NASHVILLE, Tenn. — They’re not letting the cowboy ride quietly into the sunset in Music City. Whether he likes it or not, the usually reclusive George Strait is the center of attention this week.
Strait is up for entertainer of the year tonight at the Country Music Association Awards (8 p.m. on ABC). Will the 6,000-plus voters reward him with his third trophy in that category or go for one of the younger nominees — Taylor Swift, Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton?
The 61-year-old singer has at least one vote.
“Of course I voted for myself,” Strait said with a laugh in a rare meeting with reporters this week. “I always vote for myself. I figure everybody does, why wouldn’t I? It’s such an honor. It’s been a while. We had a great year, it really was a great year, and any time you get nominated for entertainer of the year, which is the award of the night, it’s very, very special. I’m excited about it. I’ll be very nervous that night.”
Strait, the CMA’s most-nominated artist, won back-to-back trophies in the category in 1989 and 1990. He was last nominated for the award in 2009.
These things usually come in batches, and voters don’t often return previous winners to the stage after a significant break. Only Garth Brooks has had a wide gap between wins, taking victories in 1997 and 1998 after winning five years earlier in 1991 and 1992.
Even so, there’s reason to believe Strait has a shot. First, there’s not a performer in town who doesn’t owe Strait some kind of debt — and that goes for his counterparts in the category.
Each opened for Strait at some point early in their careers and each has learned part of the trade from him.
“For me, George is always going to be the guy who let me open up his shows when I was 17 and it was at that point in my life the biggest break I’d gotten as far as live touring because I got to be on the George Strait tour,” Swift said. “I learned so much from performing on an in-the-round stage and I think that he over the years has been so supportive, and I’ll get a text every now and then from him just sort of wishing me well.”
All four of Strait’s competitors in the category could take home the trophy.
Swift also is going for her third after wins in 2009 and 2011. Her album “Red” has gone platinum six times and she’s reached an even higher status in the pop music world, taking country music to all corners of the globe.
Shelton, star of “The Voice,” is going for his second straight win after a victory in 2012 that stunned even him.