Classic CMA Awards Moments, #6: Mary Chapin Carpenter’s Opening Act (1990)

#6: Mary Chapin Carpenter
Opening Act

In a rare coup for a new artist, Mary Chapin Carpenter earned a coveted performance slot on the 1990 show, and she used it to establish her identity as one of country music’s left-of-center talents. She decided to perform the biting “You Don’t Know Me (I’m the Opening Act),” a cutting dismissal of country star power gone awry. It was a risky move, with the less-than-famous artist taking a stab at the music industry who would determine the fate of her career.

In delivering such clever lines as, “This is my career and I’m paying my dues/And if I ever get rich and famous I guess I’ll be a jackass, too/Till then, you don’t know me/I’m the opening act,” she managed to gain acceptance from the crowd. The witty ode to those whose egos have trumped their talent, inspired by Carpenter’s headlining act/touring partner in 1990, was a major hit with the audience. She received a standing ovation at the end of the semi-scandalous story of a rising musician’s struggle. But Carpenter didn’t struggle for long. Two years later, she won the first of back-to-back Female Vocalist of the Year trophies in a CMA career that included 12 nominations, among them, a nomination for Album of the Year and Single of the Year (for the similarly sharp “I Feel Lucky”) in 1992.

Mary Chapin Carpenter, “You Don’t Know Me (I’m the Opening Act)” (1990)


  1. Besides songwriting, I would suspect that one of the gifts that MCC showed in that song was clairvoyance, for she must have foreseen the enormous ego problems that would overtake certain artists, not just in the country music field but throughout the entire music industry as well. Befitting a left-of-center artist like herself who came from a folk music background, she did it all with a sardonic kind of humor not found all that much in country. I rather like that.

  2. This reminds me of a couple of things…

    First, I saw her several years ago at a small music hall here in Omaha when she was touring in support of “Between Here and Gone.” One thing that I love about MCC shows is that it never seems overly rehearsed or rigid. Both times I’ve seen her, she played songs people requested from the audience and didn’t seem stuck to a set list. There must have been someone down front begging for the “opening act” song but she said she couldn’t remember the words. She had someone backstage get online and look them up. A few songs later, she had the lyrics in front of her and gave it a whirl…a moment I’ll never forget :)

    Also, like several other posts in this CMA review, it reminds me of when the CMAs let other people besides the top stars on the stage…oh for the “good old days”

  3. does anybody know if there is an audio version of this song available anywhere? I’ve always searched for one but never had any luck. To me, it’s just as great and clever as anything she ever released.

  4. At this time, no recorded version is available, Joe. Although it made an important impact on her career, Chapin always considered it just a witty little ditty, and has never released it on an album.

  5. A friend of mine who toured with MCC told me that Opening Act is about Dwight Yoakum. They did a tour of Europe together early in her career.

  6. I think based on the lyrics it’s Dwight the lines where she says something to the effect “wearing a cowboy hat because her’s goin bald and tight jeans and little rhinestone jackets”. Plus a friend of mine who is a professional musician played a concert with Dwight and said he is a total asshole. Too bad but I still like his music

  7. I have been curious of she got any negative feedback from the song thought it was funny. I bet other genres of music have had people who treated lesser stars with not favorable treatment

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