Some of Nashville’s biggest stars gathered Wednesday at the Mother Church of Country Music to celebrate behind-the-scenes stars and special honorees as part of the annual Academy of Country Music Honors.
In its 13th year, the night recognized off-camera winners — venues, festivals, musicians and promoters — and lifetime achievements from genre pillars.
“There’d be no scene without everybody behind the scenes,” said Keith Urban, the reigning ACM Entertainer of the Year, before the ceremony. “Any time we get to acknowledge them, celebrate them and also bring attention to them for everybody else, it’s a good thing.”
Kicking off with a Chris Young rendition of Rodney Crowell co-write “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight,” impassioned appearances and tearful stories (plus a few jokes from Bobby Bones) filled the Ryman Auditorium for the two-hour ceremony.
Chris Janson paid a rousing tribute to outlaw great Billy Joe Shaver with a harmonica-heavy cover of “Honky Tonk Heroes.” Rising songwriter Ashley McBryde and bandmate Chris Harris reprised her Brooks & Dunn tribute “You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone.” Canadian upstart Tenille Townes offered a slow, soulful rendition of “Sleeping Single In A Double Bed.”
But no moment may be remembered more than Miranda Lambert and Keith Urban teaming for a show-stopping “The House That Built Me.”
“I mostly just wanna thank Nashville and the people that live here and the people that move here because of music,” Lambert, the most-awarded artist in ACM history, said in receiving the Gene Weed Milestone Award.
Midland, appearing days before the release of their anticipated sophomore album, “Let It Roll,” went off script in singing the praises of producer and songwriter Shane McAnally.
McAnally received Songwriter of the Year, an award he previously earned in 2014.
“The first time we walked in to meet with Shane McAnally, I didn’t have my shirt on,” Midland frontman Mark Wystrach said. “Little did you know a little gag, a little inside joke (goes) on to be one of the most momentous moments of your life.”
Tearfully, McAnally accepted the award, thanking Nashville for “never for a minute (making) me feel anything but myself.”
“I really didn’t know you could be in country music and be gay,” McAnally said. “When I came out to my mom she was so scared that I wouldn’t get this dream.”
Trisha Yearwood preceded Midland in jumping off script by performing “One For My Baby (And One More For the Road)” from her Frank Sinatra cover album.
Yearwood presented industry advocate Gayle Holcomb with the Gary Haber Lifting Lives Award. Holcomb helped launch ACM Lifting Lives, the organization’s charitable wing, in 2009.
“I’m not scheduled to perform, but I’m going to because Gayle and I have known each other for 25 years,” Yearwood said. “She was one of my biggest encouragers to make an album last year called, ‘Let’s Be Frank.'”
And, earlier in the show, Lauren Alaina paid tribute to Martina McBride with a head-turning rendition of the Kansas native’s staple “Independence Day.”
McBride received the Cliffie Stone Icon Award, joining fellow 2019 honorees Brooks & Dunn. McBride and the “Neon Moon” duo join a club featuring Garth Brooks, Glen Campbell, Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash, among numerous others.
“Martina McBride was one of the those women who fired up girls like me with unvarnished songs that told the truth,” Alaina said.
And Barbara Mandrell made a rare public appearance — “There’s no way, my friends — none — that could’ve kept me away from here tonight,” she said — in support of songwriter Kye Fleming, who joined Rodney Crowell and Shaver in receiving the Poet’s Award.
Fleming penned a number of country classics, including Mandrell favorites “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool” — which Maddie & Tae keenly performed Wednesday — and the aforementioned “Sleeping Single In a Double Bed.”
“I got to sit in a room for six years with Dennis (Morgan) and write and write and write and write and that’s all I wanted to do,” Fleming said. “And it’s the best gift in the world.”
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13th Annual ACM Honors winners
- Cliffie Stone Icon Award: Brooks & Dunn and Martina McBride
- Poet’s Award: Rodney Crowell, Kye Fleming and Billy Joe Shaver
- Gary Haber Lifting Lives Award: Gayle Holcomb
- Gene Weed Milestone Award: Miranda Lambert
- Jim Reeves International Award: Kacey Musgraves
- ACM Tex Ritter Film Award: “A Star Is Born”
- Songwriter of the Year Award winner, Shane McAnally.
- Casino of the Year (small capacity) Choctaw Casino & Resort – Durant, Okla.
- Casino of the Year (large capacity): Mohegan Sun Arena – Uncasville, Conn.
- Don Romeo Talent Buyer of the Year: Nicole More – Wilson Events Inc.
- Festival of the Year: Faster Horses – Brooklyn, Mich.
- Nightclub of the Year: Joe’s on Weed St – Chicago
- Promoter of the Year: Ed Warm – Joe’s Bar
- Venue of the Year (small capacity): Ryman Auditorium, Nashville
- Venue of the Year (medium capacity): Ascend Amphitheater, Nashville
- Venue of the Year (large capacity): Bridgestone Arena, Nashville
Studio Recording awards
- Bass Player of the Year: Glenn Worf
- Drummer of the Year: Matt Chamberlain
- Guitar Player of the Year: Derek Wells
- Piano/Keyboard Player of the Year: Dave Cohen
- Specialty Instruments Player of the Year: Ilya Toshinskiy
- Steel Guitar Player of the Year: Mike Johnson
- Audio Engineer of the Year: F Reid Shippen
- Producer of the Year: Jay Joyce
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