The 49th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards airs Sunday night at 8 p.m. on CBS. While slightly more prestigious than the American Music Awards (which are similarly produced by dick clark productions), the ACMs are to the CMA Awards what the AMAs are to the Grammys: they are a little less stuffy and a little more loose-limbed. The ceremony is in in Las Vegas, so artists are out of their Nashville hometown and they feel a little less constrained.
Like all music awards shows now, the reason to tune in is for the performances, not necessarily the awards presentations, and the 3-hour extravaganza is packed with them from Jason Aldean, Bryan, Eric Church, Keith Urban, Miranda Lambert, Toby Keith, Tim McGraw, Brad Paisley, Hunter Hayes, and show opener The Band Perrry. However, if you”re keeping count on the awards front: Tim McGraw and Miranda Lambert lead all nominees with seven nods each, followed by Keith Urban with six, Kacey Musgraves with five, and Blake Shelton, Lee Brie, and Taylor Swift with four.
*Laugh with co-hosts Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan: The two are hosting together for the second time and there”s no doubt that they will somehow up the ante on the hi-jinks. Both have wicked senses of humor, so, while we know many of the words coming out of their mouths will be scripted, the best moments will come from their ad-libs.
*Sing along with Lady Antebellum and Stevie Nicks: Little Big Town are really the country equivalent of Fleetwood Mac (and they do a killer version of “The Chain” to stoke those comparisons), but Lady A comes a close second with their killer co-ed harmonies. As anyone who saw Lady A and Nicks” episode of CMT”s “Crossroads” last year knows, they make beautiful music together. Expect them to do a mash up of a Fleetwood Mac tune into a Lady A song. There will be other pairings throughout the evening as well, including Shakira and Shelton performing their new duet, “Medicine.” I”m not always a fan of how their voices go together, but am eager to hear the song performed live, and Dierks Bentley with Sheryl Crow on his hit, “I Hold On.”
*Drink to non-country presenters: Make this your drinking game: Every time a presenter shoe-horned into the show because he or she is on a CBS show (yes, we”re talking to you LL Cool J and Chris O”Donnell) or has something to shill, like Guy Fieri, Thea Andrews and Olivia Munn, do a shot after they proclaim how much they love country music and then proceed to call it “country and western” or mispronounce an artist”s name or wear a cowboy hat.
*Learn from Merle Haggard: Garth Brooks will present the legend with the Crystal Milestone Award, while George Strait and Miranda Lambert perform a medley of his tunes. But we”re holding out for his speech. The 76-year old Haggard is as grizzled and as contentious as they come and no fan of today”s pop-country music, so there is no telling what could come out of his mouth, but we bet it”s going to be good.
*Hear Brad Paisley”s new song: Paisley is, inexplicably, not up for any awards this year, but he”s showing up to debut his new single, “River Bank” from his new album, out later this year. The song will immediately be released as a digital single following his performance.
*Enjoy Taylor Swift's reactions: Swift has become the one-woman gif that keeps on gifting. Her ability to dance as though no one is watching when she stands up and sings along with virtually every performance, her not-so-subtle whispered comments to her brother or bestie during the show and, as always, her wide-eyed, wide-mouthed reaction when she wins are reasons to tune in alone.
*See who wins Entertainer of the Year: Historically, this category tended to be male dominated with only eight women winning the award since its inception in 1970, but for the second year in a row, both Taylor Swift and Miranda Lambert are nominated. Swift has already captured the title twice- in 2010 and 2011- making her the youngest artist to snag the award. The potential spoiler here is George Strait, who is on his farewell tour. This is his 14th nomination for the award, but he hasn”t won it since 1989. Wonder if Garth Brooks, whose has won a record six EotY awards, and who goes back on the road this year, will get a nod next year?
Just a reminder: We will be blogging the show live from the press room and will bring you complete coverage starting Sunday.