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The 56th annual Academy of Country Music Awards: the blow by blow

Jeffrey Remz  |  April 18, 2021

8 p.m. - And so it begins with Miranda Lambert and Elle King dressed in black singing "Drunk (and I Don't Wanna Go Home)." They're a good match for each other, and the song percolates with those drums.

8:05 p.m. - Co-hosts Mickey Guyton, dressed all in white, and Keith Urban are out welcoming everybody "Nashville is back," Urban said. Sort of. Not so many people were in the live audience due to Covid 19. "We've been through so much, and I'm very proud to say we're on our way back."

Those in the audience were local health care workers at Vanderbilt.

"It's been a crazy year," said Guyton, who just became a first-time mother.. "This is the most adult interaction I've had in three months...I'm glad to be here without the diapers.

Guyton is a most deserving singer who has worked long and very hard to catch a break. Finally in the past year, she has made a mark in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. Guyton has spoken out loudly in support of Black musicians and the difficulty of making it in Nashville.

8:09 p.m. - Chris Young and Kane Brown are good on "Famous Friends." Keeps bopping along. Good vibe.

8:12 p.m. - Group of the Year:Old Dominion. "If we look surprised, it's because it's because everyone in this category especially this year, it could be anyone," said lead singer Matthew Ramsey. "We're just very very fortunate to be standing here. It's a crazy year."

I can't it's a surprise given the history of Old Dominion in the past few years. Their stature has increased as has their ability to win awards. While really good and an excellent album, The Highwomen weren't going to win. They're the Nashville outsiders.

8:18 p.m. - Thomas Rhett goes solo acoustic in a preview of a song from his upcoming album, "Country Again." It's about the most country he's ever sang. You can even hear pedal steel in the background - lots of it. Way to go. He follows that up with "What's Your Country Song," also from the upcoming CD. Nice job from Rhett. Looking forward to hearing the rest of the album and see if has more of a country music bent than most of his releases. He sure sounds in top form vocally.

8:23 p.m. - Chris Stapleton is on solo acoustic the Bluebird Cafe with a little help from Lambert on "Run Maggie Run," a song from his "Starting Over" release. It's really all about Stapleton and his soulful, Southern sounding vocals. In fact, the song sounds like something The Band would have sung.

8:27 p.m. - Maren Morris and Ryan Hurd get a chance to sing two songs. They sound great on "Chasing After You" with their vocal styles a good match for each other. No wonder they're husband and wife. Folks - how about a duets album? I would not be surprised if that's in their future. And they end it kissing lips. Not surprised. They sure sound good.

8:31 p.m. - Lady A is on the waterfront singing "Like a Lady." Hillary Scott takes lead vocals. Got to say that this has not been a good year for Lady A from changing its name to the controversy with a Seattle-based black soul singer Lady A. Bad look for the band when they sued her also. Lady A sounds fine, though to say this is country...well, not so sure about that.

8:40 p.m. - Gabby Barrett, who's had a great year since releasing her EP last June, is out in a white hat and lots of make-up, husband/guitarist Cade Foehner and a cellist on "The Good Ones." It's a tender delivery from a powerhouse singer. Great that she's doing it acoustic, and the cellist kills it. Nice.

8:44 p.m. - Song of the Year goes to "The Bones," from Maren Morris. "With tears, Morris said,"this is really bittersweet because I didn't write this by myself...This is so meaningful to me. Song of the Year is something I've dreamt of for so long." She lamented that her co-writers Laura Veltz and Jimmy Robbins were not present here or at other awards shows due to Covid-19.

"This song has revealed so many new things to me that I didn't know when I wrote it," she said. "This has been a helluva year...Maybe this song has brought you and your family some peace."

8:46 p.m. - Dierks Bentley with the great husband/wife Americana duo The War and Treaty on U2's "Pride (In the Name of Love)." Great that he showcased The War and Treaty because they are just wonderful. And got to love that Dobro and mandolin. Nice reinvention of the tune. This is the best song of the night so far.

8:50 p.m. - I don't usually write about ads during the show, but yeah Dolly Parton on telling people to get vaccinated. It's an ad for Vanderbilt Health. Thanks to both for participating. Dolly, of course, put her money where her mouth by donating $1 million for research.

8:56 p.m. - One of the best singers out there, Carrie Underwood, sings a few songs from "My Savior," her just released Christian music album. "Amazing Grace" is superb. "Great is They Faithfulness" with CeCe Winans may be even better. They also turned in some of "The Old Rugged Cross" and "How Great Thou Art." Whenever I hear "The Old Rugged Cross," I think of Brad Paisley, who included it on an album quite awhile back. Winans is no second fiddle to Underwood. They sound great together on everything, even though some of these are standards and oft performed and recorded.

"My Savior" is a vanity project for Underwood, and I don't mean ANY negativity at all. This is what she wanted to do, is a believer and deserves credit for putting out an excellent album that wasn't going to put her in the same kind of limelight as her more commercial releases.

This sure rivals Bentley. Another wow performance.

9:04 p.m. - Eric Church is out with "Bunch of Nothing," a country song from his just released "Heart" CD. Now, it is not the least bit easy following up Underwood, but Church let it rip with his band. Another solid outing. This guy has built the career the way he wanted to and deserves the credit.

9:08a.m. - Dan + Shay turn it down a bunch of notches as they duet on "Glad You Exist" They've never been in the thick of traditional country, of course, but that doesn't mean they don't sing well together.

9:15 p.m. - Kudos to Luke Combs for promoting his Guitars for Vets program where he's helping out veterans through music. And then he was out to sing (hey, what's with the lack of a baseball hat and a jacket?) "Forever After All." Combs is one of the brightest lights (well, maybe the) in country in recent years. What a prodigious writer. Makes me wonder how he can ever keep a concert under at least two hours? Luke, play for three.

9:20 p.m. - Mickey Guyton is out with her third clothing change. The hosts have a very understated role. Guess that's what happens during Covid.

9:21 p.m. - You can't say that Lambert has not gotten a lot of face time. She's out with Jack Ingram and Jon Randall on "In His Arms." the song is on their upcoming release, "The Marfa Tapes." She sounds great on this country song. Very tender with all three on acoustic. And trust me, this album is not the usual Lambert release. Well sung and done.

9:24 p.m. - I thought this was an awards show. They sure haven't given out very many.

9:29 p.m. - New Male Artist winner Jimmie Allen takes the stage from Bluebird Cafe on "Freedom Was a Highway." Brad Paisley surprises him to take a stanza. Nice. The sound good together on the song, which came out in January.

9:33 p.m. - Song of the Year goes to Carly Pearce and Lee Brice for "I Hope You're Happy Now," an autobiographical song penned with Lee Combs, Jonathan Singleton and Randy Montana. It's been a tough stretch for Pearce, whose short marriage to fellow singer Michael Ray ended. But she got a highly personal EP out of it. And now an award. Nice going. I did think "The Bones" would win yet again.

9:34 p.m. - Kenny Chesney sounds as good as ever on his new song, "Knowing You." He has a smoothness about him, but sings within himself. Maybe that's why he's had such staying power.

9:43 p.m. - Ashley McBryde turns it up a notch with "Martha Devine" on an outdoor stage. She's accumulated a slew of good material, this among them. There's bite to the music, but the vocals are at times restrained. It will be interesting to see what becomes of McBryde when touring gets going again.

9:46 p.m. - A most welcome return from Alan Jackson, who is out with his first album in six years next month. He reprises "Drive (For Daddy Gene)," a song about his dad. It's so nice to hear some pedal steel, a rarity tonight. hard to believe AJ is 62.

Jackson also offered "You'll Always Be My Baby (Written for Daughters' Weddings)," looking back at his three daughters. Jackson excels at these types of songs. Is this a wedding song or not? The song was written for his first daughter's wedding in 2017 but he's holding it in reserve for two more.I sure hope he gets his new music gets its due.

9:57 p.m. - Blake Shelton reprises his 20-year-old hit and first ever release, "Austin" and "Minimum Wage," his newest single. He only sang a snippet of the song.

10:03 p.m. - Dan + Shay predictably win Duo of the Year. I didn't see anyone else winning this. No surprise, they were happy.

10:04 p.m. - Carly Pearce and Lee Brice reprise the ACM-award winning "I Hope You're Happy Now." Well done. It's highly personable of course. I always found it a bit of a surprise that she did the duet with Brice, but, hey, it worked. Nothing against Brice, but just figured she'd go with someone higher profile.

Pearce smiled afterwards, but this must be a hard song to sing. With lyrics like,
"Who knew this heart could break this hard/Or love like ours could fall apart/
Without so much as a warning/
I thought that I was what you wanted," one would think so.

10:13 p.m. - Guyton got the chance to shine herself - that girl can sing - with "Hold On" from the "Breakthrough" soundtrack. Fortunately, she's gotten the chance to showcase her vocals int he wake of George Floyd> Better later than never. I would have liked to hear her sing "Black Like Me," but she opted for something more uplifting. "Hold On" is a perfect song for these troubled times, especially in the wake of Covid-19.

10:19 p.m. - Thomas Rhett takes the Male Vocalist honor in a tough field including Luke Combs, Eric Church, Dierks Bentley and Chris Stapleton. I can't figure out why Combs isn't the winner. Even during Covid, he had a big presence, releasing new, high quality songs. This was a difficult category to pick a winner as all could have easily won the honor. Let's see where Rhett's upcoming disc takes him. Sounds real good so far.

10:26 p.m. - Keith Urban plays "Tumbleweed" for the first time ever with his band. Banjo kicks it off. Had not heard that instrument yet tonight. The music quickly takes a hard turn. He's in overdrive with the song with lots of high flying guitar from Urban. Not too shabby.

10:29 p.m. - Brothers Osborne are out with two songs "I'm Not For Everyone." I've always loved TJ's voice and John takes a vocal turn on the former. These guys are solid and should be for everyone. Can't wait to see them nest in concert.

10:38 p.m. - Kelsea Ballerini sits next Kenny Chesney on stools singing ""Half Of My Hometown," looking back. Could have done without the machine aspect of the music. Nicely done.

10:42 p.m. - Chris Stapleton takes home Album of the Year for "Starting Over." This was not a given in a difficult to predict category with the likes of Ashley McBryde, Kane Brown, Luke Bryan and Brothers Osborne.

"We worked really hard to make music, and we think a lot about it," said Stapleton, who exudes being low key. "It means a lot to us. It really does."

10:50 p.m. - Maren Morris wins Female Artist of the Year. Not surprised. "brought so much to the heat, to country music...I have heard some of the best music from all of you."

"This category is not about who can sing their ass off or how can entertain even," said Morris, always heartfelt. "I consider this category to who tried their best" during the Covid year.

10:53 p.m. - Little Big Town (minus Phillip Sweet, recovering at home with Covid) are on the streets of Nashville doing "Wine, Beer, Whiskey." Great with the horns and Tex-Mex sound.

10:55 p.m. - Entertainer of the Year goes to a surprised Luke Bryan. Not a big fan of Bryan. Nice guy, but I'd like ot have seen the other Luke win.

10:58 p.m. - Brothers Osborne ends the night with "Dead Man's Curve." Not the Jan & Dean song. Fast and furious, but not sure it was the right song to end the night.

All in all, a good night of performances. I can't say there were any weak ones actually, which is rare.

And while I didn't agree with every award handed out, it's hard to argue that someone who was undeserving took an honor either.

And remember, yes, it's great to be honored. There's no doubt about it, but it's more important for fans to support artists, who hopefully will be on the road later this year - assuming we can all be safe.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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