It was the year of country music's breakthrough--skyrocketing record sales, network TV shows, Time magazine cover story. But on country music's second-biggest night (Nashville's Country Music Assn. Awards still rule), Wednesday's nationally televised Academy of Country Music Awards show from the Universal Amphitheatre wasn't even seen in its host city, and the movement's messiah, Garth Brooks, publicly mulled retirement.
KNBC Channel 4 joined most other local stations in preempting scheduled programming--including the two-hour ACM show--to cover the disturbances following the Rodney G. King beating verdict. Some television camera crews were even summoned out of the backstage press area during the program to cover the harder news. (KNBC has rescheduled the show for Sunday at midnight.)
What Los Angeles country fans missed was a crack in the armor of Brooks, whose three albums have sold in the area of 16 million copies and who last year picked up six awards from the Los Angeles-based academy. This year he was nominated for five, but took just two: male vocalist and entertainer of the year.
In the press tent, Brooks displayed the combination of calculation and condor that make him such a compelling performer. He had his humble moments ("I think tonight showed that I'm not the cause (of country's success). I feel lucky to be part of it"), and he praised the competition, but he also seemed disturbed by the outcome of the awards. "Now I've got to go back and look and . . . bear down. Maybe we sat back and maybe we didn't do something we should have, so now it's time to go to work."