Bobby Karl Works The ACM Honors

Everyone’s a winner at the ACM Honors.

There’s no tension among nominees and no bated-breath announcements. We already know who the winners are, so we’re free to just relax and enjoy the music.

And the music is definitely in the spotlight. The segments of Tuesday’s Academy of Country Music show at The Ryman Auditorium (9/9) devoted to the Poet’s Award winners were particularly memorable for their performances.

Kacey Musgraves, Hillary Scott, and Kelly Clarkson perform at the ACM Honors.

Kacey Musgraves, Hillary Scott, and Kelly Clarkson honor Shane McAnally at the ACM Honors. Photo: Instagram

The late Jack Clement was honored by Shawn Camp delivering a delightfully rhythmic “I Guess Things Happen That Way” and by Billy Burnette’s rockabilly romp through “Ballad of a Teenage Queen.” Daughter Alison Clement accepted the honor. “I figured since he was getting a Poet’s Award, a poem might be in order,” she said before reciting verses penned in praise of her pop.

Poet’s Award winner Dean Dillon received equally moving performances. Rodney Clawson sang that most sublime of Country compositions, “The Chair.” Lee Ann Womack was searingly soulful on “An Empty Glass.” “When I think of Country music, I think of Dean Dillon,” she said.

“This award isn’t about me, but about all the people who helped me along the way,” said Dean in accepting. He took pains to single out the late Hank Cochran as a mentor. “I want to thank my mama for having me, God for saving me and country music for loving me.”

The late Buck Owens was saluted by Dierks Bentley with “Love’s Gonna Live Here.” Dwight Yoakam delighted the Ryman crowd with a Buck medley. Buck’s son Buddy Alan accepted on behalf of the family, thanking the Academy of Country Music: “For about 60 years they have supported Buck Owens music and we are so grateful.”

Songwriter of the Year, Shane McAnally. Photo: Bev Moser.

Jack Ingram took the Kris Kristofferson classic “Sunday Morning Coming Down” into new realms of loneliness. Then Will Hoge made “Me and Bobby McGee” come alive all over again. In presenting the Poet’s Award to Kris, Jack called him, “one of our finest living American songwriters…of all time.”

“This is a religious experience for me,” responded Kris. “This is the place [the Ryman] where I first came – I was still in [Army] uniform – when I came to Nashville…..I feel like I am in church, and I can’t thank you enough.” The Poet winners weren’t the only ones saluted in song. Songwriter of the Year awardee Shane McAnally was treated to a once-in-a-lifetime trio of Kelly Clarkson, Hillary Scott and Kacey Musgraves singing his tunes together. Superstar Kenny Chesney presented the award. “You taught a lot of people about songwriting,” praised Kenny, whose version of “Somewhere With You” was Shane’s first No. 1 hit.

“These songs are who we are,” said Shane on behalf of his fellow songwriters. “I put a lot of myself into these songs. It’s a huge deal to get up here and represent [the songwriting community].”

Jim Reeves International Award recipients, Rascal Flatts. Photo: Bev Moser.

The late Bob Beckham won the Pioneer Award. Tony Joe White performed a hypnotic, psychedelic-blues treatment of “Polk Salad Annie” in his honor.

Living legend Brenda Lee presented the award to Bob’s widow and daughters. “Bob was one of the most influential music men in Nashville,” said Brenda. “Beckham has had so much to do with who and what I am,” she added. “He was my friend, like he was to so many here tonight.” Bob Beckham was her opening act when she was a teen pop superstar. He provided her with Kris’s “Nobody Wins,” which paved the way to her second career as a country headliner. He produced “Big Four Poster Bed,” her sophomore country smash.

The music for Mae Boren Axton Award winner Paul Moore was provided by The Oak Ridge Boys. They drew a standing ovation for their spirited performance of “Elvira.”

Carrie Underwood won the Gene Weed Special Achievement Award. For her, The Swon Brothers (who were once in school alongside her), did a medley of “Til I See You Again” and “Wasted.”

“You’ve always been so good to me,” stammered Carrie to the crowd. “I had all kinds of stuff to say to you guys tonight, and it’s all gone.” She became weepy, then added, “I am so honored, and I am so thankful, and I am so blessed.”

Host Jake Owen and wife, Lacey. Photo: Bev Moser.

Nashville TV show stars Clare Bowen & Sam Palladio (who both hail from overseas) did a splendid rendition of “If I Didn’t Know Better” to salute both of the Jim Reeves International Award recipients, Rascal Flatts and Steve Buchanan. ESPN commentator and former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow presented the honor to Rascal Flatts. “You guys have spread inspiration and hope and love,” said Tim.

“The first award we ever won in our career was an ACM Award,” said the group’s Gary LeVox. “It’s been a wonderful, wonderful ride,” said Jay DeMarcus. “It’s been 15 years, but we’re not done yet,” added Joe Don Rooney.

Steve Buchanan’s Jim Reeves International Award was presented by the Opry’s Pete Fisher. He noted that the Buchanan-produced Nashville is now seen in nearly 100 nations around the world, which brings new tourists to the city every week. “The very best that Nashville and Country music have to offer have Steve’s name attached to them,” said Pete. Steve is presently working on a musical about Hee Haw with songwriters McAnally and Brandy Clark, among others. In accepting, he couldn’t resist plugging this year’s season premiere of Nashville, which is September 24.

In closing, he thanked his wife, publisher Ree Guyer Buchanan. “She truly is what makes this world a very special place for me.”

Brian O’Connell (c) with family, presented his sixth Promoter of the Year statuette. Photo: Bev Moser.

Brian O’Connell (c) with family, received his sixth Promoter of the Year statuette. Photo: Bev Moser.

The Academy’s Career Achievement Awards went to Toby Keith, who accepted via video, and to one of this year’s Country Music Hall of Fame inductees Ronnie Milsap. The event’s host was Jake Owen, who opened the evening with Milsap’s “Back On My Mind Again.” The second Milsap musical tribute came from Hunter Hayes, who delivered “I Wouldn’t Have Missed It For the World,” with an injection of “Smoky Mountain Rain.” Jake led the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday,” in honor of Hunter’s 23rd birthday.

“Hunter, you sounded so good,” said Ronnie. “Jake, you sounded so good….I appreciate this award so much. I’ve got a place for it at home, all ready.”

Host Owen set the tone for the evening: “This is about putting down our phones, our texts and our Instagrams and taking a moment to celebrate the people who made Country music,” he said.

Things started slowly with ACM New Artist honoree Justin Moore presenting the Industry Awards. Billy Bob’s Texas won its eighth Nightclub of the Year honor. The Moody Theater, home of TV’s Austin City Limits, won its first Small Capacity Venue of the Year award. Medium Capacity Venue went to the Grand Ole Opry House, also for the first time. Bridgestone Arena won its third ACM award as Large Capacity Venue of the Year.

Nicole Moore won her first ACM award as Talent Buyer of the Year. Two Mohegan Sun Wolf venues were not present to get their Casino of the Year awards. But Brian O’Connell was fully present to get his sixth Promoter of the Year statuette.

The Swon Brothers perform at the ACM Honors. Photo by Bev Moser.

The Swon Brothers perform at the ACM Honors. Photo: Bev Moser.

“I want to put this on Instagram, Facebook and everything to remember this night,” he said as he snapped a “selfie” of the Ryman audience. “I’ll never forget it.”

Thomas Rhett presented the Studio Recording Awards. Michael Rhodes (bass), Charlie Judge (keyboards), Paul Franklin (steel), Justin Niebank (engineer) and Dann Huff (producer) were present. Shannon Forrest (drums) and Bryan Sutton (special instrument) were not.

First-time guitar winner Rob McNelley stole this section of the show. “There’s still a lot of artists I haven’t recorded with yet,” he noted. “And to you, I say, ‘615-260-8007.’”

Speaking of musicians, the house band was Jerry Roe (drums), Glen Duncan (fiddle), Brent Mason (lead guitar), Jedd Hughes (guitar/utility), John Jarvis (keyboards), Wyatt Beard & Liana Manis (background vocals), Glenn Worf (bandleader/bass) and the aforementioned Paul Franklin (steel). The musical director was Frank Liddell.

Steve Buchanan

Steve Buchanan (c) received the Jim Reeves International Award. Pictured with ‘Nashville’ stars. Photo: Bev Moser.

Mingling in the audience were Butch Baker, Butch Waugh, Mike Fisher, Mike Kraski, Tim Fink, Tim DuBois, Eric T. Parker, Erika Wollam-Nichols, Joey Hemphill, Joe Galante, Second Harvest’s Jaynee Day, John Briggs, Justin Levinson, Gary Overton, Dave Pomeroy, T. K. Kimbrell, Randy Goodman, Luke Lewis, Leslie Fram, Charlie Monk, Celia Froehlig, this year’s Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame Mentor honoree Pat Higdon, Shatzi Hageman, Teresa George, Clarence Spalding, Bill Mayne, Sherod Robertson, Bob Romeo, Rod Essig, Diane Pearson, Chaley Rose, Karen Clark, Blake Chancey, Tom Baldrica and Tony Brown.

This was the eighth annual ACM Honors event.

“I want to tell you on my behalf how much it means to me to be on this stage and rubbing shoulders with these people,” said Jake Owen in summation.


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