Jason Isbell Says He and Amanda Shires Are Canceling CMA Memberships After 2020 Ceremony
Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires are canceling their Country Music Association memberships after their friend and fellow artist John Prine was not honored during the 2020 CMA Awards on Wednesday night (Nov. 11). The musical couple are two of many dismayed about the show's lack of tribute to the late folk icon and other key figures in the genre.
"Due to @CountryMusic’s failure to mention John Prine, Jerry Jeff Walker and Billy Joe Shaver at the CMAs last night, @amandashires and I have decided to return our membership cards," Isbell, a 2017 CMA Album of the Year nominee, shared on Twitter on Thursday evening (Nov. 12). "I doubt anybody will care, but we cared a lot about our heroes."
The 2020 CMA Awards did not include an in memoriam segment, but did feature a number of performance in honor of some of the artists and songwriters who have died this year. The show opened with a tribute to Charlie Daniels, who died in July, and also included memorial performances for Kenny Rogers and Joe Diffie -- both of whom died in March, the latter of COVID-19 -- and songwriter Mac Davis, who died in September. Additionally, Charley Pride received the CMA Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award, and a performance by Old Dominion recognized the 40th anniversary of the movie Urban Cowboy.
While 2020 has been a year filled with the deaths of a number of influential country names, Prine's legacy is on par with those of Daniels and Rogers. After the artist died of COVID-19 in early April, he was mourned by dozens of artists who considered the singer and songwriter a pal, mentor and hero. George Strait took Prine's "I Just Want to Dance With You" to the top of the country charts in the late '90s, and Bonnie Raitt turned his "Angel From Montgomery" into a classic of her own.
Although he never won a CMA, Prine did earn two nominations -- one in 1992, for Vocal Event of the Year, and one in 1998, for Song of the Year, the latter for that Strait hit -- and many mainstream artists (hit songwriter and rising artist Hardy among them) and modern-day Americana and folk acts cite him as an influence. An in memoriam segment during the 2020 ACM Awards in September did include him.
"We're disappointed John won't be a part of the CMA award [sic] show tonight. Country music was both the inspiration and foundation for his songwriting and performing," Prine's record label, Oh Boy Records, tweeted before the 2020 CMA Awards. "While there may be a number of artists who have had more commercial success than John, there are very few who achieved more artistically."
Added Prine's wife Fiona in a tweet of her own, "I know @JohnPrineMusic was Country as Country can get ... now, if we could just get our hands on that CMA rule book."
Sturgill Simpson -- who busked outside the CMA Awards in 2017 in protest of the show -- also shared some thoughts in an Instagram video, noting that "two seconds" is all it would have taken to pay tribute to Prine.
"It's literally two syllables: John. Prine. That's it," he laments, pointing behind him to Darius Rucker's performance and adding, "Got all the time in the world for this s--t."
The 2020 CMA Awards took place live at Nashville's Music City Center, with showrunners having to make a number of last-minute changes to the show's performance lineup after Lee Brice, Florida Georgia Line's Tyler Hubbard, an unspecified Rascal Flatts member and fiddle player Jenee Fleenor all tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of the show. Additionally, Lady A dropped out at the last minute after someone in one of their immediate families tested positive for the virus.
Rigorous testing, as well as other protocols, were in place for the night, but after artists and their guests were spotted maskless at tables and mingling on the show floor, the Country Music Association issued a statement further clarifying its policies:
"We are following all protocols that have been put in place by the CDC as well as the creative unions to ensure we provide the safest environment possible. Prior to even stepping onto our footprint at MCC, every single person (including artists and their reps) was required to be tested, with many testing repeatedly throughout the week as an extra measure of precaution," said a representative on behalf of the CMA. "Just as with COVID regulations at restaurants, all in attendance are required to wear a mask any time they leave their assigned seat. Staff and crew are also required to wear PPE at all times and, of course, practice social and physical distancing. Tables are spaced eight feet apart with no more than four people seated per table."