Inviting fans to the ACM Honors turned out to be an excellent idea – the event was punctuated by star-struck cheers of delight and spontaneous standing ovations.
There was a whole new level of energy at this fourth annual gig. The appearances of Randy Travis, Kenny Rogers, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Martina McBride and Keith Urban were greeted with fans’ shouts. Kenny’s performance of “The Gambler” drew a standing ovation, as did Randy’s medley of “On the Other Hand” and “Forever and Ever Amen.” Event host Lee Ann Womack got an s.o. for “You Don’t Know Me.” So did Marty Stuart with “Big Iron” and Ronny Robbins with Larry & Steve Gatlin for “El Paso.”
Staged at the Ryman Auditorium on Monday (9/20), the eve’s most important function was bestowing Pioneer Awards to Mel Tillis and the late Marty Robbins. “Daddy would be so proud of this,” said Marty’s son Ronny.
Lee Ann described singer-songwriter Mel as somebody “who can make you laugh as easily as he can make you cry.” John Rich did “Coca Cola Cowboy” for the honoree. “God bless Mel Tillis,” he said. After singing his career-launching, Mel-penned “Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town,” Kenny added, “I will be forever indebted to Mel Tillis. There are people who can write, and there are people who are songwriters.”
“I didn’t know they gave awards to dinosaurs,” responded Mel. He recalled coming to Nashville in 1956 and being told by Wesley Rose, “You wanna sing? Hell, you can’t even talk!” Also, “Webb Pierce would write ‘em, and he’d give me half of ‘em,” a reference to his famously split copyrights. Mel introduced four of his five kids in the audience (Pam was on the road), his two sisters, his girlfriend and his Statesiders band members. “I’d like to thank all of you folks,” he said to the cheering throng. “God bless all of you.” Mel drew yet another standing ovation.
The Poet Awards went to Don Schlitz and the late Cindy Walker. Lee Ann pointed out that Cindy had hits across five decades. Making their industry debut were The Secret Sisters performing a very spiffy version of Cindy’s “Dream Baby.” Cindy’s nieces Molly Dusenberry and Jerry Lawrence accepted.
After Randy and Kenny did his tunes, Don took the stage to a standing ovation. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” he began. “I’m just a lucky guy who got to hear some pretty good songs first….And I find this all to be very encouraging.” He strapped on a guitar to do a snippet from “When You Say Nothing at All,” then brought out Chapin to sing their co-penned “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her.”
The Jim Reeves International Award went to Keith, in light of his multi-nation touring during the past year. Presenter Kix Brooks recalled seeing a then-unknown Keith at the Guitar Bar on Nolensville Pike at the insistence of Scott Hendricks. “He was already a superstar – the rest of the world just didn’t know it,” said Kix. “He is our Wonder from Down Under.”
Keith got an s.o. before he ever spoke a word. “Country has a long, rich history touring internationally,” he said. “It’s been great recently to see a resurgence of that. This music is global. It crosses all language barriers because we speak and sing about the human condition. I feel incredibly honored. I’ll keep carrying the message everywhere I go.”
The Tex Ritter Award was given to the double Oscar winning film Crazy Heart. CMT’s Brian Phillips accepted, pointing out that Robert Duvall got the movie made, that it was Scott Cooper’s first film-directing job and that the feature was shot in just 28 days in the heat of New Mexico. He dedicated the award to the late Stephen Bruton.
The Musician of the Year winners were all repeat honorees. Presenter Frank Liddell noted that this was the 11th award for Brent Mason, the 9th award for Paul Franklin, the 8th award for Stuart Duncan, the 7th award for Michael Rhodes, the 3rd award for Randy Scruggs, the 3rd award for Shannon Forrest and the 2nd award for Michael Rojas.
“This is a very humbling position to be in,” said Scruggs. “There are so many incredible musicians in this town.”
“I’d like to thank the Academy for bringing us out of the engine room and up onto the deck to get a little sunshine,” added Rhodes. Franklin pointed out that he’d served four-and-a-half years as a Statesider, and Duncan noted that his first recording session was for Randy Travis.
The winning musicians gathered to perform “Passing Through,” which drew a standing ovation. Scruggs sang lead, and each winner got an instrumental solo.
Justin Niebank won his 3rd Academy of Country Music honor as an engineer. Dann Huff was also repeating, with his 2nd producer honor and 7th ACM trophy overall.
“Thanks Frank,” quipped wife Lee Ann after Liddell finished presenting. “What are you doing later?”
Presented by Bob Romeo, The Mae Boren Axton Award for service to the Academy of Country Music was given to lovable Rod Essig. Making their industry debut to sing “Big Blue Sky” for him was the new team of Sarah Buxton and Jedd Hughes. As Buxton Hughes, they sounded and looked adorable. At Rod’s request, Martina did “In My Daughter’s Eyes.”
Reigning ACM Top New Artist winner Luke Bryan presented five ACM industry accolades. Winning its 8th Nightclub of the Year trophy was Billy Bob’s Texas. Winning his 4th Promoter of the Year was Brian O’Connell. The Talent Buyer honor went to an ill and absent Todd Boltin. Casino of the Year was The Green Valley Ranch, Resort Spa & Casino in Las Vegas. Earning its first award as Venue of the Year was Music City’s own Bridgestone Arena. Brock Jones accepted.
Fabulons attending included Shawn Camp, Josh Thompson, Thom Schuyler, Jim Owens & Lorianne Crook, Dave Pomeroy, John Grady, John Dorris, Mike Dungan, Michael Gray, Mary Ann McCready, Steve Dahl, Bill Mayne, Ansel Davis, Lib Hatcher Travis, Charlie Monk, Neil Portnow, Susan Stewart, Alanna Grace, Greg Essig, Chuck Flood and Jay Orr.
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ACM Official Release Info [edited]
The Academy of Country Music Special Awards are voted on by the ACM Board of Directors and are awarded during years where the Board of Directors feels there are clear and deserving candidates. The evening’s honorees included:
Jim Reeves International Award: Keith Urban received the Jim Reeves International Award, presented to an individual for outstanding contributions to the acceptance of country music throughout the world. Urban, who was born in New Zealand and raised in Australia, has achieved international superstar status since he moved to Nashville in 1992. A six-time ACM Award winner, Urban is known for his many hits including several chart-toppers such as “Somebody Like You,” “You’ll Think of Me,” “Making Memories Of Us” and “Sweet Thing.” Past recipients of the Jim Reeves International Award include Garth Brooks, Dick Clark, Roy Clark, Merv Griffin, Charlie Nagatani, Buck Owens and Dolly Parton, among others.
Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award: Marty Robbins and Mel Tillis received the Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award honoring individuals who are pioneers in the country music genre. Robbins charted his first No. 1 single, “I’ll Go On Alone,” in 1953 and began an illustrious career that lasted four decades. Robbins was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1982 and passed away two months later. Tillis earned his first writing deal after country star Webb Pierce took the Tillis-penned tune “I’m Tired” to No. 3. The songwriter charted his own first Top 40 hit with “The Violet and a Rose” and continued to perform his own songs, charting the hits “Wine,” “Stateside,” “Life Turned Her That Way,” “Good Woman Blues,” “Coca Cola Cowboy” and “I Ain’t Never,” which gave him his first No. 1 hit in 1972. Tillis continues to perform today and was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry cast in 2007.
Poet’s Award: Don Schlitz and Cindy Walker received the Poet’s Award, which honors songwriters for outstanding musical and/or lyrical contributions throughout their careers in the field of country music. One of Schlitz’s first cuts as a songwriter, a story song he titled “The Gambler,” was recorded by Kenny Rogers and became a massive crossover hit. From there Schlitz went on to find great success co-writing with Paul Overstreet for a new artist named Randy Travis. Schlitz also crafted Keith Whitley’s signature hit, “When You Say Nothing at All.” Walker’s career launched when the legendary Bing Crosby recorded her song “Lone Star Trail,” which became a Top 10 hit. That break began a 13-year stint in Hollywood, where Walker appeared in and wrote songs for Western films. Western Swing legend Bob Wills recorded more than 50 of Walker’s songs, including “Cherokee Maiden,” “Bubbles in My Beer” and “You’re From Texas.” After Walker’s death in 2006 she willed the rights to her body of work to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Previous recipients of the Poet’s Award include Bill Anderson, Merle Haggard, Harlan Howard and Fred Rose.
Tex Ritter Award: Crazy Heart recieved the Tex Ritter Award, given to a movie released and/or receiving major exposure during the preceding calendar year, featuring or utilizing country music. The romantic drama stars Academy Award-winner Jeff Bridges as “Bad Blake,” a broken down country singer/songwriter who wants to turn his life around after establishing a relationship with a young journalist named Jean, played by Oscar nominee Maggie Gyllenhaal. The movie soundtrack, produced by T Bone Burnett, featured work by late guitarist Stephen Bruton. The original song “The Weary Kind,” performed and written by country singer/songwriter Ryan Bingham, won both the Golden Globe and the Oscar in 2010. Crazy Heart is produced by Scott Cooper, Robert Duvall, Rob Carliner, Judy Cairo and T Bone Burnett and is executive produced by Jeff Bridges, Michael A. Simpson, Eric Brenner and Leslie Belzberg. The film is directed by Scott Cooper. The studio production companies for Crazy Heart are Informant Media and Butcher’s Run Films. Past recipients of the Tex Ritter Award include Beer For My Horses, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, O’Brother, Where Art Thou, Sweet Dreams and Walk the Line, among others.
Mae Boren Axton Award: Rod Essig received the Mae Boren Axton Award, which is given in recognition of years of dedication and service by an outstanding individual to the Academy of Country Music. Former ACM Chairman Essig started his expansive career in the music industry as vice president and co-owner of Variety Artists International, a booking agency based in Minneapolis. In 1992, Essig joined Creative Artists Agency in Los Angeles before moving to Nashville, where he was instrumental in opening the agency’s Music City operation. Essig currently steers the careers of some of country’s biggest acts, including Tim McGraw, Reba McEntire, Martina McBride and LeAnn Rimes. He has served on the Academy’s board of directors in various capacities for 14 years. During his tenure as chairman, the Academy rebranded and re-launched its charitable arm, ACM Lifting Lives™, as well as expanded its reach in the digital realm with fan voting for the Entertainer of the Year and Top New Artist categories and increased its presence on television. Past recipients of the Mae Boren Axton Award include Jack Lameier, Marge Meoli, Ray Pilzak, Gaynelle Pitts, Gene Weed and David Young.
MBI & INDUSTRY AWARD
Winners of the MBI (Musician/Bandleader/Instrumentalist) categories:
Stuart Duncan – Top Fiddle Player of the Year
Shannon Forrest – Top Percussionist/Drummer of the Year
Paul Franklin – Top Steel Guitar Player of the Year
Dann Huff – Producer of the Year
Brent Mason – Top Guitarist of the Year
Justin Niebank – Audio Engineer of the Year
Michael Rhodes – Top Bass Player of the Year
Michael Rojas – Top Piano/Keyboard Player of the Year
Randy Scruggs – Top Specialty Instrument(s) Player of the Year
Winners of the Industry Awards categories:
Todd Boltin, Variety Attractions, Inc. – Don Romeo Talent Buyer of the Year
Brian O’Connell, Live Nation – Promoter of the Year
Billy Bob’s Texas (Ft. Worth, TX) – Nightclub of the Year
Green Valley Ranch Resort, Spa and Casino (Las Vegas, NV) – Casino of the Year
Sommet Center – renamed Bridgestone Arena (Nashville, TN) – Venue of the Year