Welcome to Hitfix’s live blog of the Academy of Country Music Awards, live from Las Vegas. We’re sitting backstage with lots of other reporters, crammed into a room watching the show feed on two monitors and waiting for artists to come backstage. The blog will be a hybrid of watching the show and backstage comments as they happen.
8 p.m. Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood open the show with Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Traveling Band,” and, as rumored, are joined by the song’s author, John Fogerty. Both women instantly start trying to mimic Fogerty’s strange inflection.
Reba McEntire is back to host for the 12th time and for good reason. She gets it. She is funny, fast on her feet and can get away by saying mean things with a smile that others couldn’t do –such as a zinger about Kirstie Alley. The dress she wore on the red carpet was much prettier than the one she’s wearing now.
8:10: Cher just came out to present. What? She says her bonafides are real: her mom played with Bob Wills and the first song she learned to sing was “Hey Good Lookin’,” plus she’s been talking to Merle Haggard about a duet. Now that we’d love to hear.
8:13: Blake Shelton and Trace Adkins are singing “Hillbilly Bone.” I know it’s a hit, but it’s the kind of country song that 95% of the fans can’t relate to. I am quite sure, as much as I love country, I do not have a “Hillbilly Bone” down deep inside. Okay, the ending was funny when Adkins said he couldn’t believe they’d won the award, presented earlier, for best vocal event and Shelton looked at him and said, “What do you mean you can’t believe we won?” Now so sure that was scripted.. or meant to be on camera.
8:27: Blake Shelton and Trace Adkins are now on stage, busting on the other nominees in their best vocal event, including Dave Matthews, who recorded a duet with Kenny Chesney. Chesney just performed “Ain’t Back Yet,” and his sound is so much clearer than everyone else’s. How did he manage that. Shelton is now talking about “doing a lot of drinking” with his girlfriend Miranda Lambert, but how jazzed he is that Cher said his name when she introduced them. Watch out, Miranda…Blake just said this was the first time he’d been nominated for an award, and thanked Trace for helping make it happen. Trace just said, “You lose a lot more than you win.”
8:32: Lady Antebellum wins song of the year, but I’m focused on Blake and Trace backstage. Oh my. Laura Bell Bundy, who’s best known as a Broadway star is strutting her stuff with “Giddy On Up.” It’s horrible, which means it’s headed to the top of the chart… Brad Paisley can barely manage a polite golf clap when they pan to him.
8:41: Toby Keith is playing “Cryin’ for Me,” the song he wrote about his friend, pro basketball player and jazz bassist Wayman Tisdale. He’s joined by saxophonist Dave Koz, who was also very close to Tisdale. Full disclosure: I knew Wayman through Dave and he was one of the gentlest, sweetest men ever. Very worthy tribute. Plus they got in a plug for a cancer charity so hopefully this performance will raise some funds–if you buy the song on iTunes…goes to Stand Up For Cancer. Nice shot of Tisdale’s family. Toby seems genuinely choked up. When we first talked to him after he wrote the song, he told us he had a tough time recording it, he was crying so hard.
8:52: Toby Keith is backstage talking about a cancer charity he started. Like Ronald McDonald’s house, he’s now building housing for families who have a member going through treatment, so they can be near their loved ones. he’s talking about writing the song after Wayman passed, but he was too emotional to sing it at his funeral. “It was a month before I could sing it and get through it,” he says. Wayman came with Toby to the awards last year and three weeks later he was dead. Toby is getting ready to go overseas to play for his troops, his 142nd show for them. Say what you will about Toby, he walks the walk when it comes to his support of the troops in the way that few artists do.
8:55 Lady Antebellum just won single record of the year for “Need You Now.” They’re having a good night.
9:00: LL Cool J introduced Taylor Swift. I’m pretty sure this is her first televised performance since the Grammy debacle. She’s in a cage flying over the audience—shades of Garth Brooks flying over the audience during his televised Texas Stadium special, but he didn’t use a cage… but Garth also didn’t seemingly change outfits mid-air, as she just did. Swift is singing “Change.” No horrible missteps. Her voice sounds stronger than it did that night. She still has trouble staying on key. We’ll called it a qualified redemptive performance. She knows how to make each performance an event and for that, we salute her.
9:05 Julianne Hough on Taylor’s performance: “Was that not so amazing?” What about just saying “Wasn’t that amazing.” Hough stumbles a few more times. There’s a reason presenters are supposed to show up at rehearsal… She introduces the acts who are up for best new artist: Gloriana, Luke Bryan (who’s singing “Do I,” written by Charles and Dave from Lady Antebellum– they are everywhere!–and Joey and Rory singing their hilarious romp, “Cheater Cheater.” They’re god-fearing Christians who talk about their faith a lot. You would not know it from listening to this song. Bryan is the winner, who thanks his brother, “up in heaven.”
9:12: Lady Antebellum is performing “American Honey,” the second single from “Need You Now.” I saw Lady A at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles Thursday night–it was one of their few headlining dates off from the Tim McGraw tour. They are the real deal. I’m not crazy about this song or this performance though, it seems too slow.
9:22: Like Bryan is backstage. Good God, he lost both his brother AND sister. He’s talking about how when something good happens, he and his family feel the closeness of his departed siblings. “We say, ‘Life is good tonight, life is good tonight.'” Rascal Flatts are performing. They got tough news this week when their label, Disney’s country imprint Lyric Street, was shut down. They’ll shuttle to another Disney-owned label, but Disney doesn’t have another label in Music City.
9:28: Miranda Lambert just won album of the year for “Revolution.” The ACMs love Miranda. Her last album, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” won this award two years ago. She gives a very short speech in order to save some time for the album’s producer, whom the show’s producers promptly play off. That was uncomfortable to watch.
9:31: Jason Aldean is performing “Crazy Town.” He helped lead a revolution in Nashville. He’s signed to an independent label, Broken Bow. Only just a few years ago, the majors had such a stranglehold on the charts, it would have been tough for an indie label to have the resources to compete when it comes to radio promotion, but Aldean has scored four No. 1s.
9:38: Ten minutes after her best-album win, Miranda Lambert is performing one of the best songs from “Revolution”: the gorgeous “The House that Built Me.” Hard not to tear up every time i hear that one.
9:44: Montgomery Gentry is receiving the award for their humanitarian efforts. Troy Gentry is tearing up and Eddie Montgomery uses his speech as an opportunity to tell us this is the greatest country in the world.
9:54: Carrie Underwood is singing “Temporary Home” in a dress with a skirt so flaired–it’s practically a hoop skirt– that a family of four could live underneath it; but that’s not the kind of temporary home she’s singing about, we imagine. Vocally, she’s delivering one of the best performances of the night. Man, she loves these weepers that pull at your heartstrings no matter how you try to resist.
10:00: Eddie Cibrian presents Top Vocal Group to Lady Antebellum. He is Le Ann Rimes’ other half after their affair busted up his marriage last year. Someone in the press room started singing Miranda’s “White Liar” when he came on. Nice. .Tim McGraw is now performing “Still.” Clearly he and the ACMs made up after he walked out during rehearsal on last year’s show and left producers with a hole to fill.
10:03: Word of Reba’s cutting comment about Kirstie Alley’s weight got back to Alley pretty quickly. She tweeted to Reba: “Wow… thought we girls would stick together… next time you need a fat joke about me, just ask. Mine are funny.” We bet you within 24 hours, Reba tweets an apology to Kirstie.
10:12: Brad Paisley’s new single, “Water,” reminds us of Alabama’s “Dixieland Delight.” Are we crazy? Paisley does a backward plunge into a pool of water.
10:16: TMI: Matthew McConaughey reveals that he and his wife conceived their second child last year after the ACM awards, but says they probably won’t get lucky tonight since two kids is enough. Top male vocalist winner Brad Paisley, still soaking wet from his pool dive, decides to do a stand-up routine. “Can I borrow your shirt? You’re used to not wearing one,” he asked Matthew. He then jokes about how his wife, Kimberly Williams-Paisley loved playing McConaughey’s wife in ‘We Are Marshall,” but “She said I’m a better kisser. You had no kissing scenes, so I don’t know how she knows that.” Paisley is the first artist to thank Sony Music Nashville’s head Joe Galante, who’s a legend in Nashville, who stepped down as chairman last week sending shock waves through Music Row.
10:24: McEntire chokes up while introducing her friends, Brooks & Dunn, who are hanging up their spurs after 20 years following their “Last Rodeo” tour. The fans picked “My Maria” for B&D’s last ACM performance–that is until they inevitably reunite. Although they haven’t liked each other for 20 years, so I’m not so sure a reunion will ever come to pass. B&D’s cover runs rings around the original version by B.W. Stevenson, primarily because Ronnie Dunn has such a great, great voice. If we could only do something about that hair.. People are actually singing along in the press room. Can’t wait to hear his solo stuff and we won’t have a long wait. Dunn drops his first single later this Spring.
10:30: Brooks & Dunn win top vocal duo, stealing it from Sugarland. B&D won this award an unprecedented 14 times in a row or something like that. Kix Brooks says “we’re in therapy with Brett Favre on how to waffle on this.” So not true… They’re so ready to be done, you can tell.
10:38; The preternaturally tanned Montgomery Gentry arrive backstage as Reba started her performance. We can’t hear her, but she looks lovely and we like that it’s a tribute of some sort to Brooks & Dunn (or so we think… the sound is down). There’s a strong charity component to the show tonight. That’s nice. The duo is talking about how even before they made it big, they’d play money to raise music for families in their neighborhoods who needed help paying bills. They haven’t stopped helping folks since. Montgomery Gentry fans: new single, “While You’re Still Young,” goes to radio on Monday with a new album coming out in September. Montgomery says the new material is “in your face.”
Miranda Lambert just won top female vocalist and seems pretty shocked about it, as is Taylor Swift, who would appear to be going home empty handed tonight.
10:44: Lady Antebellum just came in the press room. When we wrote “Need You Now,” I don’t think we knew what we had on our hands,” says Charles Kelley. “It wasn’t until [producer] Paul Worley interpreted it. You never know where a song can take you…It almost didn’t make the record.” Lead singer Hilary Scott looks breathtakingly gorgeous in a magenta dress with her green eyes sparkling. “We want to be doing what Brooks & Dunn are doing, 20 years from now saying ‘we need to take a break’,” Charles says. Asked if it’s shocking to hear “Need You Now” played alongside Lady GaGa on pop radio, he says, although Hilary notes they both write songs about phones.
10:51: Brooks & Dunn are backstage. Kix says the tribute that’s taping tomorrow night honoring them is one of the most “humbling” things for them since they know how busy people are. (The tribute to Brooks & Dunn airs on CBS May 23). Ronnie says that a friend of his, a therapist, “Not that I need one,” he hastens to add, has told him to feel his feelings. Don’t just rush through this and remember the ride. He recounted opening for Reba in ’92 when he and Brooks were still on the way up and marveling at her production, planes and limos, “and now we’re friends with her. I played black jack with George Strait awhile ago.” “And lost,” added Brooks.
11:00: While Brooks & Dunn were backstage, it appears Carrie Underwood won entertainer of the year, marking her second year in a row and she is the only female to ever win it twice… that’s a dubious honor to hold. This also means that Taylor Swift was shut out tonight. Entertainer of the year is voted on the fans, which makes Swift’s loss in this category all the more surprising. At her show on Friday night in Los Angeles, she was still shilling for votes.
11:07: The show is over, closing with a performance by Darius Rucker, but backstage continues to hop as Miranda Lambert comes in. “Are you freaking kidding me,” she says about winning top female vocalist, tearing up backstage, recalling the moment. ‘I’d just watched Reba perform. She’s everything we want to be in country music. I looked over at Carrie and she hugged me and said, ‘Long time coming.'” As far as winning album of the year, she see leaned over to boyfriend Blake Shelton and said, “I really want this one” as the nominees were announced tonight. She’s feeling the love of her peers. “I never cry, but I’m crying tonight. You cracked me, people.” A little preview: she’s performing “Hillbilly Deluxe” at the Brooks & Dunn tribute.
11:19: Brad Paisley set a record for fourth consecutive award for best male vocalist. he says tonight feels like a dream. “Before the show, they said, you’re going to fall in. Don’t bend your knees, you’ll hit your head,” of falling back into the pool. He notes this is a strong time for women in country music, “which is something I’m very happy about,” noting how pleased he is that his buddy Carrie Underwood won entertainer of the year and that Taylor Swift took home the same award from the Country Music Assn. last fall. Paisley’s tour this summer is a blockbuster with two stages of acts– six artists every night–including Easton Corbin on the second stage, or as Paisley called him, “Aston Martin.” “I really hope that people leave there feeling they got 10 times what they bargained for.” Paisley is singing “Working on my Next Broken Heart” at the Brooks & Dunn tribute. He also expanded on his comments from the stage about departing exec Joe Galante: “I’m optimistic about the future, but I’ll miss him. He’s the greatest partner. He listens to my vision and he talks me out of stupid ideas.” What more could you ask for.
11:32: Our last artist backstage: Carrie Underwood, who looks amazing. “I got to sing with John Fogerty. Oh my gosh,” she says of the show opener. She doesn’t want to reveal her Brooks & Dunn selection, but she says it came out when she was eight years old. “They’ve been part of raising me in country music. They’re my neighbors. I see them all over Nashville. I’m sad they are leaving.” Man, she’s come far from a girl who just admitted, “When I was on ‘American Idol,’ I just hoped I’d get to stay on another week.”