A Great Idea 

When the Country Music Association announced a few weeks ago that it was considering moving its annual awards show to New York in 2005, the idea was met with some predictable laments about disloyalty, losing touch with county music’s base and the loss for Nashville.

The awards show, say the naysayers, is Nashville’s hallmark event that belongs to us every bit as much as the Oscars do to Los Angeles. There’s the additional economic argument that the money pumped into the Nashville economy during CMA week—when the labels and performing rights organizations schedule extravagant parties both before and after the show—is too important to lose. Many also worry that the performers, the label executives and the entire protoplasm that make up Music Row won’t travel to the show if it goes to another city, simply because nobody will want to spend the money.

In the face of all these reasons, there is considerable opposition to the proposed move. But that’s a terribly shortsighted view.

We at the Scene think the move would be a boon for the industry in the long run, even if Nashville took a short-term hit. First of all, there’s no threat of a permanent relocation for the awards show, as CMA officials have made it clear it would be a onetime move to generate excitement about the awards show format and about country music. That seems like a well-reasoned position, particularly given that country music sales are down about 6 percent from last year. Whether that trend will continue through the end of the year is unclear, but it seems to us that a temporary vacation for the awards show in New York, the media capital of the world, would only raise country music in the nation’s consciousness.

Bill Ivey, now ensconced at Vanderbilt University, recalls when he was chairman of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, which temporarily moved its signature show, the Grammys, from Los Angeles to New York. It worked.

“Moving the Grammys to New York clearly energized the show,” he says, acknowledging that nobody has confused the point that the home for the Grammys is still Los Angeles. “Partly by going to New York, you tap into northeastern viewership in a way that’s difficult to do any place other than there. And because Manhattan is so concentrated, the show itself and the ancillary events that precede it allow you to create a tremendous buzz in a way that can’t be duplicated anywhere else.”

The job of the Country Music Association is to market country music, to get it heard, played and purchased. Sure, moving the event to New York would be a hardship on segments of Nashville’s music business, its hoteliers, its limousine drivers. While the short-term sacrifice is clear, the long-term benefits would likely be greater. New York, let’s face it, offers something no other city can. For a limited time only, it would make perfect sense to exploit that.

Meanwhile, the real question about such a move would revolve around the ability of the CMA to line up a deal that would make sense economically. New York City officials, who made a presentation to the CMA board last month, are clearly on board. And if the CMA were to tap additional advertising dollars—perhaps something other than Chevy trucks—by moving the show to New York, then the move becomes even more attractive.

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