There are few things that Dallas loves more than country music, but one of those precious few is a spectacle. This weekend, one of the biggest shows in country music is coming to town to prove that point. On Sunday, the Academy of Country Music will host the 50th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, making Dallas one of the biggest cities in country music -- at least in 2015.
The ACM Awards have existed since 1966, and they've actually never been hosted in Nashville. At its inception, the Academy's awards were held in Los Angeles, before moving to Las Vegas in 2003. Dallas has never played host to a major music awards show, but the Super Bowl, All-Star Game and other large events have been hosted here -- mostly without a hitch. The Academy of Country Music is pulling out all the stops to make sure that the 50th anniversary of the Awards is the biggest yet.
What you won't see, though, is much Texas influence on these stages. One would think it would be easier for the host state's artists to get a little attention from the establishment. In fact, it's quite the opposite. The ACM Party For A Cause lineup features just a few Texas artists, like Josh Abbott Band. There's no disputing that the ACM Awards are a celebration of mainstream, pop-country music, but the Academy isn't showing even the tiniest bit of interest in incorporating the diverse sounds that Texas has to offer.
Texas has always railed against the Nashville music establishment. In fact, musicians in this state created an entire genre, Texas country, to shoot their middle fingers at music executives who wanted them to shine-up their look and sound. Even so, musicians in Texas typically answer when Nashville comes calling, evidenced by the recent ascent of Texas-based artists like Abbott, Eli Young Band and Brandy Clark. But if you want to get out of the honky-tonks and into the arenas, working within Nashville's framework is damn near a necessity.
There were plenty of opportunities to extend a hand with the Awards, too. In addition to charitable events, the All-Star Jam and the actual ceremony, a two-day music festival called Party With A Cause will take place at Globe Life Park on Friday and Saturday, which would have been the perfect time to showcase some local talent. Thousands of fans will fill the stadium for two days and nights of music from some of the genre's best artists. During the day, up-and-comers like Maddie & Tae, Sam Hunt and Brett Eldridge will play the Dodge Ram Lone Star Stage on the park's North Lawn.
At night is when things really start to get exciting. Country legends like Alan Jackson, Alabama and Patty Loveless will come together and perform rare duets with current superstars like Cole Swindell, Miranda Lambert and Keith Urban for the ACM's aptly named "Superstar Duets." These performances, which will be filmed and air on CBS later this year, are easily some of the most highly anticipated of the year in the world of country music. Here, you will find the sole major Texas act in Eli Young Band, who some would argue have now gone thoroughly Nashville.
The Awards, held on Sunday at AT&T Stadium, will feature an even more unbelievably star-studded lineup. Hosted by Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton, the evening will feature performances from George Strait, Reba, Eric Church, the recently un-retired Garth Brooks and plenty of others. With such an impressive roster of performances, it's easy to understand why tickets to the show sold out in a matter of minutes when it was announced early last year.
The fan demand was so great, in fact, that the Academy released additional tickets a few months ago, with some VIP packages starting at $600. At present, upper-level, obstructed-view tickets for the event are selling for upwards of $100 on StubHub and other third-party sellers. There is clearly a strong demand for mainstream country in Dallas, even from people who also consider themselves Texas country fans. There's typically a clear line between the two, but that doesn't mean they couldn't come together to paint a truly comprehensive picture of the country music landscape.
Texas has always had a rich country-music history, albeit one largely ignored by Nashville, but it's really a no-brainer that the Academy of Country Music Awards would come to Dallas. This city has a perfect storm of money, deep country-music appreciation and the space to make an event like this possible. If recent shows are any indication, Dallas may soon become one of the country's biggest destinations for country music's most exciting events.
The ACM Awards are part of a growing trend that indicates that Dallas is a new hub for country music. Earlier this year, AEG Live introduced the Country Megaticket, which entitles the holder to tickets to a slate of performances at Gexa Energy Pavilion by Lady Antebellum, Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan, Darius Rucker and plenty of other big names in the genre. Last year, George Strait's final stop on his "Cowboy Rides Away" tour shattered attendance records and attracted fans from all over the country.
If you count the Winstar World Casino, just an hour's drive from Dallas, you can see just about every major country music artist in the Metroplex every time they're on tour. There are plenty of Dallas and Texas-based bands who would fit in perfectly on these national bills, and the fans would certainly appreciate seeing some familiar faces. Caitlin Rose would fit in nicely on the stage with major-label -- but still relatively unknown -- acts like Cam, and Maddie & Tae. Adding Turnpike Troubadours or Dirty River Boys could make sitting through any of the tight-jeans-wearing Brett Eldridge types worth it.
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It doesn't make sense to bring dozens of up-and-coming artists to a state that is practically overflowing with them. Between Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and Austin, you could put on a solid slate of country artists -- William Clark Green, Madison King, Daphne Willis and Chris King come to mind -- that would demonstrate all of the great music in Texas and help these bands make the case that they deserve national attention. Undoubtedly, some of the tens of thousands of fans that will stream through Arlington this weekend will be from out-of-state. It's also likely that many of these fans are disappointed in the current state of country music, and would appreciate the refreshing authenticity of Texas country. This could have been a rare opportunity for these artists to get their music out to an audience that is practically begging for something better.
Texas and country music, whether it's mainstream or on the fringe, will always be deeply linked, but Nashville has to start paying attention to the artists in this state if we're ever going to get past the bland pop-country sound that has catapulted this genre to the country's most beloved. With the 50th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards, Nashville could have seized the opportunity to mend fences. Instead, they've decided to continue the status quo, which means that Texas artists will continue to toil in the dimly lit honky-tonks, hoping for that ever-rare big break.
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