“That’s how you start an award show, son,” bellowed a breathless Charlie Daniels after the 45th Annual Academy of Country Music’s opening number, a high-energy “Traveling Band” mashup which included the fiddler, Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley and CCR hero/songwriter John Fogerty. The opening number ignited the show like throwing a match on a gassed up summer barbecue.
Live from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, the CBS event snaked around its first half hour at breakneck pace featuring uptempo-only performances from Blake Shelton/Trace Adkins, Billy Currington, Kenny Chesney and a choreographed song from newcomer Laura Bell Bundy. Bundy, clad in chaps and halter top immediately proved two things—she can flat out dance and owns one of country music’s most fit physiques. Her “Giddy On Up” provided a solid introductory vehicle and Bundy’s confidence shined throughout the performance.
A total of 11 honors and 23 performances filled the three hour proceedings, including the non-competitive Triple Crown honor which went to Carrie Underwood for previously winning Entertainer, Top Female and New Female trophies. Multiple award winners included Lady Antebellum with five (Single—artist and co-producer; Song—artist and composer; Top Vocal Group), Miranda Lambert with three (Female Vocalist, Album, Video) and Carrie Underwood with two (Entertainer, Triple Crown). Underwood became the first female to win the Entertainer honor twice. Special guests included Cher, LL Cool J and Matthew McConaughey. The crowd stood to recognize Cher as she introduced Shelton’s “Hillbilly Bone” duet, which had already been announced as winner of the Vocal Event honor.
It was Reba McEntire’s twelfth time to host and she handled the chore effortlessly, poking fun at artists, presenters and herself with good comedic effect. Her moving performance of “I Keep On Loving You,” featured video cameos of prominent country music husband/wife couples including Alan Jackson, Kix Brooks, Brad Paisley, Tim McGraw and herself.
ACM has done an exceptional job of using new technology to engage fans plus leverage ratings and overall excitement. This year the concept was expanded to include voting via text message and to let fans decide which song Brooks & Dunn would perform live. The Academy leadership was criticized early on by some artists and industry executives for beginning this bold initiative, but the concept is now taking root and becoming widespread across most award shows. Twitter, Facebook and other social networks were flooded with ACM tweets about everything from the saying “We miss country music” written on Rory Feek’s guitar (Top New Vocal Duo winners, Joey & Rory) to comments about the performances and winners. This communication initiative has placed ACM on a solid path that long term should enrich its show, assemble giant fan email databases and perhaps help raise money for the ACM’s charitable causes. Although some may be on solid ground questioning the methodology regarding the timing during the show of fan-voted nominee performances and when voting should be cut off, the wisdom of fan engagement will become more pronounced over time. Overall the 45th ACM Awards performed quite well. According to early reports from Zap2it.com the show peaked with 14 million viewers at 9 p.m. and a 8.2 rating/13 share to give CBS a solid win for the evening, down from last year about 6%, not bad considering that network viewership is falling. Last fall’s Wed. evening CMA Awards, which received its highest numbers since 2005, reached 16.85 million viewers by way of comparison.
As with all live award shows there were hits and misses at the mic plus special and a few not so special moments. Falling on the “not so much” side of the ledger was positioning Darius Rucker to close the show immediately after the presentation of the Entertainer of the Year Award. Rucker was great, but wouldn’t it have made more sense to let Brooks & Dunn close the show? Another unfortunate idea was to use a home video, grainy fuzz filter during Keith Urban’s performance. It was distracting and detracted from his artistry.
However, the good far outweighed the bad. Taylor Swift rode around suspended in a basket, ripped off her dress to “Change” and revealed a black pants outfit underneath and then ended her song falling blindly into an audience mosh pit where she was caught and carried offstage. Brad Paisley toured the crowd while playing guitar, and closed his song “Water” by plunging clothes and all (sans guitar) into a steamy hot tub. Miranda Lambert’s starkly moving “House That Built Me” received a standing ovation. Did we hear a 2011 Song of the Year nominee? Short performances from the new artist category winners, Luke Bryan, Gloriana and Joey & Rory were also well received.
The most important ratings of all for The Nashville community will arrive next week—the sales figures. Wait, can you hear it? It’s the sound of cash registers ringing and mouses clicking….let’s hope its loud, very loud.