But the best performance at the CMA Awards in recent memory didn’t come from inside Bridgestone Arena: In fact, the performer wasn’t even invited.
Back in 2017, Sturgill Simpson won Best Country Album at the 59th annual Grammy Awards, and was also nominated for Album of the Year. But apparently that wasn’t enough to get him an invite to the CMA Awards, which instead featured performances from P!nk and former One Direction member Niall Horan that year.
So Sturgill decided to show up and perform anyway – outside of Bridgestone Arena during the ceremonies.
“They were all out of seats, I couldn’t get a ticket. So I thought I’d come down here and play some country music since we’re celebrating it tonight in Nashville, Tennessee.”
He put his Grammy in his guitar case, and for nearly an hour Sturgill busked outside of the CMA Awards as shocked onlookers started to realize what they were witnessing.
Sturgill streamed the whole performance live online (and probably got more viewers than the actual awards) as he treated the crowd to “Turtles All the Way Down” and “Water In A Well,” as well as answered questions from his fans – and even gave a preview of what his acceptance speech would sound like if he ever were to win a CMA Award:
“Nobody needs a machine gun. Coming from a guy who owns quite a few guns. Gay people should have the right to be happy and live their life any way they want to, and get married if they want to, without fearing getting drug down the road on a pickup truck.
Black people are probably tired of getting shot in the streets, and getting enslaved by the industrial prison complex, and hegemony and racism is alive and well in Nashville, Tennessee. Thank you very much.”
And he also revealed that he would perform Merle Haggard’s “Are The Good Times Really Over” if he were ever invited to the CMA Awards (which, let’s be honest, he won’t be).
It was quite the scene, seeing a Grammy-winning country singer busking outside of the CMA Awards while the eventual Entertainer of the Year winner was inside lip-syncing his newest single.
And it highlighted the absurdity of the Nashville popularity contest, where all too often the best country artists aren’t even invited to the show – and are forced to busk on the sidewalk.