CMA Awards 1990: Mary Chapin Carpenter Calls Out The “Jack*ss I’m Opening For” In Unreleased Song “Opening Act”

Mary Chapin Carpenter smiling for the camera
Paul Natkin/Getty Images

With the CMA Awards right around the corner, it’s only right that we take the time to reflect on some of the greatest moments from years past.

We’ve showed you Alan Jackson’s 1999 protest performance of “Choices” in honor of the great George Jones, and earlier we took it back to 1975 for Waylon Jennings’ acceptance speech and Charlie Rich burning his note card.

And of course, who could forget Sturgill Simpson’s legendary busking performance outside of Bridgestone Arena?

But now, it’s time for an all-time classic Country Music Association Awards performance, one that nobody saw coming, but everybody loved.

Back in 1990, George Strait took home the win for the highly-coveted Entertainer of the Year. But it was Mary Chapin Carpenter who might’ve made the biggest splash of the evening.

With a few albums to her name at the time, Mary Chapin Carpenter decided to go the unreleased route and perform a new song titled “Opening Act.”

She may have toned it down a bit for the CMA Awards, but “Opening Act” was pretty much a sarcastic tongue-lashing of some “asshole in tight jeans” that she opened for.

And most folks think it’s about Dwight Yoakam, who she toured with around the time the song was written:

Take a listen to some of the lyrics:

“I don’t have a hit in the Billboard charts
I don’t have a limousine that stretches three blocks
Ready to take me from door to door
Just like that jackass I’m opening for
He doesn’t know me, I’m his opening act.

Now I’m not going bald, so I don’t wear a hat
Tight jeans don’t fit me; I’m a little too fat
I can’t sing like a frog blowing farts through his nose
So I don’t expect you’ll like me, but that’s how it goes.”

I mean, if the shoe fits…

But if performing a song like that during the CMA Awards sounds like career suicide, Carpenter thought so too. In fact, there was no way in hell she was gonna play that (probably with Dwight in the room), however the CMA Awards producers really pushed for it (my, oh my, how times have changed).

Carpenter, who received a standing ovation, later discussed the performance with Engine 145:

“When they first asked me, I immediately said ‘no.’ It was a novelty number; I was afraid that it would lose a little bit of bite because there was actually a dirtier version of the song that we did live… but it was a special opportunity and I did it.

I’ll always remember that night. Michael Campbell, Ricky Van Shelton’s manager at the time, was there during soundcheck and he was the last person I saw before I went on stage.

Right before I went out, I heard him say, ‘That was a nice career you had going there, Carpenter!’ When the audience stood and applauded, I was just flabbergasted.”

However, despite many folks still thinking it is written about Dwight Yoakam, Carpenter says it’s based on more than one experience… one that many “opening acts” can relate to:

“If it was written about one person in particular, why did the entire audience relate to it? The entire audience related to it because it’s a universal experience. That’s why it went over, as far as I can tell.”

Fair enough, but I still think it’s about Dwight Yoakam…

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