I know the Number 1 Golden Rule of visiting Sin City is “What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas” but I simply just have too much to tell. With a line up like Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood, Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw, Eric Church, Brad Paisley, Sheryl Crow, Kelly Clarkson, Taylor Swift, Keith Urban, Pistol Annie’s, The Band Perry, Little Big Town, and Lady Antebellum, not to mention their respective guest vocalists, we all knew the 48th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards (ACM) would be one to remember. Now, add the fact that they were hosted by two of the funniest and best looking guys in country music, Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan and they become even better. Now see this laundry list of talent and raise (gambling pun intended) never before seen duets of Hunter Hayes with Stevie Wonder and George Strait with Garth Brooks in a tribute to the man who brought us entertainment himself, Dick Clark… And that doesn’t even scratch the surface of the whole weekend. When you go to Vegas expectations run high, the best hotel with the best view, the best restaurants with the best service, the best game with the best odds, and the best show with the best entertainment… and if you’re a country music fan the best weekend to be in Vegas has happened. Bringing together great musicians to play great music on great stages, the Academy of Country Music is a mastermind of creating a memorable experience.
Day 1 –
While most award shows simply showcase the talents of the year’s top performers, the ACMs focus on the close knit community of artists, their music, and of course their fans. Friday April 5th kicked off ACM Weekend with the start of their 3 day public Expo at The Orleans Hotel & Casino. To try and paint a picture of this experience – picture everything country fans need for fun in one location. BBQ to Boots, Bull riding to truck test driving, autograph signings to live concerts, the Expo provided fans with a full service venue. There were family friendly activities and some not-so family friendly activities (it is Vegas after all) but regardless, loads of fun for everyone. Sponsors, Dr. Pepper gave out samples of their new low-cal sodas, Ram Trucks took fans on an obstacle course test drive of their new vehicles, and Budweiser, well, and they kept everyone “hydrated.” Most importantly, the far reach these awards have help to make a difference and many vendors and sponsors came out to support the ACM affiliated charity, Lifting Lives for Child Hunger, as well as countless others.
The ACM Party for a cause also kicked off Friday with performances by artists Cassadee Pope, Greg Bates, Justin Moore, Florida Georgia Line, Brantley Gilbert, and The Band Perry. The special event raised awareness for Outnumber Hunger, an initiative from General Mills, Big Machine Label Group and Feeding America. The boys of Florida Georgia Line really did their part to get fans to “support” their cause, when a bra was thrown on stage during their hot performance of “Dirt Road.” Newcomer Cassadee Pope stole a piece of the spotlight with her new single “Champagne,” and Brantley Gilbert got a little sentimental when he dedicated song “Fight” to fiancé Jana Kramer who was watching in the crowd. Closing out the night was an incredible acoustic version of the Lumineers’ hit “Ho Hey” sung by The Band Perry.
Later that night the amazing live concerts continued in a little part of Vegas you all might have heard of called Fremont Street. From one end to the other the street was packed with fans, and people who are now fans, waiting to see performances by Sunny Sweeney, Joe Nichols, Kip Moore, and Gary Allan. I had the chance to sit down with Sunny before she took the stage to get her take on what she’s excited for at the ACMs, her Las Vegas wedding, and her pick for Entertainer of the Year. Sipping on some Coors Light, Sunny gave me some feedback on the whole ACM Experience saying “there is always so much to do, they really do a great job of putting together this event and as artists it’s kind of a big reunion for all of us.” With so much to do it seemed impossible to do it all but Sunny said she was “setting aside some time to visit the chapel my ‘hubby’ and I got married at.” I attempted to get some more picks out of her but she told me “everyone is cheering for everyone, winning just means bragging rights at this point.” She did however let me know she’s “a big fan of Miranda and is always pulling for her to win.” Sunny’s performance that night on Fremont Street was truly amazing. She played favorite tracks like “Drink Myself Single,” and “From a Table Away,” and completely owned the stage. Seeing her perform I am even more of a fan and looking forward to seeing what she gets into next.
Another stunner of the night was new artist Kip Moore, and by the amount of red, backwards trucker hats in the crowd, this guy has earned a massive amount of fans. He showed off his party side with songs like “Reckless” and of course, “Something ‘Bout a Truck,” but I think the ladies in the crowd (myself included) were a bit smitten with his soulful, raspy voice in “Hey, Pretty Girl,” which I swear he was singing to me. Look out for Kip at next year’s ACMs, I have no doubt he will score a lot of nominations.
Day 2 –
Waking up at 8am to play golf after a night in Vegas is unheard of for some, but Brett Eldredge, Scotty McCreery, Jake Owen, LadyA’s
Charles Kelly, and Darius Rucker somehow all managed to do so. I somehow managed to interview some of the players to get some scoop on this great event, new music, and of course ACM picks. Hosting the Lifting Lives Celebrity Golf Classic for a second time, Darius Rucker said he was “thrilled to be asked back,” he continued saying, “this is a truly great event and my job as host is an easy one because it’s such a great cause to be a part of.” Darius’ new song “Wagon Wheel” has reached #1 and I couldn’t help but ask about his team-up with the beards of A&E’s Duck Dynasty for the video, he said “I’m just a huge fan of the show and the guys are so fun I just threw out a line to see if they’d be into it and I was so happy the joined in, it was a good time doing that with them.” Once again, trying to get some names was a tough job, but Darius said he was happy to be a part of the ACMs again this year and that “everyone truly deserves their nominations.” I also spoke to “Don’t Ya” singer Brett Eldredge about what he’s been up to since his hit single and his golf game. The young artist said he is “excited to be a part of this whole experience,” and added he is “most excited for all the parties.” We also joked that despite wearing bright neon orange Nike’s to “distract the competition,” he is a “terrible golfer,” and that his team name should probably be “Team Hangover.” Brett Eldredge is another name you should familiarize yourself with as this guy is currently touring with Taylor Swift and hopes her and buddy Blake Shelton “take something home” at the ACMs. He also couldn’t help but comment he’s “excited to see Blake and Luke try and pull this off (hosting).” Scotty McCreery also shared a few words on the ACMs saying he’s “honored to be presenting the award to New Artist of the Year,” the award he took home in 2012. Scotty also discussed his new weekend only tour and being a full time college student saying, “lots of people have jobs throughout college and mine is no different, it’s still all about time management.” The young star looked as comfortable on the course as he does on stage and we will be hearing lots of great music from him in the near future.
Party For a Cause also continued on Saturday with more artists and more fans. Hosted by Kix Brooks the event was dedicated to the US Military and had performances by Kix, Hunter Hayes, Lee Brice, Dustin Lynch, Eli Young Band, Love & Theft, and headliner Dierks Bentley. Some guest stars also stopped by to join in the action, Sheryl Crow and Tim McGraw, which was a huge surprise for fans. Lee Brice who is getting married in 2 weeks performed “Ring in My Pocket” and boosted the parking lot crowd with his hit “Parking Lot Party.” Hunter Hayes did a little foreshadowing with his version of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” and Eli Young Band sang all their hits and threw out guitar picks to lucky fans in the audience. A very special moment of the show was having past contestant of The Voice and Military Veteran, Angie Johnson sing the National Anthem with the Honor Guard in the background.
Night two on Fremont Street was filled with a talented line-up, Chris Janson, Randy Houser, Jana Kramer and Jake Owen. Randy Houser put on an awesome performance and showed everyone in the crowd “How Country Feels.” My favorite of the night, have to give her a HUGE shout out, was Jana Kramer. In such a short time Jana has become an incredible singer/songwriter and seriously blew the canopy off Fremont Street on Saturday night. New songs “One of the Boys” had her cussing her own pair of heels which she joked “reason 509 why I hate these heels is because I almost just busted my ass right there.” (Don’t worry, Jana, only like a few people could’ve noticed). She also belted out her hit “Whiskey” and threw in some covers of Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream,” Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks,” and Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’.” Jana took home New Female Artist of the Year this year and will no doubt take home lots more throughout her career. Jake Owen closed out the Weekend at Fremont Street Experience and honestly I know I’m not alone in saying now we all can’t wait until next year.
The…BIG DAY … 3 –
Sunday April 7th is a date that I know many of you had marked on your calendar, and with the over 13 Million viewers who tuned in and 50,000 + that bought tickets, I know you had high hopes for the ACM Awards… and I hope I speak for everyone when I say they did not disappoint. The red carpet was glowing, the amount of artists in attendance was the highest of any award show, and the performers and presenters were the best in the world. Opening the show was power fivesome Blake Shelton, Luke Bryan, Pistol Annies, Sheryl Crow and Brad Paisley singing Blake’s hit “Boys Round Here,” which is one hell of a way to kick things off. Other key performances were Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood, Jewel, Kelly Clarkson, The Band Perry, Jason Aldean, and Lady Antebellum (with baby bump). While all performances were of course amazing, highlights of the night go to Hunter Hayes and Stevie Wonder – a combination of a groundbreaking rookie and a veteran music idol performing together on one stage, the duet was so cool and full of pure talent; also Eric Church with guest vocalist Valerie June – this duet I really can’t put into words, Church’s “Loves Me Like Jesus Does” is just a purely raw, emotional song, and that combined with June’s background vocal was sensational; the host himself, Blake Shelton scored a lot of the spotlight Sunday night, but he – melted hearts when he sang an unplugged version of “Sure Be Cool if you Did” with background vocalist and guitarist, Voice contestant, Gwen Sebastian; Little Big Town, who are a lot more BIG than little these days did – an intensely beautiful performance of their new song “Your Side of the Bed” which stunned the audience with an interpretive dance and intimate stage set-up; one more highlight was definitely Tim McGraw – singing his latest track “Highway Don’t Care” with Taylor Swift and Keith Urban on guitar, pretty sure the entire MGM Grand Ballroom was on its feet. Due to the fact that simply calling it a highlight doesn’t suffice, the biggest performance at the ACMs, and probably ever in country music, was the very special duet in honor of the late Dick Clark by Vocalists of the Decade, King George Strait and Garth Brooks. I’m not sure if anything this year will be able to beat out that combination of power players, and with such a huge dedication to the man responsible for entertainment, I will bet that nothing does. Presenters of the night came from all angles, young and old, country and non-country, music and television and the Academy absolutely nailed their decisions. Special shout out to the Queen of country music, Shania Twain who everyone was honored to be in the presence of, especially Luke Bryan, who he received his Entertainer of the Year Award from.
48th Annual Academy of Country Music Award Winners
Entertainer of the Year – Luke Bryan
Male Vocalist of the Year – Jason Aldean
Female Vocalist of the Year – Miranda Lambert
Vocal Duo of the Year – Thompson Square
Vocal Group of the Year – Little Big Town
New Male Vocalist of the Year – Brantley Gilbert
New Female Vocalist of the Year – Jana Kramer
New Vocal Duo of the Year – Florida Georgia Line
New Artist of the Year – Florida Georgia Line
Album of the Year – “Chief” – Eric Church
Single Record of the Year – “Over You” – Miranda Lambert
Song of the Year – “Over You” – Miranda Lambert
Video of the Year – “Pontoon” – Little Big Town
Vocal Event of the Year – “The Only Way I Know” –
Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, & Eric Church
The ACMs also showed clips throughout the night of Fan Jam performances by Jana Kramer, Florida Georgia Line, Brantley Gilbert, John Mayer w/ Brad Paisley, Hunter Hayes w/ Dierks Bentley, and Brad Paisley (Host). Special guest MC, LL Cool J kept things rolling throughout the entire night and also hosted the post award show.
The 48th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards is the biggest event to officially begin the season of country music. Tours, albums, even other award shows all follow the ACMs which is why they set the bar so high, and honestly I’m having a hard time thinking anyone else could top them. Hosts Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan are truly the best two artists to represent what Country Music means, no not tight pants jokes or lack of denim bulge, but the fact that two people can be nominated for the same award and respect one another so much that they don’t care who wins. It’s true what Sunny Sweeney and other artists told me throughout the weekend, that the country music industry is a really big family and everyone truly supports one another. It really is the only genre of music where everyone in the audience at an award show is genuinely applauding the winners, everyone looks and is excited to be there, and just enjoy each other’s company… not to mention how gorgeous everyone is (did you SEE that red carpet!?). The members of this family also care so so much about what they do and who they reach with their music which is why the ACMs strive to be all about the fans. The ACM Expo was and is the only 3-day festival I know of where, as fans, we can interact with artists on a level that goes beyond waving from the crowd. So much time and effort really went in to putting this all together and I can’t tell you enough how important it is to experience ACM weekend if you get the chance. It is most important to once again stress the amount of funds and awareness the ACMs raise for charities like the Lifting Lives For Child Hunger Foundation, The United States Military and many other charities alike. From Party for a Cause to the Celebrity Golf Classic every event really keeps its cause in the forefront. The live performances on Fremont Street were incredible for fans and artists who are really gaining ground in the industry, and the turnout was remarkable. It is also important and incredible to note that the majority of the events that take place during ACM Weekend are free to the public so all fans can enjoy and experience country music in a way that can only be deemed once in a lifetime. The Academy has completely outdone themselves truly making this the “Week Vegas Goes Country,” and I can’t wait to come back next year and many years to come!