7:50 p.m.: Hello from the 49th annual ACM Awards in Las Vegas. We'll be blogging live from the press room, which means we'll be commenting on the action you're seeing on TV, but also on what's going on backstage as the artists come back to talk to the press. The Band Perry are opening the show with an explosive version of “Chainsaw,” and the performers' list is a virtual who's who of country: Jason Aldean, Eric Church, Lady Antebellum, Florida Georgia Line, George Strait, Keith Urban, Luke Bryan, Brad Paisley and more. There are 25 performances in all. Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan are co-hosting for the second year, so there should be plenty of laughs.
8:04 p.m.: The Band Perry opens the show with a midtempo tune called “Chainsaw.” It's all sizzle and very little steak, with Kimberly Perry stomping around, confetti flying, and Reid Perry tossing his hair and his body around as if he's a member of AC/DC. At least they're playing live. Very tepid audience response. I run hot and cold on TBP, and I'm definitely feeling cold about that one… am I wrong? Maybe it played better on TV than on the press room feed.
8:05: Blake Shelton lays down the gauntlet. Luke Bryan stresses that everyone is playing live and Shelton adds, “If you don't want to hear love music, go down the Strip and go see Britney Spears”… Bryan then calls out Carrie Underwood in the audience and commends her on “The Sound of Music” ratings. Give it a rest… yes, she got panned by some critics, but the ratings soared, so she's a winner in the poll that really matters and she's probably ready to move on… OK, we just lost the house feed. It's back now as Bryan makes a joke about Shelton not being Entertainer of the Year, but maybe Entertainer of the Minute… “and I'm spotting you 30 seconds.” Their bromance is alive and well…
8:12 p.m. Florida Georgia Line perform “Stay,” or as I like to call it, “What if I wrote you a love song… ” However, as you may not know, artists are now trying to make song titles one word because it's better for social media when it comes to tweeting, etc… Can you imagine if “Stairway to Heaven” come out now? It would be called “Stairway,” or, to keep it country, “Friends in Low Places” would be called “Friends.” But I digress, which I guess is my commentary on how non-compelling I'm finding FGL's performance…though it's nice to just see them standing and singing. Too harsh?
8:15: Brad Paisley debuts new song, “Riverbank,” poolside surrounded by lovely looking men and women in bathing suits. It's one of those fun-timing, easy going kinds of songs that Paisley excels at and the timing is perfect for it to break as we head into warmer weather. It's a fun, laid back performance.
8:23: Blake Shelton performs “My Eyes,” the 4,325th single from “Based on a True Story,” with Gwen Sebastian, while his wife Miranda Lambert sings along in the audience. It's a fine, sexy, mid-tempo song, but the show is in need of some uptempo, rocking performance about right now… and we're almost 30 minutes in without an award being presented. They're still going to hand some out, right?
8:27: Brett Eldredge, one of the three male nominees up for new artist of the year, performs a snippet of “Beat of the Music” from the Mandalay Bay. The ACMs have apparently taken over every MGM-owned property in Las Vegas (and note that Spears is not at an MGM property or I'm pretty sure that joke would have gotten cut).
8:35 p.m.: George Strait, that's King George to you, does what he always does, stands there and sings and make it look totally effortless. He's on a victory lap as he completes his last tour. “I Got A Car” is a bit of a strange song about a couple meeting and having their first baby… he's north of 60, so it's a big of a strange fit, but if there's one thing I've learned in my years of covering country music, Strait is unassailable. See…he just got the first standing ovation of the night just for being himself. Not that I can think of a better reason for someone to get one.
8:38: Confession time… I am the last possible person that would ever drive a truck, and yet Lee Brice's “I Drive Your Truck” gets to me every time. It's killing me that he's not getting to sing the whole song. It's a killer song and is understandably up for single record of the year and song of the year. Guy Fieri is now introducing a segment on Party for a Cause, but he's really here to plug his new restaurant at one of MGM's properties, let's not kid ourselves. 8:40 and still no awards have been handed out…
8:45: Eric Church performs “Give Me Back My Hometown.” I'm a latecomer to join the Church of Eric and I like this song, but I'm going to fall asleep if there's one more mid-tempo tune… The performances have all been perfectly fine (although I thought TBP was weak) but nothing special. Can someone please do something uptempo? I've now placed a bet with myself on whether any awards will be presented within the first hour. I don't know what I get if I win… this hour of my life back?
8:57: Blake Shelton and Skaira perform “Medicine” Their voices have a bit of a leather and lace appeal. A little surprised that NBC let two of “The Voice” coaches debut a song on a rival network.
9: Taylor Swift, who looks classy and beautiful, presents Vocal Duo of the Year to Florida Georgia Line– the first award of the night. There was no way they weren't winning that. It was one of the weaker categories with no real competition for them. They, of course, thank God, for their award.
9:09: After Shelton and Bryan do a funny skit about trying to replicate Ellen DeGeneres' Oscar selfie that broke the internet (their chemistry is the highlight of the show so far), Lady Antebellum and Stevie Nicks to a mash-up of “Golden” and “Rihannon.” Their harmonies are spot on and I have to give Hilary Scott points that she can sing with Stevie NIcks, looks right in her face, and not stop and scream, “Can you believe I'm signing with Stevie Frigging Nicks” right now!”
9:13: God bless Keith Urban. I adore him anyway, but he just saved the show with “Even The Stars Fall 4 U,” tonight's first full-on uptempo track and he kills it. Between the three drummers, his guitar playing and the overall performance, the show is back on track. Should definitely be a single for Urban.
9:14: Kip Moore is singing “Somethin' About a Truck,” but I'm not listening. I'm too busy enjoying the gun show. Good God almighty…
9:24: Luke Bryan's new single, “This Is My Song” is one of those tunes that makes an emotional connection with people because we've all said that line about a million times throughout our lives when a favorite came on the radio, but it just feels like sloppy writing to me, though as usual, he's able to completely sell it.
9:26: Justin Moore wins new artist of the year. The weird thing is he's not really a new artist, but of the three, he's the most deserving. He's also a fun spark plug of a guy and it's sweet that he gets a little choked up as he's accepting.
9:34:Now Bryan and Shelton are spoofing on Daft Punk's helmets. I'm digging the two of the them together.
9:37: Miranda Lambert wins single record of the year for “Mama's Broken Heart.” She thanks the producers and songwriters, but seems more focused on her upcoming performance. I would say that's a mild upset over “Cruise,” which was No. 1 for 22 weeks or something insane like that.
9:46: Lambert is performing “Automatic,” another mid-tempo track, in a sparkly statement necklace and a wifebeater… it's a look that I don't think is going to catch on (Plus, after Louis C.K.'s great “SNL” monologue last week, I think we need to come up with another name for a sleeveless white tank top…) As you may have noticed, i've reported no backstage action yet because there hasn't been any…no winners or presenters have made it back here yet.
9:49: Olivia Munn, her breasts, and Aaron Rogers are presenting song of the year, an award that goes to the songwriters. I'm rooting for Bob Dylan to win for “Wagon Wheel.” Wouldn't it be hilarious if he were there? The award goes to “I Drive Your Truck,” which, as you know from what I wrote earlier, makes me very happy. The song is based on a true story. Yikes, co-writer Connie Harrington gets played off before either of her two co-writers can say anything.
9:57: Tim McGraw debuts a new song, 'Meanwhile Back At Mama's,” a look at the traditional life that country music so dearly loves to embrace. Supper's cooking on the stove, dad's smoking a cigarette, everyone's watching the game. McGraw is in a tuxedo for a song that's about hanging out on the porch….and his wife, Faith Hill, who's joined him (as we tweeted she would last night), is in formal wear as well… They look fantastic, but it's strange attire for a song about walking around in muddy boots, etc… or maybe the point is about how their lives have gotten so far away from what's going on at Mama's.
10:01: Florida Georgia Line and Luke Bryan are performing “This Is How we Roll” complete with the motocross team that appears in the video. And here's part of the problem with country music right now… between FLG and Luke Bryan, they are on their third or fourth appearance tonight. Better to make the show shorter than keep going back to the same performers.
10:06: Jason Aldean repeats as male vocalist of the year.
10:08: Toby Keith, who is up for nothing, is performing a song called “Shut Up and Hold On…” Why? I'm really beginning to believe this show needs to go back to two hours. But I feel that way about all award shows. There's no reason for any of them to be three hours… even the Grammys and the Oscars.
10:17: Justin Moore is backstage and he admits he would have been “pissed off” if he'd lost best new artist. I asked him if it felt a little weird that he'd been doing this for six years and he's just winning best new artist now, and he said, “I would have taken it if were for female vocalist of the year.” He added that he didn't want to jinx his chances. “I wanted this one, guys, I wanted this one so bad. This wasn't make or break in our career, we've put out two albums…we've had a lot of hit records, we're out headlining arenas, but this was very, very important to me and my team.” I felt like a coach who could win games in the regular season, but could never win in the post season.”
10:21: Band Perry wins vocalist of the year. Hunter Hayes performs “Invisible.” It's not going to be his biggest hit, but for anyone who's been bullied, it will be his most significant one. Hayes is selling the performance, but he's a little pitchy.
10:32: Jason Aldean came backstage and talked about lots of things (we'll put up the video later) but took time to praise Miranda Lambert, who will tour with him when he plays stadiums this summer. “She's a chick that can tear it up with any guy in country music.” And cue Lambert winning female vocalist of the year.
10:36: Darius Rucker performs “Wagon Wheel.” It must feel strange to sing a song after it's lost two awards.
10:38: Kacey Musgraves' “Same Trailer Different Park” wins album of the year. “I'm really proud to be a woman representing country music,” she says. Ain't it the truth. There aren't many of them making it onto the charts right now, including Musgraves. Hopefully, this will help get her some more mainstream airplay.
10:40: The Band Perry comes backstage and Kimberly reveals that band's third album will be “all about feel…it's going to feel good live.” As far as the band's show opening performance, they added their motto was “We came, we saw, we confetti'd.” They were in the press room during the presentation of the Crystal Award to Merle Haggard, but I caught his acceptance speech, which had to be the shortest one in history. It took him longer to walk to the stage than to accept the award. In all fairness, the 77-year old (today is his birthday) has pneumonia, so it's a miracle that he managed to show up at all. Legend…simply one of the greatest of all time.
10:50: Rascal Flatts and Dierks Bentley with Sheryl Crow are the last two performers of the evening before the big award: Entertainer of the year. It goes to George Strait, who deserves to win, but is also the sentimental favorite. Given that it's a fan-voted award, his win is all the more impressive, given that he was up against acts like Miranda Lambert, Taylor Swift, and Blake Shelton, who have younger, more social media savvy fans. “I've always said I had the best fans in the world. I heard this was a fan-voted thing, so I rest my case,” Strait says.
11:00 p.m. Shelton and Bryan come back out as Shelton, very gracious in defeat, greets Strait and says, “Our hero won tonight.” Damn straight (or should that be 'Strait') he did. And it's a wrap. It felt like a very long show. There were no horrible performances, but there weren't any stand outs either. It was a show that took no risks and played primarily to the mainstream country fans who listen to country radio and don't care much about veering outside the lines.
What did you think?
P.S.: Looking ahead, ACM head Bob Romeo and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones came backstage to promote next year's 50th annual ACM Awards, which will take place at AT&T Stadium in Dallas. Since the show will honor the current music makers as well as look back, Romeo said he took tonight as a chance to chat with artists about which of their influences they'd love to perform with, such as Strait with Haggard. He added that Shelton talked about loving Earl Thomas Conley and Bellamy Brothers. He also talked to Garth Brooks, who idolizes Strait and Haggard.