The Chris Stapleton Awards – er, the Academy of Country Music Awards – went pretty much as expected Sunday night, as Stapleton (who has experienced a stunning run of success in the last five months) took home all the trophies.
OK, maybe not all of them. “Thank you for Chris Stapleton for not being a group,” joked Little Big Town’s Kimberly Schlapman on stage when the quartet picked up Vocal Group of the Year.
Stapleton, the 37-year-old phenomenon who rocketed to household-name status when he swept the CMA Awards in November, walked away with four wins, the most of anyone: male vocalist, new male vocalist, song of the year for “Nobody to Blame” and album of the year for the blockbuster “Traveller.”
His slew of wins overshadowed technically the biggest prize of the night, entertainer of the year, which went to Jason Aldean, who typically glowers under a cowboy hat through every show. But winning the coveted award always brings out the emotional side of country’s dudes.
“I was just starting to think this one just wasn’t in the cards for me,” Aldean said on stage in a rare moment of vulnerability. “I’ll tell you what, I may be rough around the edges a little bit – but I love this business. I love the people in it and I love the fans that support it. Thank you very, very much.”
Here’s a rundown of the ACM Awards show’s best and worst moments.
– Luke Bryan and Dierks Bentley’s monologue.
Thankfully, the co-hosts didn’t attempt to make (too many) lame jokes and instead turned their opening monologue time into a Stapleton lovefest, as they correctly noted everyone in Nashville is clamoring to take credit for Stapleton’s success. During the bit, Aldean, Charles Kelley, Thomas Rhett (who all have songs written by Stapleton) and Carrie Underwood all stood up in the audience to convince everyone they were the reason.
– Little Big Town’s “Stay All Night.”
The group spent the last year singing their smash female-led ballad “Girl Crush,” but “Stay All Night” is the complete opposite, with Jimi Westbrook and Phillip Sweet taking the lead on vocals. The uptempo tune couldn’t be catchier, and the performance turned into an all-out dance party with New Orleans star Trombone Shorty joining in for the jam.
– Katy Perry and Dolly Parton.
“We’re both known for some of the biggest … songs in our fields,” Perry chirped as she introduced Parton, honored with the Tex Ritter Award. (Hey, at least it was a tad more subtle than Bentley calling the duo a “great pair.”) Anyway, the two women joined together for a very colorful, entertaining medley of Parton’s hit songs: “Coat of Many Colors,” “Jolene” and “9 to 5.”
– Miranda Lambert.
There were about two dozen performance slots over the three-hour show, and a mere three went to solo female artists. Lambert (who sang a cover of ZZ Top’s “Tush” with Billy Gibbons and Keith Urban) gave a shout-out in her acceptance speech when she won female vocalist for the sixth year in a row. “I love seeing tonight a bunch of new country girls up here shining, singing their great songs that they wrote themselves,” she said. “I’m really excited for women in country music and I’m glad to be here as one of them.”
– Tim McGraw’s “Humble and Kind.”
The elder statesman of modern country makes an attempt to lead the genre in a positive direction these days, performing his latest hit “Humble and Kind.” He brought up a very diverse group of fans on stage with him, creating a quiet, powerful moment in a very loud show.
– Eric Church’s tribute.
Ever think you would hear David Bowie at a country award show? In the middle of performing his new single “Record Year,” Church took a minute to play snippets from four of his musical heroes who died recently: Bowie, Scott Weiland, Lemmy Kilmister and Glenn Frey.
– Thomas Rhett’s inadvertently hilarious acceptance speech.
Rhett was understandably shocked when “Die a Happy Man” won single record of the year. On stage, he thanked his record label and manager and then realized he forgot someone important: “Holy crap, God!” At least he had the self-awareness to admit he could have worded it better: “That’s a bad sentence.”
– No reaction shots when Blake Shelton performed his new song.
Shelton, who didn’t co-host with his buddy Luke Bryan for the first time in years, was clearly busy on Sunday night: He briefly crashed Bryan’s opening performance, and then dutifully performed his new single “Came Here To Forget” before he jetted off. However, the song is clearly about his divorce from Lambert, who was in the audience with her new boyfriend, singer Anderson East. Yet there were zero audience reaction shots at all. Come on, producers, award shows need drama!
– Jason Aldean’s “Lights Come On”
The new reigning entertainer of the year debuted his new single, “Lights Come On”… and it sounds exactly like the last five songs he’s released. Step it up!
– Whatever happened with the Joey Feek tribute.
Producers promised the show would pay tribute to Joey + Rory’s Joey Feek, who died in February at age 40 after a battle with cancer. Unfortunately, the moment was strangely muddled. Martina McBride and Darius Rucker appeared on stage with a couple photos of Joey in the background, and the crowd gave a standing ovation. However, Joey + Rory’s song “Cheater, Cheater” played loudly over them the whole time, making it difficult to hear McBride and Rucker talking, and they segued a little too quickly into announcing the award for vocal group of the year right afterward.
– Those pre-commercial interstitials.
Right before the show went to commercial, producers decided to show stars talking in the audience. Yet the banter appeared painfully scripted, as Darius Rucker asked Charles Kelley what he would be singing during the ceremony; Chris Young and Cassadee Pope talked excitedly about the song they just performed; and cameras just “happened” to catch Miss America Betty Cantrell telling Brett Eldredge about her USO tour with Craig Morgan.