Chris Stapleton added to his awards mantle tonight (April 15) when he took home the album of the year and male vocalist trophies at the 53rd Annual Academy of Country Music Awards. It turned out to be an extra-special night for the country star, as he and wife Morgane also became parents to twins.
And it was a night to remember for Miranda Lambert, who snagged a pair of trophies, including a ninth consecutive victory for top female vocalist. Also notable was a huge win for Jason Aldean as the night’s biggest winner with his third straight win for entertainer of the year. Visibly emotional during his remarks he said: “It’s been a rough year. I just want to say thanks to everybody that reached out to us, and showed us support over the last six months. It meant the world to us. To my Route 91 people, you guys are in our hearts. We love you guys, and we love Las Vegas — Vegas Strong,” in reference to the tragic shootings during the Route 91 Harvest Festival.
That tragedy — and unity — was at the heart of the show early. Jason Aldean, Maren Morris, Miranda Lambert, Luke Bryan and Thomas Rhett opened the show with a message about the resilience of the artists and the fans following last October’s attack at Route 91 fest. Host Reba McEntire’s monologue consisted of good-natured jabs at country’s most recent baby boom, as well as her own longevity. McEntire admitted that she co-hosted the ACMs for the first time in 1987, before her fellow nominee Kelsea Ballerini’s parents began dating. Kenny Chesney opened the show musically with the feel-good vibe of “Get Along.”
Collaborations were also a central part of the telecast, with Florida Georgia Line teaming with Bebe Rexha for their chart-topping smash “Meant To Be,” and Keith Urban joining forces with Julia Michaels on “Coming Home.”
Not all the musical pairings were the blending of formats. On three occasions, the ACM recognized songs made famous 25 years ago. The first such performance saw Jon Pardi teaming up with Country Music Hall of Famer Alan Jackson for a spirited romp through “Chattahoochee.” Blake Shelton partnered with fellow Okie Toby Keith for the song which launched the latter’s career, “Should’ve Been A Cowboy.” And McEntire got involved in the classics mix, as well, offering up “Does He Love You” with Kelly Clarkson.
Other standout performances on the night included Lady Antebellum’s sublime run through “Heart Break,” former school mates Lauren Alaina and Kane Brown’s show-stopping stamp on “What If’s,” as well as a riveting performance of “Women, Amen” from Dierks Bentley, which inspired Bryan to rise from his seat to give Bentley a smooch. For the record, Dierks refused his “advances.” Little Big Town dazzled with a flawless take on “Rocker Man,” their contribution to the Elton John / Bernie Taupin tribute disc Restoration.
One of the most simple yet moving performances of the show was Blake Shelton’s nostalgic performance of “I Lived It,” which earned him a standing ovation. There was also a simplicity apparent when top new vocal group winners Midland soared into the Nevada stratosphere with “Drinkin’ Problem.” The group’s Big Machine counterpart Brett Young (top new male vocalist), and Lauren Alaina (top new female vocalist) also registered their first ACM wins. A little more dreamy was Ballerini’s troll through her current “I Hate Love Songs,” which caused attendees to stand once more.
However, all eyes were fixated on the stage when Carrie Underwood unveiled hew new single, “Cry Pretty.” The song, her debut for Capitol Nashville, marked her first performance since going through extensive facial surgery following a November fall at her home. The singer didn’t disappoint, scoring the knockout performance of the evening. Just a few moments later, she was on stage again, accepting the vocal event of the year prize for “The Fighter.” It was also a big night for the record label, with a win for Sam Hunt’s “Body Like A Back Road” in the single of the year field after its record-setting run atop the Hot Country Songs Chart last year.
Lambert’s “Tin Man” (co-written with Jon Randall and Jack Ingram) won for song of the year, somewhat of a surprise for a single with a relatively low peak on the charts (No. 15 Country Songs, No.22 Country Airplay). Still, the song — written for Lambert’s critically-acclaimed two-disc set The Weight of These Wings — resonated with fans, allowing the singer to say thanks to the listeners for “sharing her broken heart” through the song, written after the end of Lambert’s marriage to Blake Shelton.
On the other end of that emotional spectrum was the album of the year prize, which was revealed to be Stapleton’s From A Room, Volume 1. McEntire accepted the award for him, admitting that it was a notable weekend in more ways than one for the performer, with his wife Morgane delivering twins in Nashville.