Country Music Awards Preview

Cowboy hats and the twang of the steel guitar may take a back seat to rock ’n’ roll in the mainstream media most of the year, but tonight is their time to shine.

The Country Music Association doles out the industry’s most prestigious honors, the Country Music Association Awards, with a live broadcast on CBS from the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, Tenn.

Viewers will be treated to an array of top talent including Mary Chapin Carpenter, Kim Richey, LeAnn Rimes, Billy Gilman, Alison Krauss, Billy Dean, Chad Brock, Eric Heatherly, Reba McEntire and Charlie Daniels.

The big star of the night could be 27-year-old Brad Paisley, who has never won a CMA but is up for six tonight.

A veteran of West Virginia’s “Jamboree USA,” Paisley is a singer, instrumentalist and songwriter on whose shoulders ride the country music industry’s hopes amid a slump, some music critics say.

His name is among the nominees in the categories for top Male Vocalist, Single, Album, Song, Music Video and Horizon.

Paisley is tied with sultry singer Faith Hill for the most nominations in the most popular categories. Hill is competing with her husband, Tim McGraw, for the Entertainer of the Year award — making them the first husband and wife to be up for the same award at the same time.

Dixie Jitters Five time CMA winners the Dixie Chicks are also up for Entertainer of the Year, to the delight of member Natalie Maines. “I’ve never wanted to win an award before but I want to win this one,” she told reporters Tuesday.

Bandmate Martie Seidel said her concerns have more to do with the kind of issues that surround all prominent awards shows: “I just want to know if we get to sit on the front row this year. I just don’t want to get worst-dressed again.”

The band will take next year off to focus on building their families, as Maines is pregnant and Emily Robison is trying to become a mom. The trio has rather quickly risen to the top of the country scene, and Robison says it’s no coincidence they are so comfortable with their rise to fame.

“We made all our mistakes before anyone was watching … You know, if you spend six years on the road, having every job. We knew how to be a band before we knew how to be famous and that’s really important,” said Robison.

Pop Goes the Music

One of the nominees for Song of the Year is a tune called “Murder on Music Row,” which slams the country music industry for its pop-oriented productions.

The song, written by Larry Shell and Larry Cordle, was recorded by traditionalist singers George Strait and Alan Jackson but was not promoted by the industry.

“So our song made it on its own,” said Shell. “Let them face it — they’re just not putting out real country music any more.”

Some blame the straying from country’s roots for the slump that has seen the segment’s share of compact disc sales drop to less than 10 percent of the overall music market from about 20 percent in the early 1990s.

Jackson and Strait are also competing for the Entertainer of the Year award.

Jackson, with seven CMA prizes, is a perennial favorite, as is fellow-traditionalist Strait who has 14 wins, second only to the show’s host, Vince Gill, who leads the pack with 18 and is shooting for the Male Vocalist prize this year.

Presenters of awards will include Shania Twain, Ricky Skaggs, Travis Tritt, Steve Wariner and Dwight Yoakam. among others. Lance Bass of supergroup ’N Sync will also present an award.

Also performing will be Charley Pride, who was named earlier to the Country Music Hall of Fame, along with the late Faron Young. Pride will be inducted during the show.

ABCNEWS Radio’s Dan Gordon, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.