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The ACMs 2020: blow by blow

Jeffrey Remz  |  September 16, 2020

8 p.m. - The 55th Academy of Country Music Awards gets underway. Luke Bryan gets it started telling us that "rain is a good thing," followed by Eric Church with "Drink In My Hand." Soon we have Luke Combs strumming away from The Bluebird Cafe on "When It Rains Ir Pours" and Thomas Rhett from the The Ryman and Carrie Underwood ("Before He Cheats") all playing snippets of songs. There was an emphasis on rain, which isn't too far away thanks to Hurricane Sally.

8:08 p.m.: Host Keith Urban is virtual as is everyone else. The awards were slated to have been in Las Vegas in April, but are now in Nashville for the first time ever in the 55th version of the awards.

"This has been an unpredictable and unsettling year for everyone," says Urban. He referred to extreme weather issues of fires out west and the hurricane followed by COVID-19 and racial challenges in the U.S.

8:11 p.m. - Jimmie Allen sings "Make Me Want To." I guess the country community is keen on putting Black performers up front as Allen's one of the very few. he gave a heartfelt, acoustic-based reading of the song.

8:15 p.m. - Old Dominion offers a medley with "One Man Band, "Song for Another Time" and "Hotel Key." Matthew Ramsey has a nice, soulful voice.

"Country music is many things to many people, but I believe at its core, at its heart, it's about community," he said, referring to the "hope" that the music brings. "We sure could use some of that."

8:18 p.m. - Clint Black and Lisa Hartman Black (they once had a hit together) are out with Duo of the Year:Dan + Shay. Dan thanked his wife, country music, fans, etc. Basically the usual suspects.

8:25 p.m. - Luke Bryan is back to sing "One Margarita," invading Kenny Chesney tropical country territory. It's bright and uplifting.

8:30 p.m. - Kelsea Ballerini gets real traditional like never before on the acoustic-based "There's a Hole in the Bottle." I had no idea she had it in her, but she sounded great. Wow. Would love to hear a whole album like this.

8:40 p.m. - Miranda Lambert with Natalie Hemby and Luke Dick singing Lambert's hit "Bluebird" at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville. Nice hearing Lambert in a low-fi song. Nice backing vocals from Hemby (she's one of The Highwomen). Miranda also earlier won Vocal Event of the Year with Maren Morris, Ashley McBryde, Tenille Townes, Caylee Hammack and Elle King for "Fooled Around And Fell In Love" produced by Jay Joyce.

8:45 p.m. - Morgan Wallen sings "Whiskey Glasses." Gritty delivery. Good song.

8:49 p.m. - Group of the Year - Old Dominion. Good night for them already of course. "Here we are again," Ramsey said. "Hey everybody. We miss you...Everybody would be ok here if we sent this out to our road crew...we could not do this without you."

8:58 p.m. - Excellent outing from Thomas Rhett and Jon Pardi on "Beer Can't fix." They sounded really good together.

9:01 p.m. - Blake Shelton gets help from girlfriend Gwen Stefani on "Happy Anywhere." Like most of the other performances, they sound real nice with Shelton on acoustic. The songs are coming out pretty traditional tonight, a welcome change from most of these outings. "Let's go back to the Opry everybody," Shelton says in closing. Nice sentiment, but not happening any time soon.

9:05 p.m. - Carrie Underwood pays tribute to the Opry with her version of "Crazy" from Patsy Cline and "You Ain"t Woman Enough" from Loretta Lynn (another strong effort), "I Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool" from Barbara Mandrell, "Why"d You Come in Here Lookin" Like That" from Dolly Parton, "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia" from Reba McEntire and "Broken Wing" from Martina McBride.

No matter what the song was, Underwood was at the top of her game. Can't say I was the least bit surprised. Underwood always had the ability to stay on the traditional side, but that's not where her career has gone.

9:18 p.m. - Luke Combs said one of the highlights for him was his recent marriage to Nicole Hocking. He belted out "Better Together," which he wrote for her before they were engaged. Combs keeps up with great song after great song ("Six Feet Apart," for example), and he can sing it with a lot of emotion as well. Combs continues to be a breath of fresh air.

9:21 p.m. - Tenille Townes, the Best New Female Artist of the Year. "We've all got a story, and especially in these times, we really need each other," said the Canadian successful story before launching into "Somebody's Daughter." Great song of course.

Whoever's doing the make-up tonight is putting it on a bit thick there.

9:29 p.m. - Gabby Barrett is out with husband, Cade Foehner, on acoustic guitar/backing vocals. Barrett reminds me of Underwood actually with her vocal abilities.

9:31 p.m. - Duo of the Year winners Dan + Shay sing "I Should Probably Go To Bed." Dan reminds me of Gary LeVox from Rascal Flatts with his vocal delivery. Not all that different as both are on the soulful side, and neither is exactly what many think of as country.

9:35 p.m. - Riley Green, the New Male Artist of the Year, delivers a nice snippet of his hit, "I Wish Grandpas Never Died," which he dedicated to his own. It's great to hear these songs done acoustic, putting a different context to the song - putting emphasis on the vocals and lyrics.

9:42 p.m. - Kane Brown says, "I just want everybody to love everybody, and this is the song I wrote for it." He then got into "Worldwide Beautiful," a hopeful song with a chorus (physically distance of course) in the house. Simple, but thoughtful song. Idealistic too.

9:45 p.m. - Single of the Year goes to Blake Shelton for "God's Country." "Holy cow, single of the year, This is a complete shock and an absolute honor," said Shelton, before thanking radio, fans, management and others. Everything is on the low key side pretty much tonight.

9:48 p.m. - speaking of low key, Maren Morris, with acoustic guitar in hand, glides through "To Hell and Back." Nicely done. It's a gentle, but heartfelt rendition.

9:58 p.m. - Taylor Swift returns to the ACMs for the first time in seven years with "Betty" from her well-received, new, folkie album, "Folklore." It's not exactly a country song either, but it fits in with the evening.

10:03 p.m. - Darius Rucker gives a shout out to the brand spanking new National Museum of African American Music. Album of the Year goes to Luke Combs, who deserved it, with "What You See Is What You Get." "This album was hell to make, but we did it," he said.

10:06 p.m. - Eric Church is onstage with Johnny Cash's spoken word "Ragged Old Flag" from The Man in Black before Church took over to sing his defiant "Stick That in Your Country Song." what a contrast between the patriotic song of Cash and lines like
"Take me on up to Detroit city
Jails are full, the factories empty
Momma's crying, young boys dying
Under that red, white, and blue still flying

This is one of the fullest song productions tonight with his band in tow. Great delivery. Church keeps coming up with a bunch of meaty songs.

10:18 - Tim McGraw sings "I Called Mama" in an easy going rendition. "I'm inspired by women every single day," he said, "And every opportunity in life should be available to women."

Ironic given that women are not faring well at all in country for quite awhile.

10:23 p.m. - Mickey Guyton gives her all on the powerful "What Are You Gonna Tell Her" about the role of women. She's got a great voice and glad she got to show her stuff. Life isn't really fair, is it? Especially for female country singers and those who don't fit into the Nashville mold. Congrats to Guyton.

10:31 p.m. - Keith Urban and PINK sing "One Too Many" from his new disc coming out on Friday.

10:35 p.m. - Another win for Combs for Male Artist of the Year. He's deserving for sure. "This is a lot to process right now. I just can't believe this," he said. He should get used to it because I suspect these are not the last awards he will ever win.

10:43 p.m. - Maren Morris didn't particularly expect to win Female Artist of the Year. Oh well. Maybe she needs more confidence! "This is so weird talking to no one," she said, adding, "This is an award I never thought I'd win." Congrats Maren.

"This is so great country music and vote," Morris said.

10:45 p.m. - Trisha Yearwood gives a tribute to those who passed away during the past year with "I'll Carry You Home." She sounds as good as ever. Nice gospel vibe.

10:52 p.m. - Florida Georgia Line get great billing for one of their best songs, "I Love My Country." They've gotten criticism over the years, but at least they have some country instrumentation in here, and that's far from the first time. It's loud and proud country. These guys never seem to get respect.

10:56 p.m. - Urban has a great line, "Technically, I'm the longest running Entertainer of the Year."

10:57 p.m. - Thomas Rhett and Carrie Underwood tie for Entertainer of the Year. Okay, who called that one? I challenge you. I figured Combs would win this one too. Rhett and Underwood both give thanks to God. It is God's Country after all, right?

The show ends with Willie Nelson and other country acts singing "On the Road Again." Yup, here's hoping sooner than later.

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