Monday night (March 7), the Academy of Country Music Awards handed out awards for the 57th edition of the show, including entertainer of the year to an absent Miranda Lambert (she was in London preparing to play at C2C) on a show that featured around 20 performances.
Beamed from Las Vegas’ Allegiant Stadium, the show streamed live on Amazon’s Prime Video, making it the first major music awards show to leap from broadcast to streaming. At an extremely fast paced —at times frenetic— two hours with no commercials (unless you count the numerous plugs for Amazon shows), the show zoomed by like a fever dream on steroids.
Host Dolly Parton, aided by co-hosts Jimmie Allen and Gabby Barrett, kept the show moving as it careened from one performance to the next. At one point, there were 35 minutes of performances between awards.
Here are some of the top performances from the evening:
Country music—both the fans and the artists— will collectively never get over the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival massacre that left 58 people dead at a Las Vegas festival on Oct. 1, 2017. Chris Stapleton performed “Watch You Burn,” his excoriating song about that tragedy, for the first time on live television. It provided the evening’s most powerful moment, especially given that Jason Aldean, who was on stage when the shooting happened, introduced Stapleton. With restrained fury, Stapleton growled through lines like, “If I could snap my fingers/if I could flip a switch/I’d make that last bullet first, you son of a bitch.” He broadens the song to all other acts of domestic terrorism, adding “Just know this/let it give you pause/before you mail out your bombs or pull a trigger in a synagogue/you’re gonna get your turn…devil gonna watch you burn.” Haunting and unforgettable.
It Take Two
Carly Pearce and Ashley McBryde served up all the drama on “Never Wanted To Be That Girl,” their ripe duet with Pearce playing the role of the cheated-upon wife and McBryde the mistress. Both can’t stand the position they have unwittingly found themselves in and unlike Reba McEntire/Linda Davis’ 1993 classic, “Does He Love You,” neither one of them wants the man, they just want their self-respect and dignity back. The two were a tour-de-force, playing their parts to perfection.
Breland Takes Us to Church
Breland is a rising star and he showed it with the live debut of “Praise the Lord,” a song released earlier today. The stomp, completely with handclaps, praises the Lord for southern women and crispy chicken and other things that make life worth living. It’s a lightweight trifle in the best way as he celebrates Saturday night’s sins and Sunday’s salvation, but Breland brought enough joy to light up the stadium. He was joined by Thomas Rhett, who appears on the single, but we really want a version for Nathanial Rateliff and the Night Sweats, since the song recalls “S.O.B.” in its rollicking melody.
Kellyoke Reigns Supreme
Kelly Clarkson sings a cover song on her syndicated talk daily and so it seems perfect that she stepped on stage to deliver a note-perfect rendition of Parton’s classic, “I Will Always Love You.” Standing unmoving on stage and with her eyes closed much of the time, Clarkson let emotion and her powerhouse vocals propel her through the song delivering a version that recalled Whitney Houston’s blockbuster rendition more than Parton’s gossamer original. Even Parton seemed moved, greeting Clarkson on stage at the end and adding, “I know Whitney is smiling down on us tonight… I was backstage trying not to cry my false eyelashes off and sling snot.”
Don’t Leave Us This Way
Though he’s already a superstar, Kane Brown continues to peel back more and more artistic layers and show different facets of himself. He moves from strength to strength as a rapper and as a bonafide balladeer. He debuted “Leave You Alone” on the ACMs and it’s a slow-burning ode to commitment. Even when he doesn’t show it, it’s important to him that his love know that he is committed to her. It’s one of his most country songs so far, but he imbued it with sweet soul on Monday night as he showed just how strong a vocalist he’s become.
Clean Out Your Closet
When they won the award for vocal duo, the Brothers Osborne’s TJ Osborne declared “about a week ago, they pulled our single from country radio so we needed something to put a little wind in our sails,” apparently a reference to EMI Music’s decision to no longer promote “I’m Not For Everyone” to country radio after it had stalled in the high 30s on the chart. For reasons unknown, Brothers Osborne have struggled at radio, but their ability as a live act is never in question and they proved it again Monday night as they sandblasted through an meaty version of “Skeletons,” the title track to their most recent album. Between John Osborne’s muscular guitar work and T.J. Osborne’s vocals on such lines as “You’ve got skeletons in your closet and I’ve got bones to pick with them,” they provided the evening’s most rocking performance— and that’s before they turned the lights down to allow their neon costumes to glow in the black light.
Forever in Blue Jeans
It’s always great to see Parton perform, but it felt really special to see her stripped down—in blue jeans and a cowboy hat, complete with acoustic guitar— as she performed “Big Dreams and Faded Jeans,” the first single off her new album, the soundtrack to accompany Run, Rose, Run, the book she co-wrote with James Patterson. Her performance included Kelsea Ballerini, who reads the role of the lead character in the audio version of Run, Rose, Run. Ballerini was a welcome addition— if a bit too much of a pointed plug— but Parton needs no help to deliver any song, especially one that feels as autobiographical as this one. Even though it’s ostensibly about the book’s lead character, lines like “Just my ole guitar and me/Out to find my destiny,” are straight out of Parton’s life story and she sang it with the wonderment of one whose journey had just begun.
Put On Your Dancing Shoes
Clarkson wasn’t the only one serving up tasty covers. Barrett delivered an elegant, emotional version of Lee Ann Womack’s 2000 classic, “I Hope You Dance,” with her crystalline vocals beautifully capturing the song’s wistful promise. Though she didn’t mention her baby daughter, Baylah, she didn’t have to. It was clear that’s who she was sending the performance out to, full of love and light for what’s to come.
The 57th Academy of Country Music Awards is produced by MRC Live & Alternative, which is owned by MRC. MRC is a co-owner of Billboard through a joint venture with Penske Media titled P-MRC.