julianne Hough for Top New Artist and Album of the Year winner Taylor Swift, for "Fearless." The award-performance-award-performance cadence of the three-hour show gave 20 artists a chance to shine for a national audience. Miley Cyrus on "The Climb," and Rascal Flatts on "Here Comes Goodbye" were among the show's standouts.

Another high point was Blake Shelton's "She Wouldn't Be Gone." He was a last-minute add after Tim McGraw pulled out of the show due to a disagreement with the show's producers, according to Entertainment Weekly.

Ed Warm and Tom DiSanto, co-owners of Joe's (on Weed Street) since 1997, were in Las Vegas on Sunday night to accept their statuette. The prestige of this award hasn't affected Warm's modesty about his club.

"I don't think Joe's had anything over the other nominees," he said. "What Joe's has is enthusiastic, music-loving fans who feed a lot of energy to the artists."

Among the artists who have performed at Joe's are Keith Urban, Miranda Lambert, Rascal Flatts, Lee Ann Womack, Jamey Johnson, Dierks Bentley and Jake Owen.

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