It was Las Vegas' night to celebrate country music, as the 49th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards celebrated the format in party fashion tonight with Miranda Lambert and Keith Urban reigning as the big winners with three trophies on the night, while George Strait repeated his November CMA win for Entertainer of the Year – an award he last won in 1989.
The Band Perry kicked off the CBS telecast with a riveting performance of "Chainsaw," that opened the show up on a positive note, before giving way to hosts Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan, who said the crowd was excited to hear new music. "And, if you don't like live music, go down the street and see Britney Spears," Shelton quipped.
Later in their monologue, Bryan asked Shelton about what might happen if he won the night's top prize and his wife, Miranda Lambert, didn't. "I'm not worried about that. I'm entertainer of the year every night," to which Lambert simply smiled, and Bryan quipped "More like a minute, and I'm spotting you thirty seconds," to a great round of applause. It was also announced that the 2015 ACM Awards – the 50th – would be held at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, with Cowboys owner / GM Jerry Jones in the audience.
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Florida Georgia Line entertained with their hit single "Stay," as well as "This Is The Way We Roll," their collaboration with Bryan.
Two of country's marquee artists debuted new material during the night. Brad Paisley premiered his new single "River Bank." Tim McGraw also showcased his new record, the powerful "Meanwhile Back At Mama's,"which featured wife Faith Hill.
Another highlight of the evening was Blake Shelton's duet with former "Voice" contestant Gwen Sebastian on the romantic "My Eyes," one of the more soulful single performances from Shelton. He also performed with fellow "Voice" judge Shakira on "Medicine." Country Music Hall of Fame member George Strait was his timeless self on the current single "I Got A Car," from his Love Is Everything disc. The singer received the first standing ovation of the night – but not his last, as he received another when walking to the stage to accept the fan voted Entertainer of the Year prize.
Lee Brice offered a powerful take on his "I Drive Your Truck," while Eric Church provided a spark with his latest,"Give Me Back My Hometown."
One of the biggest buzzes of the night was the pairing of Lady Antebellum and Stevie Nicks, and suffice to say, it did live up to expectations as one of the definite highlights of the night. The acts performed the title track from Lady A's current album 'Golden,' and then Hillary Scott and Nicks paired up for the evergreen "Rhiannon." Keith Urban was next, offering, a rollicking performance of "Even The Stars Fall For You." Luke Bryan dazzled the crowd with his latest single, "Play It Again," introduced by co-host Shelton as "Bluke Lryan."
Jason Aldean kept the energy flowing with "When She Says Baby," the most recent chart-topper for the Broken Bow recording artist, while Miranda Lambert shone brightly on the nostalgic "Automatic." Toby Keith performed his latest single, "Shut Up and Hold On," while Hunter Hayes gave fans an emotional rendering of "Invisible." Dierks Bentley was joined on stage by the legendary Sheryl Crow on "I Hold On," from his CD Riser. Darius Rucker was joined by Lady Antebellum and got the entire arena -- including a shimying Taylor Swift -- singing along to his version of Old Crow Medicine Show's hit "Wagon Wheel."
In addition to the awards show from the MGM Grand Arena, there were several performances from the Mandalay Bay Casino, including Florida Georgia Line's "Stay," as well as performances from all three nominees for New Artist of the Year. Brett Eldredge, Justin Moore, and Kip Moore.
One might have forgotten that the ACM's do give out awards, as there were none presented in the telecast's first hour. Taylor Swift presented the opening award to Florida Georgia Line for Vocal Duo of the Year. It was their first win in the category, after winning New Artist of the Year at last year's show.
The new artist of the year (presented by Kohl's) – one of two categories voted on by the fans – was presented to Moore – who notched his first hit back in 2008. "I was beginning to think there was a height requirement to win this award," the Valory Music Group artist quipped before ending his acceptance speech in tears while thanking his wife and children.
One of the biggest surprises of the night was the triumph of Miranda Lambert in the single of the year category for "Mama's Broken Heart" over "Cruise," which set the record for most weeks atop the Billboard Country Songs chart last year. It was her third win in four years in the single category, taking home the top prize for 2010's "The House That Built Me" and last year's "Over You."
Brice's "I Drive Your Truck" carried home the award for song of the year – netting trophies for the performer, as well as Connie Harrington, Jessi Alexander, and Jimmy Yeary.
There were a few repeat winners on the night. Jason Aldean notched his second straight win for male vocalist of the year, while Lambert won her fifth straight female vocalist prize, becoming the first artist to do so. The award was presented to her by 1997 winner Trisha Yearwood. Lambert's tally during the evening pushed her ACM Awards total to eighteen.
The Band Perry won in the Vocal Group category for the very first time, capping off a successful year that saw the family trio enjoy success with their music in the states, as well as overseas. One of the most competitive categories was the album of the year, which went to the critically heralded 'Same Trailer Different Park' recorded by Kacey Musgraves, her first ACM win.
One of the more emotional moments of the evening was the presentation of the Crystal Milestone Award to the man who helped to define the California country sound – Merle Haggard. The legend was celebrated in song by Strait ("I'm A Lonesome Fugitive") and Lambert ("Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down"), before being presented the award by Garth Brooks.
There were two awards presented prior to the telecast. Tim McGraw, Taylor Swift, and Keith Urban carried home the award for video of the year for "Highway Don't Care," and another Urban collaboration - "We Were Us," won for vocal event with Lambert. In all, the "American Idol" judge added a total of three awards to his collection, having produced "We Were Us."