ACM Awards & All Star Jam
By Dave England
After all the excitement of the previous two days it was time for the big one, the 50th ACM awards. Just like everything in Texas it promised to be bigger and better than ever especially when all 70,000 tickets for the event sold out in 18 minutes. With an extended running time, it meant more Bluke.
Rising like a silver spaceship out of the ground, the AT&T stadium is ginormous, even from a mile away. It’s a spectacular sight as you come off the interstate.
After being dropped off by the shuttle and warned that the last one was leaving at 0030 regardless of when the All Star Jam finished, we approached the stadium. Walking clockwise round the stadium I quickly realised that we couldn’t get round to out seats. With the stages set up at the west end of the stadium, they had blocked off the concourse, setting up tables and chairs for the performers. This meant we had to go to the very top of the stadium, carry on walking round before walking back down to the right level. Remember I said it was ginormous, try walking it. 20 minutes later we located the Silver level where our seats where, right in front of the executive boxes and just in line with the stages. Although we were quite high up, the Cowboys have the largest video screen i have ever seen, so we weren’t going to miss anything. Loading up with nachos, chicken tenders and apple ale we sat back to watch the red carpet show. We were supplied with wrist bands which would illuminate at various parts throughout the show.
Around 30 minutes before the start of the show we started to get instructions on what to do, even down to practice cheers. If you’ve never been to a live or taped show before, it can appear strange but you know what they say, practice makes perfect. Hitting 1900 it was showtime and what a way to start, Eric Church singing “Pledge Allegiance To The Hag” with Keith Urban on guitar, before moving to the other stage and playing “Raise ‘Em Up”. With two performers on top of their game it was the perfect start.
It is difficult to know where you go from there, but George Strait singing “All My’ Ex’s Live In Texas” had everyone on their feet singing and dancing. With the AT&T being the venue for Straits The Cowboy Rides Away concert it was a brilliant choice. I would of loved to have heard “Cowboys Like Us” but instead we got his latest number “Let It Go”. Strait was awarded a Milestone award to go along with his 21 ACM wins.
Winning both vocal duo & event of the year for “This Is How We Roll” FGL gave us a pyro filled version of “Sippin’ On Fire”. With ACM newcomer of the year, the three guys, Hunt, Swindell & Rhett all get about a minute to a minute and a half to try and sway the voters one last time. It was no surprise when Swindell took the award.
I have to admit to missing the news that Martina McBride was singing, but what a performance of “Independence Day”. As good as Miranda Lambert was singing “Mama’s Broken Heart” & “Little Red Wagon” watching McBride and Reba later on, singing “Going Out Like That”, Lambert still has a way to go before she is thought of in the same category.
After seeing Jason Aldean live at Country 2 Country, who I thought gave an outstanding performance, the twice male vocalist of the year gave us a melody of the old and the new. From “Tonight Looks Good On You” through to “My Kinda’ Party”. It was no surprise to see Aldean get the hat trick and take home the male vocalist of the year.
With all the fuss over the Little Big Town dong “Girl Crush” it was nice to see the ACM’s and in turn CBS having no problems in letting them sing it live. It was a spine tingling moment. Fairchild’s vocals on this record, whether in a stadium this large or in the O2 Shepherds Bush, are just amazing. It was no wonder when they walked away with vocal group of the year.
With all the performances and guest presenters including Reese Witherspoon, Sofia Vergara, Beth Behrs and Hunter Hayes it meant we didn’t get enough of Bluke. For the uninitiated this is Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan and together they form Bluke. Funny and good looking they do provide the light relief of the Award ceremony but with so much going on we just didn’t get enough of them. What we did get though, was live versions of “I See You” and Shelton’s latest, the lovely “Sangria”. Note to the ACM’s in 2016 we want more Bluke.
One presenter who must get special recognition was Taylor Swifts mum. An absolutely stunning speech about watching her daughter grow up into the women she is today – this was a real tearjerker.
I have to confess to not being a Christina Aguilera fan and hearing she had been on Nashville and was appearing with Rascal Flatts, I wasn’t overly enamoured. I was wrong. Starting with her song from the show “Shotgun” before duetting on “Riot” I was seriously impressed. With the controversy of last years ACM’s and Rascal Flatts apparently miming, they certainly laid on a performance that was better than anyone could have hoped for.
If George is the King of country music, what does that make Garth Brooks? Prince Regent or King of another kind? Back with a great new album, and picking up a milestone award, after all these years and the hope that maybe he’ll hit the UK at some point, this was my first chance to see him live. Singing “All American-Kid” with a backdrop of military personnel it was quite an emotional moment. To further emphasis the patriotic feel, the lower seats all turned up special cards to reveal a US flag. Holding up a blue part of the flag was none other than Think Country.
Leading into the final third we got pop/country, pop crossover of Dan & Shay with Nick Jonas. It was an incredibly slick performance starting with “Jealous”, being going into the Jonas hit “Chains” (thanks Google for that) mixing it up with “Nothin’ Like You”. As good as it was, I’m not sure it was right for the ACM’s.
With it being the anniversary of the Oklahoma bombing, we got a tribute from Alan Jackson. While “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)” was written to remember 9/11, the themes of anger & disbelief easily resonate with this atrocity. I couldn’t think of any better song than that to remember those who died. With a visibly upset Jackson, as well as a number of people sat around me, singing the song, it was a moving and sombre part of the evening and one that I will remember for a long time.
Time was moving rapidly now and we were down to the last few acts, Brad Paisley took to the stage with “Crushin’ It” before the legends that are Brooks & Dunn. After I missed out seeing them perform due to the weather on previous nights, this made up for it…well a little bit. They may be getting on but they can still perform “My Maria” to perfection.
With Luke Bryan taking the big one of “Entertainer Of Year” to join his CMA one, it was left to Darius Rucker and Brad Paisley to sing us out with the Blues classic “Let The Good Times Roll”.
And just like that, it was all over. All the awards had been given out, the applause had died and it was time to go back to Vegas for 2016. Except we still had the after show jam.
With the jam taking place in the west plaza we made our way across the stadium along with everyone else and went outside in the shadow of the AT&T sign. Looking like a mini-festival site with hastily erected bars, A Thousand Horses were playing. Due to time taken getting out of the stadium I only managed to catch their last song, but when that song is “Smoke” who cares. Probably the catchiest number around at the moment …
One good thing about the night is it wasn’t raining, but there was a cold wind whipping through. Still, up went Thomas Rhett for a couple of numbers before Danielle Bradberry of The Voice fame got up for a number. After accidentally running away from the bar with a couple of beers that I hadn’t paid for, I promise it was a mistake, Rascal Flatts were up singing about life being a highway. With the clock passing the Cinderella hour and LoCash took the stage, the Think Country team had to start the slow walk back to the shuttle. It had been a wonderful night with some performances I will never forget.
Tickets are already on sale if you want to attend next year’s awards which have moved back to Vegas. Highlights include a three day Party For A Cause at the MGM Resorts Village, opposite the Luxor.
I’m giving the ACM’s a rest for now but I will be in Vegas later this year for the Route 91 Harvest Festival. Look forward to seeing some of you there.