ACM Honors: A Night of Authenticity

Alan Jackson accepts the Jim Reeves International Award at the ACM Honors.

Country music fans, superstar talent and industry elite turned out in force for the Academy of Country Music’s 6th Annual ACM Honors Monday night (9/24) at the Ryman Auditorium. Hosted by Dierks Bentley and presented by City National Bank, the sold-out event was an evening dedicated to recognizing the special honorees and off-camera category winners from the 47th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards.

As a first-time host of the ACM Honors, Bentley kept the pace moving fast during the three-hour show which included a mix of live music, historical video retrospectives, and current video tributes and interviews with industry veterans honoring Special Awards recipients, MBI category winners (Musician, Bandleader, Instrumentalist) and Industry Awards categories. Jana Kramer presented the Industry awards and Love and Theft presented the MBI awards.

One of the best things about this awards show is its authenticity. It was pointed out early in the evening that this show was about sincerely honoring those people who have made significant contributions to our industry and not about acting or speaking a certain way for a televised production. Led by Academy of Country Music CEO Bob Romeo, this set the stage for a very real, and sometimes emotional, evening of accolades and stories.

Upon receiving Promoter of the Year honors, Brian O’Connell with Live Nation said, “This will never suck… never, ever, ever suck.” Kenny Greenberg, honored as Guitarist of the Year confessed, “My favorite guitar player in the world is here tonight–my wife, Ashley Cleveland.”

Kellie Pickler, sporting a recently shaved head in support of a friend’s battle with cancer, introduced Frank Liddell as Producer of the Year along with a list of his impressive accomplishments. Liddell then took the stage asking the audience, “How do I follow that?” Pickler, with her quick wit, responded, “Shave your head!”

Luke Bryan shared how he met the night’s Songwriter of the Year, Dallas Davidson, during deer season in the ’90s when Dallas left a note on his car regarding his unsolicited use of Davidson’s deer stand. After performing “Country Girl (Shake It For Me)” and “I Don’t Want This Night To End” in a medley tribute to Davidson, host Bentley shared the best joke of the evening. Looking at Bryan, he quipped “What do Luke Bryan’s pants and Motel 6 have in common? No ballroom!” The audience loved it and “tight pants” vs. “baggy pants” become fodder as Davidson accepted the trophy saying, “This is not pretty cool. This is extremely cool. And I wore my Luke Bryan jeans today, but he let me down with those baggy pants.”

(L-R): Bob Romeo, CEO of the ACM; Randy Houser; Dallas Davidson, Songwriter of the Year; Luke Bryan; Butch Waugh, ACM Chairman

Bentley gave nods to Vince Gill being honored with the Career Achievement Award, telling the audience Gill once played with the then unknown star for 122 minutes at a show on Lower Broadway. Referring to Bentley after that night, Gill told a friend, “He has that ‘thing.'” An emotional Gill then shared the story of turning down an offer to join Dire Straits at a point where his career was really struggling saying, “I knew I had something to contribute to Country Music.” He was right. His next single, “When I Call Your Name,” became one of his biggest career hits.

Alan Jackson, who received the Jim Reeves International Award, shared a story of arriving in the Bahamas on a fishing trip and upon landing on a small airstrip was greeted by a dreadlocked fan with one of his CDs to sign. Jackson confessed, “You never know where your music will end up.”

After Clint Black‘s performance of a medley tribute to Roger Miller for his Poet’s Award (posthumously), Miller’s wife Mary Miller and son Dean Miller came on stage to accept the honor from Stan Moress.

Receiving the Crystal Milestone Award from Louie Messina, Kenny Chesney said, “The longer I do this, the more I realize how fortunate we are to be able to do what we do– to catch lightning in a bottle.”

Big Kenny honored Gayle Holcomb with the Mae Boren Axton Award. Holcomb was instrumental in bringing the ACM Awards to Las Vegas and creating the success of ACM Lifting Lives. “It feels like I’m surrounded by family and friends,” Holcomb gushed. “In fact, I am.”

(L-R): Big Kenny; Tiffany Moon, EVP/Managing Dir. of the ACM; Mae Boren Axton honoree Gayle Holcomb; Bob Romeo, CEO of the ACM

Will Hoge performed “Time Marches On,” followed by Randy Houser‘s performance of “He Stopped Lovin’ Her Today” in tribute to Bobby Braddock and Billy Sherrill. Troy Tomlinson called Braddock a “distinguished poet and artist,” adding “artists interpret life for the rest of us.” Braddock took the stage sharing how he was once in Kroger during a rainstorm. Braddock told the crowd, “Roger (Miller) used to say the last word in lonesome is ‘me’ and I wished I could call him and tell him the last word in Kroger is ‘Roger.'” The audience enjoyed the whimsical reference.

Kellie Pickler sings "Stand By Your Man" at the ACM Honors.

One of the many highlights included Kellie Picker’s performance of “Stand By Your Man” as a tribute to Billy Sherrill for his Pioneer Award honor. Norro Wilson referred to Sherrill as “one gifted person” and bestowed the honor to the aging icon standing near his seat on the main floor. Sherill didn’t offer any words. He didn’t need to as we all stood in his honor.

Performances from Rodney Crowell, then T Bone Burnett with Buddy Miller and The Secret Sisters, saluted Emmylou Harris. After receiving her Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award. Harris said, “I share this recognition with so many people. I was a Joan Baez wannabe… and Gram Parsons brought me to Country music.” She added, “I became this obnoxious convert to Country music and my parents are the heroes of my life. I’m not done yet!”

After a performance medley by Dailey & Vincent of “Highway 40 Blues,” “Wouldn’t Change You If I Could,” and “Honey,” followed by Dierks Bentley’s performance of “I Don’t Care,” Ricky Skaggs was honored with the Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award. Skaggs gave thanks to the many influences in his career and thanked the Whites “for showing me what family is all about.”

The house band for the evening, led by musical director Buddy Cannon, included Wyatt Beard (background vocals), Eddie Bayers (drums), Jon E. Conley (guitar), Mike Johnson (steel guitar), Liana Manis (background vocals), Larry Paxton (bandleader/bass), Gary Prim (piano) and Bobby Terry (guitar).

In the final tribute of the evening to Dwight Yoakam for his Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award, Ashley Monroe performed “A Thousand Miles From Nowhere” and Hunter Hayes performed “Fast As You.” Yoakam took the stage joking, “Hunter, you might want to cut that!” He then thanked the beacons who preceded him in his career which included Emmylou Harris and emotionally admitted to the audience, “My road was paved.”

I think that speaks for us all.

Hunter Hayes performs "Fast As You" at the ACM Honors.

Here’s a recap of the winners:

Industry Awards:
Jimmy Jay, Jayson Promotions, 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
Bridgestone Arena (Nashville, TN) – Venue of the Year
Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino (Las Vegas, NV) – Casino of the Year
Dallas Davidson – Songwriter of the Year

Special Awards Recipients:
Bobby Braddock and Roger Miller (posthumously) – Poet’s Award
Kenny Chesney – Crystal Milestone Award
Vince Gill – Career Achievement Award
Emmylou Harris, Billy Sherrill, Ricky Skaggs, Dwight Yoakam – Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award
Gayle Holcomb – Mae Boren Axton Award
Alan Jackson – Jim Reeves International Award

MBI (Musician/Bandleader/Instrumentalist) Awards:
Stuart Duncan – Fiddle Player of the Year
Shannon Forrest – Percussionist/Drummer of the Year
Paul Franklin – Steel Guitar Player of the Year
Kenny Greenberg – Guitarist of the Year
Aubrey Haynie – Specialty Instrument(s) Player of the Year
John Hobbs – Piano/Keyboard Player of the Year
Frank Liddell – Producer of the Year
Justin Niebank – Audio Engineer of the Year
Michael Rhodes – Bass Player of the Year


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Sherod Robertson is President and Owner of MusicRow Enterprises. He oversees all operations and develops strategic initiatives for MusicRow magazine, RowFax, and MusicRow's CountryBreakout chart. Robertson previously served as Director of Finance of Arista Records after beginning his career as Vice President of Finance and CFO at Reunion Records.

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