“I’ve been coming to these for a long time,” he told PEOPLE Monday night at the ASCAP Country Music Awards at Music City Center. “I watched them as a kid. We’re having a big year, five nominations! I couldn’t top Miranda’s nine, but I outdid the other guys. I’ve seen it happen to my friends and I’ve been so happy for them, and now it’s like, ‘Wow, we’re actually having one of those years where everything works together – the record, the tour, the nominations. We’ve worked hard and I’m lucky and blessed.”
And with luck (and, you know, those nominations) comes CMA perks. “I’ve got a really good seat!” Bentley boasted of his spot for Wednesday’s awards. “I saw my photo card at rehearsal today in the front row, right there beside Faith and Tim. I sent [my wife] Cassidy a picture of our seats and she’s excited. We’re with Music Row royalty.”
However many times his name is called – or not – on Wednesday, Bentley is prepared. “It’s great to be nominated but I’m a professional non-winner too,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve been nominated 13 times for a Grammy and never won, so I know how to do that. I’ve got my ‘Yay, somebody else won, congratulations’ face down pat. But we’re winning right now. We’re playing in front of thousands of people, people are buying records and like them. We’re coming in here a winner and if I walk away without a trophy, that’s cool, I have a gig next week and the week after that. Every night I get to walk onto stage and start the show it’s like its own acceptance speech.”
Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood came to Tuesday’s event, too, with their wives Cassie and Kelli but without their Lady Antebellum lady Hillary Scott. “We’re walking the carpet as a duo, Charles and Dave, our new single ‘Pick-up Trucks and Bikinis’ is coming out next spring,” joked Haywood. “You’re the first to know.”
Might there be some truth behind the kidding around? “We’re doing ‘Bartender’ on the [CMAs] and it’s always great to perform in front of your peers,” said Kelley. “But we might have a surprise in store.”
On Tuesday night, though, Haywood was hoping for no surprises; the singer and his wife were enjoying one of their first dates without baby Cash, born in September. “This is one of the few nights we’ve been out together since Cash was born,” he said. “We have the sitter at the house and we’ve had a couple texts so far but so far, it’s all good.”
The 48th Annual CMA Awards air live on ABC tonight, Wednesday, Nov. 5, at 8 p.m. ET.
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