he ACM folks took further steps in transforming 'the other' big country awards ceremony into more of a fan-based celebration by combining two full days of outdoor performances with a commercial exhibitor market during the two days leading up to the big trophy evening as the ACM Party for a Cause Festival.
Day one was headlined by The Band Perry, coinciding with the release of the family act's "Pioneer" release, while day two culminated with a Dierks Bentley set.
It all looked fantastic on paper, but turned out to be rather unmanageable for those committed to attending these performances, and also those at the Freemont Experience way across town. When you add artist interviews, little things like dinner and cross town traffic into the mix, it really would have been a better idea to centralize the celebration just a little bit more.
Poor Greg Bates was given the sorry task of opening day one, after the show had been delayed a full 35 minutes. Granted, the 80-plus temperature was not too hot, at least not by Las Vegas standards, but when an asphalt parking lot is turned into an outdoor concert area, as was done here, the blacktop starts attracting the heat mighty fast. That didn't seem to bother Bates, though, who highlighted his six-song set with his single, Did It For The Girl and the patriotic Brothers, which he dedicated to the troops - some of whom were in attendance.
Casadee Pope, last year's The Voice winner, may have lacked a little stage composure - nervously commenting on how well her guitar tech handed off a guitar, for instance - but her songwriting shows real promise. For example, one song,Champagne, about a boy that goes straight to her head, was both intelligent and insightful.
Florida Georgia Line came to party, and brought a whole lot of Southern rock guitar power to help get the job done. This to-be-ACM-Best-New-Artist duo opened with It'z Just What We Do, and then proceeded to fill its upbeat set with party anthems. (it seems these guys don't know how to write songs without any references to alcohol in them). Ironically, the big screen to the side of the stage had horrible tint problems, which made Tyler Hubbard appear red-faced, like the devil himself, while singing. If folks got a little too drunk this day, perhaps they could convincingly claim the devil made them do it.
Day two started right on time with a disappointing Dustin Lynch set. Although he looks like a singing cowboy of old, his music comes off a little too polished and relatively uninspiring. Yes, Cowboys and Angels, pulled at both the heartstrings and family ties, but She Cranks My Tractor panders a little too much to the rural set. Lynch my look the part, but the old saying, 'All hat, not cattle,' just might apply here.
Both Love and Theft - with its mixture of gentle (Angel Eyes) with upbeat (Girls Love to Shake It) - and Lee Brice who closed with his newest hit, I Drive Your Truck, fared far better than Lynch. Yet Kix Brooks, whose "New To This Town" solo album was such a pleasant surprise, fell back on far too many Brooks & Dunn throwaways, like Mama Don't Get Dressed Up For Nothin' and Rock My World Little Country Girl, instead of drawing upon many of the fine songs from his second solo album.
Too bad he doesn't have more confidence in his solo material. Adding insult to injury, so to speak, Brooks - who hosts his own radio show and should know better - was also poor as the day's MC. For instance, he at first introduced Dustin Lynch as Justin Lynch, before realizing it's Justin Moore (who appeared the previous day) and Dustin Lynch, without the first names reversed.
Hunter Hayes showed that his time touring with Carrie Underwood has taught him a thing or two about putting on a show, as his energetic side foreshadowed his ACM Awards Stevie Wonder collaboration with a version of Wonder's Superstition, before eventually sitting down at the piano to perform his big hit, Wanted.
Casino parking lots are not ideal locales for any concerts, but the best artists on this two-day bill made the best of it. If the ACMs really want to be fan-friendly, they really should concentrate a whole lot more on being concert-goer friendly, first. But then again, it's a physical impossibility to un-pave a parking lot and put up paradise.