Country music fans are aware that the genre has no shortage of awards shows (at least four and counting). Arguably the most prestigious of these, however, is the Academy of Country Music Awards (ACMs) held in Las Vegas in April. What fewer country fans may know is the Academy holds an annual awards show for non-televised industry and specialty awards called the ACM Honors, which took place Monday at The Ryman Auditorium.
In lieu of the musical performances typically seen on mainstream awards shows, the ACM Honors features musical tributes to songwriters and legends of country music. In lieu of the long, drawn-out process of “…and the nominees are,” the ACM Honors are simply a recognition of those who already know they have won. And in lieu of the gravitas of a Las Vegas resort, the ACM Honors took place in the “Mother Church of Country Music.” It was perfectly fitting.
Hosted by Dierks Bentley, the evening featured appearances by Jana Kramer, Love & Theft, Kellie Pickler and Luke Bryan, with performances by Luke, Kellie and Dierks, as well as Will Hoge, Randy Houser, Dailey & Vincent, Ashley Monroe from Pistol Annies, and Hunter Hayes, among others.
Dierks played a terrific host, often going off-cue to make jokes or tell stories. A country fan to the core, he frequently remarked how much he appreciated being in the presence of some of the honorees, stating at the end: “This has been one of the coolest nights of my life.”
The first awards of the night were the Industry Awards presented by Jana Kramer to the year’s best talent buyer, promoter, nightclub, casino and overall venue. Following this, Love & Theft came out to present MBI Awards to the year’s best musicians, bandleaders and instrumentalists. (For a complete list of the night’s award winner, see below.)
Next, the night turned to the specialty awards. Several of these awards were accompanied by the musical tributes, and all began with video packages of the respective artist’s accomplishments.
First was a category that should receive more national recognition: that of Songwriter of the Year. As a town and a genre built on talented songwriters, this award not only carries prestige, but a lot of competition. This year’s recipient was Dallas Davidson, who has penned such number ones this year alone as “I Don’t Want This Night To End” and “Country Girl (Shake It For Me)” by Luke Bryan, “Just A Kiss” and “We Owned the Night” by Lady Antebellum and “If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away” by Justin Moore. Luke Bryan was on hand to talk about his relationship with Dallas and perform his two aforementioned singles written by Dallas.
After a slightly off-color – albeit hilarious – joke by Dierks about Luke’s usual form-fitting pants, the Career Achievement Award was presented to Vince Gill. The video package, along with Vince’s acceptance speech, gave a rare insight into the history of Vince’s career and how he became the Vince Gill we all know today.
Following this was the Jim Reeves International Award presented to Alan Jackson. As the name suggests, this award signifies outstanding contributions to country music oversees. This year Jackson went on a worldwide tour, selling out venues everywhere from Australia to Sweden.
Next was the Mae Boren Axton Award, which recognizes the services of an outstanding member of the Academy of Country Music. This year the award was presented to Gayle Holcomb, a talent representative at the William Morris Endeavor. Gayle’s accomplishments include moving the awards show from Los Angeles to Las Vegas – a move that few know was actually the result of the LA venue running out of Crown Royal. She also helped launch ACM Lifting Lives, and the Diane Holcomb Emergency Relief Fund in honor of her mother.
The Crystal Milestone Award is an award recognizing outstanding achievement in country music. Not surprisingly, Kenny Chesney deserved this prize for his unprecedented ticket sales and nationwide stadium tours over the last decade. After a rundown of unfathomable numbers – monetary and otherwise – Kenny stated: “These awards are great, and all those numbers are great… but the best thing about this is the people I get to do it with.”
Following Kenny’s acceptance were two Poet’s Awards for outstanding writing accomplishments given to Roger Miller (posthumously) featuring a performance by Clint Black, and Bobby Braddock with tributes by Will Hoge and Randy Houser. Randy’s version of “He Stopped Loving Her Today” (written by Braddock) brought the house down.
The final four awards of the evening were the Pioneer Awards for artists who have pioneered country music. First was given to Billy Sherrill featuring a performance by the newly bald (but still sexy) Kellie Pickler. Second was given to Emmylou Harris with performances from Rodney Crowell and Buddy Miller. The third was given to Ricky Skaggs featuring a tribute from Daily & Vincent and Dierks. And the final Pioneer Award went to Dwight Yoakam with performances from the newly engaged Ashley Monroe from Pistol Annies, and child prodigy Hunter Hayes.
The ACM Honors is just another of the dozens of events that make Nashville and country music special. Fans and superstars all show up to one of the greatest music venues on earth to have fun, pay tribute and simply admire the work of great country artists.
And although it was a refreshing novelty to watch an awards show with minimal production value and no marketing, FOCUS will be at the big time ACM Awards in Vegas in 2013, so stay tuned for that!
The Complete List of ACM Honorees:
Don Romeo Talent Buyer of the Year – Jimmy Jay, Jayson Promotions, Inc.
Nightclub of the Year – Billy Bob’s Texas, Ft. Worth, Texas
Casino of the Year – Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, Las Vegas Nevada
Promoter of the Year – Brian O’Connell, Live Nation
Venue of the Year – Bridgestone Arena, Nashville Tennessee
Bass Player of the Year – Michael Rhodes
Guitarist of the Year – Kenny Greenberg
Piano/Keyboards Player of the Year – John Hobbs
Percussionist/Drummer of the Year – Shannon Forrest
Specialty Instrument Player of the Year – Aubrey Haynie
Engineer of the Year – Justin Niebank
Producer of the Year – Frank Liddell
SONGWRITER OF THE YEAR – Dallas Davidson
CAREER ACHIEVEMENT AWARD – Vince Gill
JIM REEVES INTERNATIONAL AWARD – Alan Jackson
MAE BOREN AXTON AWARD – Gayle Holcomb
CRYSTAL MILESTONE AWARD – Kenny Chesney