Seven things to watch for on tonight’s CMA Awards, including Taylor Swift and Dave Grohl

Tonight”s Country Music Assn. Awards promise to be full of great performances and some very interesting showdowns. The show, which includes appearances by Taylor Swift, Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, The Band Perry, Lady Antebellum, and even Dave Grohl and Jason Mraz, will once again be hosted by Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood. The festivities begin at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

We”ve highlighted seven things you should keep your eye on for tonight:

Taylor Swift”s performance: Tonight, the CMAs will honor Swift with the Pinnacle Award, a trophy it has only given out once before to Garth Brooks. It”s bestowed upon someone who has taken country music to new commercial and international heights. While it”s debatable how much of a country artist she still is (see “Today”s” snipe at Swift today, which felt more like NBC pettily raining on ABC”s parade more than anything else), Swift has always showed up at the CMAs and tonight, in a great move, she is surrounding herself with hardcore country royalty, including Vince Gill, Alison Krauss, and Sam Bush. She is seriously punching above her weight musically here and she knows it, which makes me like her ever more. 

Zac Brown Band with Dave Grohl: No word on what the two acts are performing together in advance, but as we broke last week, Grohl will produce the new ZBB album. This will be our first public look at their chemistry together, and, perhaps a hint at a new song.

Kacey Musgraves:  On her first album, she”s managed to upset the country apple cart a little with her sometimes edgy lyrics about smoking pot and kissing girls, but she”s caught everyone”s attention: to the tune of scoring six nominations tonight. Should she win big, it may be time to officially anoint her as the face of where young country music is headed, but my guess is that the nominations will have to suffice. The CMA voters are ready to publicly praise her, but other than New Artist of the Year (which could go to her or the more commercially successful Florida Georgia Line), she might not want to clear off mantel space just yet.

Zac Brown vs. Luke Bryan: A few weeks ago, Zac Brown started a firestorm when he called Luke Bryan”s mega-hit, “That”s My Kind of Night,” one of the worst songs” he”d ever heard. Bryan didn”t write the song, which went on to spend more weeks at No. 1 on Billboard”s Hot Country Songs chart than any other song in the last 50 years, but watch for Brown”s reaction tonight if Bryan performs the tune  (EDITOR’S NOTE :  Bryan just announced that he’ll be doing a new song, “Drink A Beer.” )  The two aren”t aren”t going head-for-head on any awards tonight, but it could be fun just to see how they react to each other. Sadly, country artists are known for their civility, so everyone will probably be on their best behavior.

Eric Church: He will debut the title track from his forthcoming album, “The Outsiders,” on tonight”s show. He”s discussed how rock the song is, but it”s not so much of a departure (in fact, to us it sounds like something that Hank Williams Jr. could have done… well, until the bridge when it cranks up to a heavy metal-like guitar solo) to cause the potential debate he might want it to. Given his strong live appeal and the song”s anthemic chorus, it could be a water-cooler moment.

George Jones Tribute: So for all you youngsters who don”t even know who George Jones was, it”s time to listen to Alan Jackson and George Strait pay homage to the greatest singer of all time. The two artists- who are the CMAs”  most nominated acts-will perform together in what is sure to be a touching moment and a gratifying one for long-time country music fans.

Entertainer of the Year:
Always a very hot race. Reigning champ Blake Shelton is nominated again and it seems the CMAs like to award him for the spotlight he”s shown on country music as mentor on “The Voice” as much as for his live show.  It”s Luke Bryan”s year and he stunned everyone by capturing this award at the Academy of Country Music Awards this spring, so he has the momentum. However, my guess is this is a race between Swift and George Strait, who is nominated, in part, because he is on his last tour, so it might be nice to honor him again before the cowboy rides away.