- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Since when does “Walk This Way” qualify as country music? I have to ask after Sunday night’s Acad- emy of Country Music Awards (ACM) telecast from Las Vegas on CBS, early on in which songbird Carrie Underwood was joined on stage by Aerosmith frontman/”American Idol” judge Steven Tyler for a duet of the late-‘70s hard-rock classic.

“I Walk the Line,” maybe. “Walking After Midnight,” perhaps. “Walking the Floor Over You” would work, too, but “Walk This Way”??

Sorry, but the fact that Miss Underwood was an “American Idol” winner and Mr. Tyler is now an “Idol” judge, doesn’t come close to explaining, much less justifying, his presence on the show or the unseemly song selection.

Indeed, during the three-hour Academy of Country Music Awards extravaganza - it would not be an overstatement to characterize it as such, given that it was held in not one, but two Vegas venues simultaneously - there was maybe five to 10 minutes of music that actually qualified as country, at least as I remember it, from my days as a part-time country music deejay in Portland, Maine, in the early ‘80s, spinning vinyl 45s.

I suppose you could call it country-rock, minus the country. Steel guitars were nowhere to be seen, much less heard; a banjo made only a cameo appearance, on Taylor Swift’s live debut of “Mean.” As a Facebook friend, with whom I was having an online back-and-forth during the telecast, noted: “Haven’t you heard? Country is the new rock.” Alas.

Don’t misunderstand; most of the music that won ACM Awards on Sunday night and/or that was performed from the stages of the MGM Grand arena and the Mandalay Bay was pleasant enough, particularly Zac Brown’s duet with James Taylor (yes, that James Taylor) on Mr. Brown’s “Colder Weather.” Just don’t call it country. What happens in Branson apparently stays in Branson.

The least the ACMs could have done, to give the proceedings at least the patina of genuine country music, assuming they were even interested in doing so, was have some old-school stars (e.g., George Jones, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard) as the presenters announcing the nominees and winners, rather than folks (among them actors Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson) who have absolutely nothing to do with country music. Oh, excuse me. They’re filming a movie in Tennessee. Close enough, I suppose, for a Dick Clark Production.

The closest old-school got to the stage was when co-host Blake Shelton sang his new single, “Honey Bee,” with its lyric line “You be my little Loretta, I’ll be your Conway Twitty.”

Yes, Brad Paisley did bring along the 1970s-80s country music supergroup Alabama as a prop for his latest release “Old Alabama,” and the mother-daughter duo the Judds did present one of the awards, but just as one example, Charlie Pride could’ve been brought in to introduce what was hands-down the most touching performance of the night: Fellow black country music star Darius Rucker’s “Music From the Heart,” a song co-written by Chris Young, Brett James and 25 developmentally disabled young adults at the ACM Lifting Lives Music Camp last summer, all of whom joined Mr. Rucker for the performance.

For all my sturm und twang here, I don’t consider myself a country music “purist” per se. Back in the early-to-mid-1970s, for example, I was OK with Olivia Newton-John (“Let Me Be There,” “If You Love Me, Let Me Know”) and John Denver (“Thank God I’m a Country Boy”) “crossing over” from the pop to the country charts and with country’s 1970s “countrypolitan” phase (think Charlie Rich’s “Behind Closed Doors” and “The Most Beautiful Girl,” and Crystal Gayle’s “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue.”)

But until only fairly recently, country music has been the redheaded stepchild (sorry, Willie) of journalism’s music beat, with coverage sporadic at best, so I guess it should come as no surprise that country has had to tart itself up to get that attention. But just don’t call it country.

Peter Parisi is an editor at The Washington Times.