The 2016 CMT Music Awards was the most watched show in the event’s history, with nearly 4 million viewers tuning in across three networks on Wednesday, June 8. Paramount employee Shannon Griffith, however, wasn’t one of those viewers—she lived the event. As the winner of Viacom’s CMT Awards Employee Lottery, she got to watch country music’s party of the year from the VIP balcony in Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena.
It was one of the most surreal nights of her life, and also one of the most unexpected. It had been exactly one week since Viacom announced the lottery. Griffith, who works in Paramount’s Hollywood Studio, didn’t anticipate winning the lucrative prize. She entered on behalf of her mother, who she considers the ultimate country music fan.
“I wish I could win this for you,” Griffith wrote in an email to her mother the day she entered.
Her wish came true. She immediately called her mother.
“She was through-the-roof excited,” said Griffith. The night before, her mother’s beloved cowgirl hat spontaneously fell out of her closet. She hadn’t seen it in years. “She was sad,” said Griffith, “Because she didn’t get the opportunity to wear it. After I told her we won, she realized it was a sign she would be wearing it soon.”
The pair arrived in Nashville on Tuesday, June 7. It was their first trip to Music City, and the timing was supreme. The CMT Awards coincided with the week-long CMA Music Festival, creating a hub of artistic energy throughout the vibrant metropolis. “You could walk just half a block in any direction,” said Griffith, “And find festivities happening all around.”
Their prize included accommodations at the Omni Hotel and Resort. While the five-star resort had a rooftop pool with a panoramic view of downtown Nashville, Griffith and her mother spent most of their time exploring the city. They trekked through eclectic neighborhoods and stopped at historic landmarks, including the legendary Grand Ole Opry. They ventured to Nashville’s quaint shopping district, 12th Street South, and visited Reese Witherspoon’s folksy boutique, Draper James.
Griffith was delighted to catch an impromptu honky-tonk performance at a lush Nashville park. “I like old country,” said Griffith. “Merle Haggard, Graham Parsons, George James.” While Griffith is partial to the genre’s classical artists, her mother is a fan of contemporary country-pop stars, such as Carrie Underwood. Luckily for Griffith and her mother, the CMT Awards’ robust lineup would cater to both of their tastes.
After a whirlwind 24 hours of sightseeing, the duo prepped for the big affair from their hotel. Out their window, they could see the Bridgestone Arena and the stars posing on the red carpet.
Then they headed to the show. Griffith marveled at the fusion of classic country and contemporary rap, pop, and R&B. She especially loved the unpredictable closing act, where rapper Pharrell joined progressive country band Little Big Town for a collaboration of their hit, One Dance. Her balcony seating gave her a perfectly unobstructed view of the stage, and sitting across the aisle from Nicole Kidman, Keith Urban and other celebrities was thrilling.
But the ultimate perk of the experience was sharing it with her mother. “She didn’t stop smiling from the moment I told her we won until now,” said Griffith. “She’s actually still smiling. Nashville has been a dream place she has always wanted to visit.”
For Griffith and her mother, winning the Viacom employee lottery was not just a lavish extravaganza. It gave them a chance to discover a vibrant city and bond over its enchanting culture. Now, Griffith’s mother wants to become a permanent resident.
“My mom and I couldn’t believe it was an experience I was able to have,” said Griffith. “I’m proud to be a Viacom and Paramount employee, and I was honored to share where I came from at the CMT Awards.”
As for the cowgirl hat, Griffith’s mother wore it for the entire trip.