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ACM Awards: The real drama wasn't televised

April 6, 2009 | 11:32 am


Post-award show news conferences are typically predictable fare. An artist wins an award, heads backstage, says a few canned quotes and then makes his or her way to some private party. But for two years running now, it seems as if the press room at the Academy of Country Music Awards has been the place to be.

Last year, Kenny Chesney lit into the ACM's recent adoption of fan voting for its top entertainer of the year prize, which this year went to Carrie Underwood, an artist who fares pretty well when the people get to vote. But that was nothin' compared to the scolding Toby Keith gave reporter Peter Cooper of the Tennessean in Nashville. Keith apparently went looking for a fight, telling HitFix's Melinda Newman the night before the awards that he was on the prowl for Cooper.

So the quick recap: Actor Ethan Hawke wrote a piece in Rolling Stone, which is not online, about Kris Kristofferson. In the article, an altercation between Kristofferson and an unnamed country artist is mentioned as having taken place at Willie Nelson's birthday party at Madison Square Garden in 2003, with Kristofferson telling the artist not to perform "any of that lefty [stuff] out there tonight.”

Cooper picked up on the article, and wrote a short piece in the Tennessean on April 3. A clue to the artist is given in Cooper's piece, as it's written that his name rhymes with "Moby Teeth." Keith wasn't pleased, to say the least, when he made his trek to the press room.

Here's how Hitfix's Newman describes it. We've removed the swear words:

We all start asking Keith questions. Cooper, incredibly, raises his hand. Keith stares him down and lets him start, but quickly cuts him off and asks him if he's nervous. Cooper's voice is shaking a little. Cooper says he's alright. For the next seven minutes, he reams Cooper -- he never raises his voice, but he's like a caged tiger and looks like he wants to leap off the stage and go for the jugular. He tells Cooper, "I'm not ... okay" being in the same room with him. "You ran something ... you're in default. I'm struggling being here with you in the room. Ethan Hawke reported a fictitious story about me, Kris and Willie. You ran it and took it to supersize French fries and now you have to answer [for] it."

Cooper detailed the confrontation in his own recap, and noted that Keith "won’t be including yours truly on his Christmas list this year." As for Hawke, he wasn't in the press room, and avoided Keith's wrath. Sort of. This, apparently, writes Cooper, is what Keith had to say about the actor: “He didn’t want to deal with the aftermath. He thought he could dance around and say it was whoever it was."

On Saturday, Kristofferson wrote a letter to the Tennessean, denying that the incident took place. "I have no memory of talking so tough to anyone at Willie's birthday party -- least of all to Toby Keith, (if that's who the nameless star is), for whom I have nothing but admiration and respect," reads the letter.

-- Todd Martens

Photo: Associated Press