Last night’s (April 19) ACM Awards proved that everything is bigger in Texas. The 50th anniversary event, staged at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, was a performance-packed extravaganza with more than 70,000 fans in attendance.
Country music was glossier than ever, with co-hosts Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton looking spiffy throughout the night. Watching in the audience, Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood seemed like the president and first lady of country.
The energy in the stadium was strong, and the top-notch sets were filled with plenty of flash and video. With a football field’s worth of floor space, there were multiple stages and room for artists to run through the crowd.
The genre’s history was on display throughout the night, starting with Eric Church and Keith Urban’s opening number “Pledge Allegiance to the Hag.” They went straight into current single “Raise ‘Em Up,” maintaining the balance between saluting the past and keeping it current.
Texas King George Strait performed his classic, “All My Ex’s Live in Texas,” and then “Let It Go,” the lead single from his upcoming album.
Florida Georgia Line gave new meaning to ring of fire, with their performance of current single “Sippin’ On Fire” while pyrotechnics blazed around them in a circle.
Martina McBride reminded us that she’d been singing about spectacular fires since 1994, offering her modern country classic “Independence Day” with as pristine a voice as when she first recorded it.
Miranda Lambert, a four-time winner last night, was a Texas spitfire onstage. As usual, she gave one of the evening’s best showings, blending “Mama’s Broken Heart” and “Little Red Wagon” with an eye-catching black and red set and wardrobe. When her tune “Automatic” won Song of the Year, she accepted with co-writer Natalie Hemby, who looked gorgeous for the occasion, and they saluted fellow co-writer Nicolle Galyon, who is home with her new baby with husband Rodney Clawson.
Medleys were a big part of the show, as producers kept the momentum at a maximum with hit after hit. Reba melded “Fancy,” “Is There Life Out There,” “The Night The Lights Went Out in Georgia,” and new single “Going Out Like That.” Four decades after signing her first record contract, the girl’s still got it.
Jason Aldean kept the party going with “Hicktown”/ “My Kinda Party”/ “She’s Country”/ “Tonight Looks Good On You.”
Shelton (“Sangria”), Kenny Chesney (“Young”/ “Wild Child”) and Bryan (“I See You”) were engaging as always. Brooks & Dunn reunited for “My Maria” and Alan Jackson was solemn but impactful on “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning).” Offering new songs, Lady A’s “Long Stretch of Love” had a cool, Fleetwood Mac-esque groove, and Brad Paisley gave the live TV debut of “Crushin’ It.” New artist nominee Thomas Rhett exhibited some slick dance moves during “Make Me Wanna.”
Garth Brooks’ performance of “All-American Kid” was a major highlight, with members of the military marching out, while a section of the audience held up cards that formed a picture of the American flag. Given his recent return to country music, the lyric about the “all-American comeback kid” is especially appropriate.
A few artists took the less-is-more approach with their sets. Little Big Town and Dierks Bentley went low tech for “Girl Crush,” and “Riser,” respectively, letting the lyrics do the talking. Bentley was looking hip with his wavy Eurohawk ‘do.
Joining country from the outer realms were Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, Reese Witherspoon, Sofia Vergara, Christina Aguilera, Nick Jonas, Taylor Swift and mother Andrea Swift.
Dan + Shay teamed with Jonas for the latter’s hit “Jealous.” Xtina sang “Riot” with Rascal Flatts. (The pop star/The Voice coach is also in the middle of starring in an arc on Nashville. With so many current Music City connections, observant insiders can’t help but wonder: Is Christina going country?) Speaking of, newly signed BMLG/Dot Records artist Steven Tyler was on hand for the grand finale, presenting Luke Bryan his second Entertainer of the Year trophy.
For a full list of last night’s winners, click here.
Photos: courtesy of ACM