Country music is a community. Behind the headliners of every album and tour are the bands, the guitar techs, the session players, the repair shops, and other vital talents whose work you hear but don't necessarily see — until you take a closer look. For this year's CMA Awards, I wanted to spotlight the inner workings of the Country Music industry and also celebrate a return to touring. This year's portrait studio is designed entirely out of upcycled guitar strings — more than 3,000 sets — that have been plucked and strummed by the industry's finest musicians. Over the past six months, I've collected approximately 16,500 individual strings from the bands of Luke Bryan, Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood, Ashley McBryde, Darius Rucker, Kane Brown, Thomas Rhett, Blake Shelton, Eric Church, Old Dominion, Brothers Osborne, Jimmie Allen, Dan + Shay, Little Big Town, Luke Combs, Zac Brown Band and Carly Pearce, as well as Grand Ole Opry players. Local guitar shops in Nashville like Gruhn Guitars, Carter Vintage Guitars, Corner Music and Artisan Guitars also graciously contributed used strings. These individual strings were soldered into 10-foot-long strands and arranged into a visually compelling backdrop for artists and other CMA attendees on the red carpet. The resulting portraits echo the experience of listening to your favorite country songs: You'll notice the star right away — but take a closer look and you'll find their hardworking community shining brightly right behind them.
Dolly Parton grew up in an East Tennessee cabin with no electricity, but there was a radio — and the outside world came through it straight from Nashville every weekend. "All that music and all that applause, it took you to a place you'd never been," she says of the Grand Ole Opry's weekly broadcasts, which first launched in 1925. On Oct. 30, the Opry celebrated its 5,000th Saturday-night broadcast, but the longest-running music show in history is more than just a record-setting program