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50th Annual CMA Awards - Show

Chris Stapleton accepts the award for male vocalist of the year at the 50th annual CMA Awards at the Bridgestone Arena on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn.

Alan Jackson's blood started to boil as he watched Beyonce perform on the Country Music Association awards show last year. Disgusted with the way pop music has been allowed to infiltrate his sacred genre, the soft-spoken crooner got up and left.

Jackson had vocally addressed concerns with the CMA before. He teamed with George Strait on the 2001 Song of the Year, “Murder on Music Row,” to warn fans that industry executives were orchestrating a plan to shift country music away from its traditional roots to a more pop-oriented sound.

To the CMA's credit, they don't hold a grudge. The organization put Jackson in the Country Music Hall of Fame this year. Maybe the quiet protest by Jackson was just enough to shift the momentum in the modern-day battle for Nashville.

Leading the charge is the most unlikely of heroes — Chris Stapleton.

Virtually unknown outside of the tight-knit circle of Music City songwriters prior to 2015, Stapleton created an unstoppable buzz two years ago with the release of his “Traveler” album and act-breaking single “Tennessee Whiskey.”

In a flat-out weird twist of fate, Stapleton's surge in momentum was created by an appearance on the 2015 CMA Awards singing and trading guitar riffs with pop icon Justin Timberlake. The glue that once held together boy band NSYNC may have been responsible for turning the tide of country music back toward its traditional roots.

Stapleton has the ability to fill huge arenas with his soaring vocals and sizzling guitar. He has a top-notch touring band, but could fill stadiums by simply walking solo to center stage and tearing into his mountain of remarkable tunes.

As a result of Stapleton's meteoric rise and his undeniable influence on the Nashville music community, I predict he will be named Entertainer of the Year by the CMA when its hosts its 51st annual awards presentation on Wednesday. Other nominees in the category include defending champ and five-time winner Garth Brooks, Luke Bryan, Keith Urban and Eric Church.

Hosted for a 10th straight year by Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood, the program airs at 7 p.m. Nov. 8 on ABC-TV.

There are sure to be a many surprises during the night as the prestigious organization attempts to satisfy an audience from a format with constantly expanding boundaries. Stapleton receiving the top prize at the star-studded ceremony may be the best bet of the night.

Reigning crown holder Stapleton, Eric Church, Dierks Bentley and Urban all have a decent shot at Male Vocalist of the Year, but Thomas Rhett is in solid control of this race.

Rhett has taken nine of his last 10 singles to the top of the charts, including recent efforts “T-shirt” and “Star of the Show,” and he teamed with Maren Morris on “Craving You,” which has earned nominations for Video and Musical Event of the Year.

The interesting competition for Female Vocalist of the Year pits new faces Kelsea Ballerini and Maren Morris against dominating veterans Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood and Reba McEntire. The votes will be split evenly between all five candidates.

With parity among the females, the edge should definitely go with Ballerini. The 24-year-old eastern Tennessee native has been called the new Taylor Swift from the minute she arrived in Nashville. Best known for her hit “Peter Pan,” she releases her sophomore album “Unapologetically” on Friday, and will headline a tour in early 2018 to promote the project.

Maybe the biggest shocker of the night will be Old Dominion winning Group of the Year honors, breaking the five-year stranglehold Little Big Town has had on the trophy and holding off other superstar acts like Lady Antebellum, Rascal Flatts and the Zac Brown Band.

Lead singer Matt Ramsey projects a laid-back, cool vibe and the band has done nothing but crank out hits like “Song for Another Time,” “No Such Thing as a Broken Heart” and “Snap Back” over the past couple years.

Old Dominion will be rewarded for patiently building a career one great song after another.

The upset of the night will be LoCash winning Duo of the Year, snatching the prize from favorites Florida George Line. My gut feeling is that CMA voters realize how hard LoCash had worked in the industry for a decade, building a massive fan base without the benefit of a radio hit.

The duo finally got on the charts with “I Know Somebody” and “I Love This Life.” I'll admit my opinion is biased in this category. LoCash has adopted Southern Illinois as home and this past weekend raised over $50,000 for the St. Jude Children's Reasearch Hospital at a concert sponsored by Z-100 radio and Black Diamond Harley-Davidson.

There is no doubt that Sam Hunt will win Single of the Year for his pop-infused monster “Body Like A Back Road.” The tune shattered all records by staying No. 1 on the charts for an amazing 34 weeks, more than twice as long as any single by Hank Williams, the greatest country singer of all time.

Little Big Town will win Song of the Year honors for the Taylor Swift-written “Better Man.”

Jon Pardi will parlay the popularity of “Dirt On My Boots,” which was nominated for both Song and Single of the Year, into a victory in a closely matched New Artist of the Year category.

Others winners will be: Keith Urban, “Blue Ain't Your Color,” Video of the Year; Willie Nelson and Glen Campbell, “Funny How Time Slips Away,” Musical Event of the Year; Jerry Douglas, dobro, Musician of the Year; and a final Hail Mary prediction, Jason Isbell, “Nashville Sound,” Album of the Year.

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VINCE HOFFARD can be reached at 618-658-9095 or vincehoffard@gmail.com.

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