Now in its 10th year, the ACM Honors show still finds that balance of recognizing historical achievements and bringing out modern country superstars.
That was particularly true on Tuesday night (Aug. 30) at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. For the first time, the event was filmed for a CBS network special, which will air on Sept. 9. The national spotlight enticed a number of A-list artists to appear.
The impressive list of performers, presenters and honorees included: Jason Aldean, Kelsea Ballerini, Luke Bryan, Cam and duet partner Alicia Keys, Dan + Shay, Crystal Gayle, Emmylou Harris, Toby Keith, hosts Lady Antebellum, Miranda Lambert, Little Big Town, Martina McBride, Maren Morris, Thomas Rhett, Blake Shelton, The Band Perry, The Statler Brothers, Cole Swindell, Tanya Tucker, Keith Urban, and Chris Young.
Prior to the musical performances, the Studio Recording Awards were presented to the following: Michael Rhodes, bass player of the year; Derek Wells, guitar player of the year; Jim “Moose” Brown, piano/keyboards player of the year; Danny Rader, specialty instrument(s) player of the year; Justin Niebank, audio engineer of the year; Dave Cobb, producer of the year; Shannon Forrest, drummer of the year; and Paul Franklin, steel guitar player of the year.
Once the performances kicked in at 7 p.m., the night moved quickly—even though that part of the show lasted about three hours. Thomas Rhett introduced Jason Aldean as the winner of the ACM Triple Crown Award, indicating that he has won trophies as a new artist, male vocalist and entertainer. In addition to an acceptance speech, Aldean delivered a medley of “Dirt Road Anthem,” “Tattoos on This Town” and a new single, “A Little More Summertime.”
Introduced by Little Big Town, Keith Urban sang “Blue Ain’t Your Color” to commemorate the acceptance of his ACM Mae Boren Axton Award.
Stepping out of the ACM world for a few minutes, Urban, Little Big Town and Dierks Bentley covered David Bowie’s “Heroes” for a separate Stand Up to Cancer network special.
Maren Morris treated ACM Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award winner Tanya Tucker to a spot-on version of “Delta Dawn.”
In the next stretch of performances, The Band Perry sang “MacArthur Park” for ACM Poet’s Award winner Jimmy Webb, who was presented the trophy by Toby Keith.
Martina McBride brought out Chris Young and Dan + Shay to sing “Flowers on the Wall” before giving the ACM Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award to Don Reid and Jimmy Fortune, two members of The Statler Brothers.
Kelsea Ballerini submitted a marvelous version of “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” before Crystal Gayle came up to accept her ACM Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award.
Emmylou Harris was given the honor of presenting Miranda Lambert the first-ever ACM Merle Haggard Spirit Award. Lambert, who sang “Misery and Gin” in homage to Haggard, was visibly thrilled to receive an award named for one hero, and hand-delivered by another.
Dierks Bentley returned to the stage to sing “Freedom” to salute his friend Ross Copperman, named ACM Songwriter of the Year.
Luke Bryan and Cole Swindell teamed up for “I Love a Rainy Night” in tribute to ACM Poet’s Award recipient Eddie Rabbitt, who died in 1998. Rabbitt’s daughter Demelza accepted in his honor.
Terri Walker, the widow of beloved industry figure Jeff Walker, spoke eloquently while receiving his ACM Jim Reeves International Award. Their children Christy Walker-Watkins and Jon Walker stood with their mother during her speech.
Mike Fisher spoke highly of his wife, Carrie Underwood, who was unable to accept her ACM Gary Haber Lifting Lives Award in person. A concert performance of “Temporary Home” emphasized the positive outlook that the award embodies.
Alicia Keys and Cam provided one of the highlights of the evening with their rendition of Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush.” Little Big Town were honored with the Crystal Milestone Award.
A tribute to Glen Campbell roused the crowd, as Shelton sang “Southern Nights,” Bentley offered “Gentle on My Mind,” Urban performed “Wichita Lineman” and Keith covered “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.” They united for a terrific take on “Rhinestone Cowboy,” the 1975 ACM Single and Song of the Year, and a positive speech from Campbell’s wife Kim — who indicated that Campbell would have been overjoyed to hear such a tribute — concluded the evening on an uplifting note.
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