BOBBY KARL WORKS THE ROOM
It was billed as “A Night of Live Music,” but the 9th Annual ACM Honors presentation was more than that.
Staged at the Ryman on Tuesday night (9/1), the event was indeed characterized by swell performances by Miranda Lambert, Josh Turner, Holly Williams, Jason Aldean, Restless Heart, Roy Clark, Kacey Musgraves, Chris Isaak and Randy Houser. Yet the ACM also spent plenty of time honoring its own inner circle – Bob Romeo, Barry Adelman, Tim DuBois and the Ryman, itself.
The gig began with a snazzy cocktail party on the 90-degree Ryman patio outside. This was highlighted by the imaginative catering of M Street. We snacked on such unique fare as mushroom tarts with blueberry vinaigrette, veggie sushi in pink-rice wraps, lobster-and-popcorn hors d’oeuvres and spiced chicken meatballs, plus a more conventional desert of chocolate mousse.
Pre-show schmoozers included John Marks, John Huie, Pat Higdon, Pat McMakin, Debbie Linn, Debbie Carroll, Charlie Cook, Charlie Monk, Terri Walker and Christy Walker Watkins. Fittingly, the very first person we greeted was Ryman Auditorium superstar Sally Williams.
Inside, Bob Romeo greeted the capacity crowd and asked for a moment of silence for the late, great Jeff Walker. Host Jake Owen took the stage to sing “Feels So Right” in honor of Alabama.
“Feels pretty good tonight in the Ryman, Nashville, Tennessee!” he said. “Are you guys in the mood now?” We were.
The Swon Brothers presented the ACM Industry Awards. The winning venues were Red Rocks Amphitheatre, the Hollywood Bowl, the MGM Grand in Vegas, Hard Rock Live in Biloxi and the Country Thunder festival in Wisconsin. Joe’s Bar in Chicago won in the nightclub category and its Ed Warm won Promoter of the Year.
The Ryman won its category for the fourth time. It hosted 76 country shows this year and underwent a $14 million renovation. The venue’s Sally Williams won her second Talent Buyer of the Year ACM accolade.
“I’m really lucky to be doing this job, and I want to acknowledge that,” she said. “In my life, I have never worked with a team of more passionate people.”
The Studio Recording Awards were presented by Kelsea Ballerini. They went to Greg Morrow (drums), Michael Rojas (keyboards), Dan Dugmore (steel), Ilya Toshinsky (specialty instruments) and the absent Jay Joyce (producer), Glenn Worf (bass), Chuck Ainlay (engineer) and Tom Bukovac (guitar).
The Gene Weed Special Achievement Award went to Luke Bryan, who scored six No. 1 hits from his Crash My Party album. Bryan was serenaded by his tour mate Randy Houser with a fiery, intense rendition of “Roller Coaster.”
“Today is September first,” said Bryan. “On Sept. 1, 2001, I moved to Nashville with a dream. I never dreamed I would even be let into the Ryman, never mind this.”
The Mae Boren Axton Awards went to Tim DuBois and Barry Adelman. The flawless vocal harmonies of Restless Heart on “The Bluest Eyes in Texas” were for the former.
“He’s a visionary in the way he puts words together,” said lead singer Larry Stewart. “He’s a visionary in the way he puts people together. He put us together,” as well as Brooks & Dunn.
Adelman’s music was a heart-tugging performance of “Yesterday When I Was Young” by Roy Clark.
Continuing the theme of honoring its own, the ACM’s Romeo was next presented with a surprise Special Recognition award. He led the way to the ACM 50th-anniversay triumph attracting 70 thousand attendees (in the Dallas NFL stadium) and 16 million viewers to its awards show.
The music resumed with Kacey Musgraves doing a wry, winsome “Good Ol’ Boys Club” in honor of Songwriter of the Year winner Luke Laird. He co-produces and co-writes with Musgraves.
“This is all so surreal,” said Laird. “The first time I came to Nashville was in the summer of 1995 on a family vacation. I became a huge country music fan in the 1990s.” He moved here to attend MTSU and break into the biz.
Jason Aldean sang a medley of “Tennessee River,” “Love in the First Degree” and “The Closer You Get” in honor of Career Achievement Award winners Alabama.
“Some of the first music I remember hearing was from Alabama,” said Aldean. “So these guys are a huge reason why I am in this business.” He added that the group is, “the best band that’s ever been, in my opinion.”
“Just wait until you see what we’ll do in the next 30 years,” quipped the group’s Jeff Cook. Host Jake Owen said that he is frequently asked if he is Randy Owen’s son, and that he always answers, “Yes, ma’am.” He isn’t. By the way, Jake’s affable road manager Greg Fowler did that job for Alabama for two decades.
Holly Williams was spellbinding and soulful singing “Like Jesus Does” to honor Eric Church. He was given the Jim Reeves International Award. Church recalled facing a crowd in Cologne, Germany with trepidation.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been more scared,” he recalled. “I smelled marijuana and thought, ‘This is going to go all right.’ They sang every song. They held their boots up. I learned something that night: You don’t have to speak English to speak music fluently.”
A posthumous Poet’s Award went to Boudleaux & Felice Bryant. The enduringly cool Chris Isaak, who is recording his new album in Nashville, sang “Bye Bye Love” in the late couple’s honor.
“This award…shows the enduring quality of their simple yet ingenious works of art,” said son Del Bryant. “As my mama would say, ‘Boud, we did it again,’” added son Dane Bryant.
The resonant, rich, warm voice of Josh Turner delivered “Good Ol’ Boys Like Me” to salute Poet’s Award winner Bob McDill.
“I have always wanted to stand on this stage,” said McDill. “Tonight, I get the chance. Thank you, Nashville, for letting me be a part of this club for 30 years. I am in fine company tonight. Or, as we say in the South, in tall cotton.”
The ACM Crystal Milestone Award was given to Loretta Lynn. Newly divorced Miranda Lambert gave a feisty, spirited performance of Lynn’s divorced-woman song “Rated X.”
“Thank you, ‘Miss Loretty,’ for writing that song and being so brave,” said Lambert. “I am so thankful for woman empowerment.”
“I just thought I’d drop in and see if Miranda was keepin’ it country,” said Lynn. “I want to thank y’all for another award. And, hey, I’ll be back next year for another one!”
Like many, many of the night’s honorees and performers, she was given a standing ovation.
Leading the applause were Mike Sirls, Mike Vaden, Mike Kinnamon, David Macias, David Pomeroy, Fletcher Foster, Sarah Skates, John Ozier, John Peets, John Jarvis, Johnny Duke, Joe Galante, Rac Clark, Karen Clark, Chris Parr, Chuck Aly, Sherod Robertson and Rod Essig.
Not to mention attending fabulons Bill Mayne, Lori Badgett, Beverly Keel & Ronnie Steine, Rhonda Adkins, Tony Brown, Paul Worley (who is working with Chris Isaak), Skip Bishop, Butch Waugh, Ed Morris, Diane Pearson, Schatzi Hageman, Vanessa Parker, Tim Fink and Regina Stuve.
Ben Vaughn, Eric Parker, Harry Chapman, Andrew Kintz, Neal Spielberg, event musical director Frank Liddell, Leslie Fram, Beth Laird, Phyllis Stark, Stuart Dill, Sam Lovullo and songwriters Brett James, Buddy Cannon, Dallas Davidson and Barry Dean clapped along with vim and verve.