Alan Jackson’s brilliant tribute to the tragedy of September 11 met a subdued audience when the CMA show was held just two months after the attack. That night, Jackson was nominated for three awards, but this performance superseded that achievement. It was a moment in which Americans, still in mourning following the worst terrorist attack ever on U.S. soil, were united by Jackson’s anthem of grief and loss.
The song described a humble man who subscribed to the basic values of faith, hope and love and put a proper perspective on the tragedy by examining what really matters in his life. He proposes watching I Love Lucy reruns, reaching for the Bible and holding tight to loved ones in the time of uncertainty. The writing and performing of “Where Were You” made Jackson an unexpected, but worthy ambassador for those who could not quite capture their own feelings about the subject. It also sparked a resurgence in Jackson’s career, one marked by the honest, humble words of a hillbilly poet with a pure, country voice. He’s third on the list of most honored CMA artists, owning 16 awards, including two awards for Male Vocalist of the Year and three wins as Entertainer of the Year.
What makes Jackson’s performance the most notable in the history of the CMA Awards is the song’s close connection with the themes have driven the format since its humble beginnings. The cliche’ often invoked about country music is that it portrays real life in just a matter of minutes. With the music business now built on increasing calculation, rather than inspiration, fewer moments of true spontaneity are captured and even fewer are presented to the public. On this night, the self-prescribed “singer of simple songs” proved that the legendary leaders of the genre, with their timeless melodies and rhymes, are still capable of transcendant art.