Wednesday evening marked the 51st celebration of the Academy of Country Music Awards, back on its home turf in Las Vegas, Nevada. The show was co-hosted by Luke Bryan and Dierks Bentley, whose all-in-good-fun attitudes opened the show. Bryan joked that he wished he were hosting with Carrie Underwood, and the two poked fun at Tim Mcgraw’s biceps, which they nicknamed “Humble and Kind.” To follow was a duet by both Bryan and Bentley, and a show-opener of former co-hosts, including Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton.
Following a solo performance by Shelton, Bryan and Bentley suited up and returned to the stage, where they spent most of their time shining the spotlight on the star of the night, Chris Stapleton. The co-hosts explained that Stapleton co-wrote or sang on both of their latest albums, kicking off a comedic argument between stars like Jason Aldean, Thomas Rhett and Charles Kelley, who all claimed to have discovered Stapleton. Underwood claimed to have bought a Chris Stapleton T-shirt the year he was born, having been the first to discover him.
Stapleton humbly acknowledged the accolades and applause from the entire audience, who stood up when Bryan and Bentley asked if anyone else believed they too had discovered Stapleton. Living up to his success, Stapleton graciously accepted awards for Male Vocalist of the Year, New Male Vocalist of the Year, Album of the Year for “Traveller” and Song of the Year for “Nobody to Blame.”
Among the 22 performances of the night, following the “battle of the country music prodigy,” were performances by Old Dominion, Kenny Chesney and a debut collaboration of Chris Young and Cassadee Pope’s “Think of You.”
In good old award show fashion, Eric Church paid tribute to other musicians during his performance of his song “Record Year,” adding in songs by David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Lemmy of Motorhead and Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots.
Performing next was one of the show’s very own hosts, Dierks Bentley, followed by Cam, who sang “Burning House.” Then, Thomas Rhett accepted the award for Record of the Year, for “Die a Happy Man,” giving thanks to his wife for whom the song was written.
Jason Aldean, who stole the night’s most honorable award for the first time, being Entertainer of the Year, performed “Lights Come On,” followed by Cole Swindell and then Brett Eldredge, who gave flowers to audience members while singing “Drunk on Your Love.”
Later, Kelsea Ballerini won New Female Vocalist of the Year, and sang “Love Me Like You Mean It” and “Peter Pan,” calling Nick Jonas, a stranger to country music, to the stage for a guitar solo.
Among other winners, Little Big Town won Vocal Group of the Year, for which they thanked award-winning powerhouse Stapleton for not being a group.
Consistent head-to-head nominees Miranda Lambert and Underwood both had unique performances. Underwood showed off her talent by playing the drums while singing her new song “Church Bells.” But it was Lambert who in the end triumphed, winning her seventh Female Vocalist of The Year Award.
Jampacked with memorable musical moments, the 51st Academy of Country Music Awards had no shortage of intrigue.