In what has become the norm for country music award shows, the 50th Academy of Country Music Awards could aptly be titled the "Miranda Lambert Show" as the superstar bagged a haul that included song of the year, album of the year, and a record-setting sixth consecutive nod in the female vocalist category. Also during the ceremony at Arlington, TX last night, Lambert netted one of seven milestone awards given to artists who have furthered the cause of country music.
Lambert’s big night, which was telecast by CBS, was also shared with Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line, who took home two trophies including the biggest award of the night for entertainer of the year.
The show commenced musically with perhaps Texas’ biggest contribution to the country music world -- George Strait. The reigning ACM artist of the decade brought the show to order with an appropriate number -- his 1987 classic “All My Ex’s Live In Texas” before segueing into his new single “Let It Go.” In accepting his milestone award. Strait thanked the ACM and the fans for “keeping me up here for all of these years. It’s been great.”
The second milestone award winner to be recognized was Lambert, who delivered a sexy performance of “Mama’s Broken Heart” before showing her undeniable swagger on “Little Red Wagon,” her current single. She then received the award from actresses Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara.
It was one of Lambert’s musical heroes, Reba McEntire, who was recognized next in the Milestone order. The singer -- who just released her new studio album Love Somebody -- performed a medley of “Is There Life Out There,” “The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia,” and “Fancy” prior to delivering a tight performance of current single “Going Out Like That.” The singer accepted the award from Kelly Clarkson, her stepdaughter-in-law. She thanked the state of Texas for the hospitality, telling the crowd “I wouldn’t be up there without you.”
Taylor Swift was the next recipient of the special honor. The singer, whose 1989 project represents a shift away from the country format, was emotionally moved by the presentation of her trophy by her mom, Andrea, who has just announced that she has been diagnosed with cancer. She shared a memory of how her daughter wrote “Love Story” after getting into a disagreement about one of her former boyfriends. In her speech, she addressed her format shift, saying that “country music showed me who you are when I decided to explore other options with grace.” She also thanked the format for teaching her about building a career.
One artist who Swift definitely learned lessons from on building a career was Garth Brooks. The singer then performed “All American Kid“ in honor of fallen American hero Chris Kyle after being introduced by Entertainment Tonight’s Nancy O’Dell and Kyle’s widow, Taya. After his performance, Brooks thanked the military representatives that marched up to the stage during his performance.
Kenny Chesney was celebrated by Eric Church, who introduced him for his milestone award recognition. The singer struck a reflective tone with a performance of “Young,” and then went current with his latest, “Wild Child.” In his remarks, the Columbia recording artist told the audience “To be a part of all this was more than a kid from East Tennessee could dream of at one time.”
Performance-wise some of the highlights included Florida Georgia Line’s “Sippin’ On Fire,” which featured a background of flames. Not every performance was full of production, as Dierks Bentley delivered a winning performance of “Riser,” the title track of his new album. Surprisingly, Jason Aldean also kept it low-key with a sensual performance of his single “Tonight Looks Good On You,” before launching into a medley of his hits. Thomas Rhett kept things romantic in a romantic mood at AT&T Stadium in Arlington with a smooth version of his No. 1 smash “Makes Me Wanna.”
Perhaps the most powerful musical moment of the night belonged to vocal group of the year winners Little Big Town, who gave a knockout performance of their current single “Girl Crush,” which included a stunning vocal performance by Karen Fairchild. Not too far behind them was the collaboration between Rascal Flatts and Christina Aguilera, who thrilled the fans on the evocative “Shotgun,” before the pop superstar joined the trio on “Riot.”
While celebrating the present, the show also tipped it's hat to the past on several occasions, with Martina McBride delivering a note-perfect version of her 1994 hit “Independence Day.” Alan Jackson turned back the hands of time with his 2001 masterpiece “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)” after a powerful introduction from former Dallas Cowboys great (and Oklahoma native) Troy Aikman that recognized the 20th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombings. And, it was a reunion to remember as Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn teamed up on stage for the first time in nearly five years to perform “My Maria“ before being recognized with their milestone award. Thanking the crowd of 70,000 plus, Dunn said he was glad to be home. “I don’t think there’s any place I would rather accept this award than my birth state of Texas.”
One of the emotional high points of the show was Lee Brice’s performance of “Forever and Ever Amen” prior to presenting song of the year. Brice then acknowledged Randy Travis, winner of the award in 1987, who stood up in his first televised appearance since having a stroke in the summer of 2013. This year’s winner turned out to be “Automatic,” a hit for Lambert -- which the singer co-wrote with Natalie Hemby and Nicolle Galyon (Lambert earned an additional trophy for being the artist on "Automatic"). Hemby, who has written many cuts for Lambert told the singer “I hope I can be your Dean Dillon...because you’re my George Strait,” she said in reference to the artist-writer relationship the two men have enjoyed over the years.
Lambert was not done at the winners’ podium, taking home a fourth album of the year trophy for her platinum disc. All told, Lambert's 2004 debut album is her only project to not take home the award. She also added a sixth straight female vocalist of the year trophy, pulling to within one of McEntire, the all-time winner.
Cole Swindell has definitely seen his fortunes change since selling merchandise for Luke. Tonight was definitely the highlight for the Georgia native, who won new artist of the year in somewhat of an upset over Sam Hunt and Rhett. He thanked his former boss for being like a “big brother to me.” Another surprise during the night was Brice’s win for single of the year for “I Don’t Dance.” The singer thanked his wife, Sara, for being the song’s inspiration.
Earlier in the afternoon, the ACM presented video of the year to Dierks Bentley for “Drunk On A Plane” and Florida Georgia Line along with Luke Bryan for their collaboration on “This Is How We Roll.” FGL also walked away with vocal duo of the year -- a repeat of last year’s win. Jason Aldean also saw his streak of wins for male vocalist of the year grow to three straight. He noted that it was Trisha Yearwood, who presented the award to him, that he opened his first show for while in high school.
In the vocal group of the year category, Little Big Town returned to the winners’ circle after The Band Perry won the prize last year. The group was presented the award by Alabama, themselves a six-time winner in the category in the 1980s.