The Academy of Country Music Awards AT&T Stadium, Arlington Sunday, April 19, 2015
After an entire weekend of country music, last night's 50th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards is easily the biggest music event (or series of events, as it were) that has ever happened in Dallas-Fort Worth. Or maybe ever will happen. The crowd, which exceeded 70,000 people, set a Guinness World Record as the most attended awards show of all time. There was no more fitting home for the Academy's 50th anniversary, and they made damn sure that it was the biggest spectacle that AT&T Stadium could hold. Well, mostly.
Fans headed to the Stadium early -- some there four hours before the show's strict 7 p.m. start time -- to watch red carpet arrivals. Dallas doesn't often play host to awards shows of any kind, which meant that people were practically standing on top of one another for a chance to see someone, anyone, famous. And there were plenty of opportunities to see celebrities: Outside of the superstar artists on hand, Sofia Vergara, Reese Witherspoon, Kelly Clarkson and plenty of other Hollywood types were all there to present awards.
Bromantic duo Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton hosted the evening, although Shelton seemed to handle most of the announcing duties. Bryan did catch a pass from Tony Romo at one point, though, as if to prove his man cred in the home of the Cowboys. The banter between the two was mostly humorous, and fortunately pretty sparse compared to other awards shows. The Awards ran like a well-oiled machine, a refreshing departure from the Party For A Cause debacle of the previous two nights. For fans that attended all three days of events, Sunday night felt like a vacation: Everything happened on time, you could buy two beers at a time, and best of all there was no rain.
Eric Church and Keith Urban opened the night with a tribute to Merle Haggard, and then were promptly forgotten once George Strait took the stage. Of course, Strait opened his set with "All My Exes Live in Texas," and the newly-released "Let It Go." Once he wrapped up, it was clear that this evening was going to be fast, furious and full of great performances from country's biggest stars throughout the decades. If you could actually hear what was going on, the ACM Awards were the best country show that you're going to see in Dallas all year long.
Let's be real, Dallas: AT&T Stadium is not a great place to see a concert. In fact, there are times when it completely sucks as a live music venue. After doling out hundreds (sometimes thousand) of dollars for tickets to see blockbuster shows like these, it was incredibly disappointing to have to strain to hear what the artists and presenters were saying. The music was easy to hear for the most part, but many of the acceptance speeches were entirely garbled. Maybe that was for the best.
Most performances seemed to be suffering from sound issues, and it was clear that some artists were struggling to stay in tune and fiddling with their earpieces. For such an impressive venue, AT&T Stadium has a long way to go in providing a sound quality that is worthy of those egregious ticket prices. Even that famous damn Jumbotron, which was much of the crowd's only view into what was going on onstage, would go dark occasionally during performances. Get your shit together, Jerry.
Perhaps in tribute to the 50th anniversary, many artists performed their older tracks. Martina McBride played "Independence Day," her powerful 1994 track about domestic abuse. Reba, the living queen of country music, worked through a quick medley of her hits -- including "Fancy," of course -- along with her latest release. Few performers drew as much applause as Reba, who is clearly ready for a comeback. Speaking of comebacks, Garth Brooks' new track "All-American Kid", from his new release Man Against Machine, was an obvious crowd-pleaser. Maybe 2015 is the year that '90s country makes a comeback; anything would be better than this current iteration.
Country music's bro-iest elements were also featured prominently, and the crowd was eating it up. Both Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton performed, along with Florida-Georgia Line, Sam Hunt and Jason Aldean, among others. Cole Swindell, the newest bro-country it-boy, took home the award for Best New Artist. It was disappointing to see that most people weren't using that time to go to the bathroom or spend $86 on nachos, but it's worth noting that the audience seemed most excited about the old (read: good) stuff.
As further evidence of country's move toward mainstream pop music, Christina Aguilera and Nick Jonas performed with country artists. Aguilera showed off her pipes on a duet with Rascal Flatts, and Jonas joined upcoming act Dan and Shay for a rendition of his song "Jealous." Somewhere, Hank Williams and Waylon Jennings were rolling over in their graves. Still, the production value was impressive and the performances were actually pretty damn good, if not remotely country.
As for the awards themselves, Texas girl Miranda Lambert cleaned up. Even though Lambert was ultimately robbed of Entertainer of the Year -- that honor dubiously went to Luke Bryan -- she has now won as many Album of the Year awards as George Strait, and plenty of others. Lambert also slayed with a medley of "Mama's Broken Heart" and "Little Red Wagon," looking incredibly fierce in a red and black corset-style top.
Outside of Lambert's armful of wins, though, men took home most of this year's awards. Of the 10 trophies awarded last night, Miranda Lambert was the single female winner. Plenty of women were nominated -- Brandy Clark, Kacey Musgraves, Maddie & Tae -- but every other winner was a man unless you count the Milestone awards, given for an entire career's worth of achievements to Taylor Swift, Reba and Lambert.
Like most award shows, there were plenty of heartwarming moments. Taylor Swift, who recently ditched country music to record a pop album, was there to accept an achievement award. Swift's mother Andrea Finlay, who announced that she was battling breast cancer last week, presented her with the award. It was a sincere moment from a proud mother that left no dry eye in that packed house. Swift stunned in a light blue gown, humbly thanking country fans for supporting her as she went in a different creative direction.
Later, Alan Jackson performed "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)" in remembrance of the victims of the Oklahoma City federal building bombing, which occurred 20 years ago yesterday. Jackson originally wrote the song in response to the September 11 attack in 2001, but it seemed equally fitting in this tribute. For anyone who remembered Jackson debut this track at these same Awards in 2001, it was hard to hold back the tears.
Ultimately, the Academy of Country Music delivered on its promise to make last night's Awards the biggest in the history of pretty much all awards shows, it is just unfortunate that AT&T Stadium wasn't prepared to play the best host. At present, there are plans in the works to host the ACM Awards in Arlington every few years, which gives us plenty of time to make sure that this show is the absolute best that it can be. In the meantime, here's hoping that country music manages to get just a little bit more country before it comes back to Texas.
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