Reba McEntire, host of the 54th annual Academy of Country Music Awards, called it early in the evening, as she jokingly renamed the show “Dan + Shay’s Excellent Adventure.”
Indeed the Warner Music Nashville duo went into the night tying Chris Stapleton for the most nominations with six (with the duo’s Dan Smyers earning an additional four nods).
They picked up their first-ever ACM honors for Song and Single of the Year for “Tequila,” penned by Smyers, Nicolle Galyon and Jordan Reynolds. Later in the evening, they also earned the Duo of the Year accolade.
“Country music, country radio you have changed our lives,” said Dan + Shay’s Shay Mooney in winning the Single of the Year honor, while Smyers thanked all the musicians on the song. The song’s producer Scott Hendricks said, “Thank you for letting me be a part of this.”
“We are all winners tonight,” said Smyers.
“This is the greatest night of my life, except the day I married my wife, and we had our baby,” Shay Mooney said.
“I’m gonna give this one to Dan+Shay so they can have a fourth win,” Thomas Rhett quipped as he picked up his first ACM Male Artist of the Year honor later in the evening.
In February, Dan + Shay offered the most-Shazamed performance of the evening at the Grammy Awards with their award-winning “Tequila,” in large part to Shay Mooney’s thunderous voice. For the ACM Awards, they brought more vocal firepower, welcoming Kelly Clarkson for a rendition of “Keeping Score.”
Powerhouse vocalists held court throughout the evening. ACM New Male Artist of the Year Luke Combs eschewed his normal dressed-down look for a suit to perform his No. 1 hit “Beautiful Crazy.”
Keith Urban is known for his guitar-driven, high octane awards show performances. This year, he detoured for an intimate cover of “Burden” by Irish singer Foy Vance. Urban’s voice was front and center, letting the song’s somber lyrics resonate in the arena as his voice grew more impassioned, soulful and captivating at the song’s crescendo.
Carrie Underwood offered two performances during the evening, including a stunning all-female group performance of the Gospel-inflected “I’ll Stand With You,” from the soundtrack to the movie Breakthrough, alongside the movie’s star Chrissy Metz (in her first live television singing debut), as well as Mickey Guyton, Lauren Alaina, and Maddie & Tae.
Underwood also offered one of the sunniest performances, starting off poolside for a rendition of the fun, flirty “Southbound,” before leading a group of dancers through the audience at the MGM arena to the stage.
Some of the evening’s most impactful moments weren’t due to bombastic vocal range or power. Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild softly but arrestingly introduced the group’s poignant new song “The Daughters,” stringing together, and then disarming, the misguided and harmful advice young girls are often given throughout their lives.
I’ve heard of God the Son and God the father, I’m just looking for a God for the daughters, they sang, as young female dancers performed behind them. Several in the audience, including Brandi Carlile, could be seen wiping tears after the performance.
With just a guitar, ACM New Female Artist of the Year Ashley McBryde offered strength and elegance in her first ACM performance of the autobiographical “Girl Goin’ Nowhere.” She returned later in the show, opposite Eric Church as they traded verses on “The Snake,” backed by a choir.
Reba McEntire, hosting the show for a 16th time, noted the hustle females in the music industry give to their careers—as well as their lack of radio airplay and honors in country awards shows’ top categories.
“I’m a woman in the music business and we don’t have time for tired,” she stated. “[Women] were frozen out of [the] Entertainer of the Year [category]. But that didn’t bother Kacey Musgraves because she was too busy carrying her Grammys around,” Reba said.
ACMs, too. Musgraves completed the awards trifecta of wins for her album Golden Hour, taking home the Academy of Country Music’s Album of the Year honor, following her wins in the same category at last year’s Country Music Awards and February’s all-genre Album of the Year win at February’s Grammy awards. Musgraves is now the third artist to win Album of the Year at the Grammys, ACMs and CMAs, with the most recent being Taylor Swift in 2010.
“I appreciate being able to share my perspective. Making this album with these two [her producers] is one of the best memories of my life,” Musgraves said. Later in the show, she took home Female Artist of the Year as well.
“This is going out to any girl or woman who is being told her style or perspective is too different to work. It’ll work out,” she said.
It’s been three years since Miranda Lambert released her double album The Weight Of These Wings. Lambert, the most-awarded artist in ACM Awards history (with 32), is still working on a follow up to that project, so for her ACMs performance, she offered a blazing medley of past hits “Kerosene,” “Gunpowder and Lead,” “Mama’s Broken Heart,” “White Liar,” and “Little Red Wagon.”
Maren Morris, who will join Lambert on the upcoming Roadside Bars and Pink Guitars Tour 2019 later this year, performed a track from her recently-released GIRL album. After sipping from a solo cup, she joined Brothers Osborne for the blistering, summer-ready jam “All My Favorite People.” The stage was turned into a dive bar complete with a Santa’s Pub sign, lights strung across the stage and a large neon guitar.
The performance was one of many collaborations throughout the evening.
The show opened with Jason Aldean and Florida Georgia Line on “Can’t Hide Red,” a track from the duo’s latest album. Kane Brown collaborated with Khalid on “Saturday Nights” after he offered a take on his own solo track “Good As You.”
Meanwhile, Dierks Bentley collaborated with recent Grammy darling Carlile on “Travelin’ Light,” a song from Bentley’s recent ACM-nominated album The Mountain.
As part of the ACM Flashback series, Texans Miranda Lambert and George Strait collaborated on “Run,” as both clearly relished the performance.
“That’s the king, y’all! George Strait!” Lambert said.
Combs returned later in the evening, proving himself a Brooks & Dunn acolyte as he crooned with the duo on their hit “Brand New Man.” Recently-named Country Music Hall of Fame inductees Brooks & Dunn released the track as part of their collaborative album Reboot.
Per usual, several artists performed new music. Reba offered a masterclass performance of her new song “Freedom.” Strait’s voice was smooth and full of weathered wisdom as he offered his new song “God and Country Music.”
Male Artist of the Year winner Thomas Rhett performed “Look What god Gave Her,” while 2019 ACM Group of the Year Old Dominion offered “Make It Sweet.” Luke Bryan introduced his latest single, “Knockin’ Boots,” backed by shelves of boots.
The show slowed its pace for an intimate moment as Chris Stapleton offered “A Simple Song,” in a tastefully stripped down style, opposite his wife Morgane, who is expecting the couple’s fifth child. The song centered on appreciating the good, simple things amid life’s struggles.
The evening closed with a tribute to Jason Aldean, who was honored as Artist of the Decade. Aldean has netted 13 total ACM Awards in his career (including three consecutive Entertainer of the Year honors). He took the stage to perform “Lights Come On,” before welcoming Kelly Clarkson back to the stage for their 2010 hit “Don’t You Wanna Stay.” He then offered “Dirt Road Anthem.”
“I’ve had a hell of a decade,” Aldean said. “My whole team, thank you for the last 15 years. More than anything thank you to the country music fans, country radio. You guys have changed my life forever.”
“When we are learning to tune our guitars, this is the one we are dreaming about,” Kix Brooks said as Brooks & Dunn and Reba announced this year’s Entertainer of the Year.
Keith Urban, who was named Entertainer of the Year in November at the Country Music Awards, took home the same honor at Sunday’s Academy of Country Music Awards.
A visibly surprised Urban thanked his team and country radio and the fans. Strait closed the show with “Every Little Honky Tonk Bar.”
Click here for a full list of winners.
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