The ACM Awards' Superstar Duets Globe Life Park, Arlington Friday and Saturday, April 17 and 18, 2015
After two beautiful days of sunshine and perfect Texas spring temperatures, things were really looking up as some of the genre's biggest acts came together for the Academy of Country Music's pre-awards extravaganza. During Friday and Saturday afternoon, acts like Josh Abbott Band, Maddie & Tae and Montgomery Gentry drew thousands of fans to the North Lawn at Globe Life Park.
The weather mostly cooperated during the day, and despite standing in lines for hours all day long, many fans rallied and stuck around for the evening's events. But even if the idea of having an outdoor festival in Texas in April could be considered a remotely good idea, Mother Nature decided that she really, really hated country music come Friday (and Saturday) night.
Where that point really came to bear was when the party moved inside the walls of the Park to film Superstar Duets, a television special that will air on CBS in May. The title isn't really an overstatement. Relative newcomers like Miranda Lambert, Sam Hunt and Lady Antebellum teamed up with old-school types, including Dwight Yoakam, Alan Jackson and Ronnie Milsap, to perform a bunch of ACM-winning songs.
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On Friday, the performance didn't begin until close to 10 p.m. due to the rain delay. People waited patiently in the concourses -- thanks to copious amounts of beer and fried food -- and donned $8 ponchos when the show finally began two hours after its scheduled start. The show's attendees, dressed in their country finest, looked like a bunch of drowned rats as they made their way to their seats when the show finally started. Others flooded the general admission pit, edging for a spot close to the stage. If you were in that pit on Friday or Saturday night, there's a good chance you'll be on TV in May. Thanks to the rain, plenty of folks were happy to forgo the cash they'd dropped on a general admission wristband and watch the show when it airs on CBS later this year.
Once it began, duet performances from Dwight Yoakam and Sam Hunt, Darius Rucker and Sara Evans were particularly strong. Most of the performances were of older tracks; Rucker and Evans performed "Jackson" by Johnny and June Carter Cash, for example. Most exciting of all, Brooks & Dunn reunited after breaking up in 2010 to play "Cowgirls Don't Cry." Unfortunately, they were then completely overshadowed once Reba (no McEntire necessary) took the stage and completely killed it on her new track, "Going Out Like That."
There may be no greater performer in the business. Ronnie Milsap and Luke Bryan played a sort of dueling pianos rendition of "Stranger in My House" that was incredibly entertaining as the final duet. Hopefully, Milsap was whisked back to his bus as to not have to endure Bryan's "That's My Kind Of Night," the evening's final performance.
Saturday was even worse, at least in terms of the weather. The show kicked off early with a performance from Joe Nichols and Clint Black, but was suspended once lightning on the field made fans take cover. From there, 80 mile-per-hour winds and heavy rain further delayed the show nearly three hours. Fans were allowed back onto the field just before 11 p.m., shivering in their ponchos and pricey blankets purchased at the Park.
Once the show finally got going, it was clear that the audience was getting a truncated version of what was planned. Still, if a song was deemed "too low energy" or there was any sound feedback, the act would play the song again. Occasionally, it was great enough to pull even more energy out of an exhausted crowd. Other times, it was a real beating.
The weather took its toll on the equipment, too. Several sets had to be modified, and some were scrapped altogether. Patty Loveless and Miranda Lambert, who have been friends for years, played an intimate acoustic set instead of the barnburner they'd planned in rehearsal. Kenny Chesney came out on stage without fanfare, played one song that he really didn't even know the words to, and left quickly. Eric Church and David Lee Murphy weren't able to play. Florida Georgia Line got the worst of it. According to announcer Shane Parr, "thousands of dollars" of guitars and other equipment were ruined by the rain. You're welcome, America. I'd gladly sit in a drippy poncho and tornado weather for the next decade if it meant that those two never picked up a guitar again.
Despite all the rain and crappy beer and plenty of mediocre performances, there were occasional moments of great country music. It isn't often that you have a chance to see Darius Rucker leading a crowd in a singalong of Hank Williams Jr.'s "Family Tradition." Deana Carter and Little Big Town's rendition of "Strawberry Wine," Carter's 1995 blockbuster hit, was so incredible that everyone lost their minds when the producer announced that they'd be doing it again. Ronnie Milsap, tired and frail as he may have been, somehow managed to make a Luke Bryan performance enjoyable. No small feat.
Should the Academy of Country Music come back knocking on Dallas' door, there are plenty of lessons that they've learned from this year's trial run. The lineups were incredible and the production value was on point, but anyone who's ever spent six months in Texas knows that the weather can be unpredictable. What was really impressive, though, were the thousands of dedicated fans that did stick around, some sitting in their seats in the rain the whole time, waiting to hear the best that mainstream country music has to offer. Whether they got that or not depends on who you ask.
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