The Academy of Country Music Awards kicked off with six separate performances full of energy, including a tribute to Chuck Berry featuring Joe Walsh, Luke Bryan and Dierks Bentley.
The trio performed “Johnny B. Goode” at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas as audience members got out of their seats Sunday to sing and dance along.
“For the man that influenced every form of music, including country,” said Bryan of Berry, who died last month.
Before that, the nominees for entertainer of the year — Bryan, Carrie Underwood, Jason Aldean, Keith Urban and Florida Georgia Line — started the show with performances of their recent hits.
Aldean won entertainer of the year last year.
Later in the show, airing live on CBS, Urban sang the soulful “Blue Ain’t Your Color” with a throwback, black-and-white vibe, while the back of the stage was smoky and bright blue. As he switched to the upbeat, disco-flavored “The Fighter” — where he was joined by Underwood — the camera focused on his actress-wife Nicole Kidman, who sang and danced along.
Miranda Lambert also had a top-notch performance: She earned a standing ovation after she sang the slow, acoustic-sounding “Tin Man” as the crowd watched along seriously as she hit all the right notes and strummed her guitar.
The night featured comedy, including a play off the Academy Awards mishap during the best picture winner announcement in February.
“This is odd. David?” asked “Entertainment Tonight” host Nancy O’Dell while holding the card with the name of the song of the year winner.
“Emma Stone, ‘La La Land,'” David Copperfield announced, as the audience laughed.
The real winner was Thomas Rhett for “Die a Happy Man.”
“Thank you to my beautiful wife, my beautiful pregnant wife,” said Rhett, whose wife was in the audience. “The song’s inspiration was because of you.”
Bryan and Bentley, who are co-hosting the show for a second year, also had jokes: They laughed about doing Vegas activities leading up to the awards show, and even showed photos of them dressed as stripper-cowboys.
Bryan even joked days ahead that the ACM Awards would unite Democrats and Republicans.
“Democrats and Republicans are going to get along on Sunday night. They’re all going to watch the ACMs together and stuff’s going to start happening in this country. It’s going to change,” Bryan said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Cats and dogs are going to make out.”
“Coming to an election near you. Is politics your next career?” Bentley said.
“Yes,” Bryan replied.
Sam Hunt performed his No. 1 hit, “Body Like a Back Road,” and he went into the audience to sit next to his fiancé to sing the song. The show is expected to feature a number of other A-list performances during the three-hour show, including the Backstreet Boys with Florida Georgia Line, Chris Stapleton, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw.
Earlier winners announced before Sunday’s show included two wins for Florida Georgia Line: single record of the year with “H.O.L.Y.” and vocal event of the year for “May We All” with McGraw.
Urban, who had success with his genre-bending, Grammy-nominated album “Ripcord,” is the top nominee with seven. He will compete for album of the year, song of the year with “Blue Ain’t Your Color” and male vocalist of the year.
In the latter category, he’s up against Aldean, Bentley, Stapleton and Rhett.
Nominees for female vocalist of the year are Kacey Musgraves, Kelsea Ballerini, Lambert, Underwood and Maren Morris, who recently won a Grammy for her hit song, “My Church.”
Other performers during the show are Reba McEntire, Rhett, Ballerini, Brothers Osborne, Cole Swindell and Jon Pardi. Presenters include Darius Rucker, Miss America Savvy Shields, Jake Owen, Kane Brown, Lauren Alaina and Kellie Pickler.
Lori McKenna, who won the best country song Grammy for two consecutive years for writing McGraw’s “Humble and Kind” and co-writing Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush,” was named songwriter of the year.
Morris won new female vocalist of the year, Pardi was named new male vocalist, and Brothers Osborne picked up both vocal duo of the year and new vocal duo or group of the year.
Little Big Town won vocal group of the year, beating out Lady Antebellum, which had just performed on the show.
“I just wanna be in Lady Antebellum’s band,” Kimberly Schlapman yelled.
“Me too,” screamed Karen Fairchild.
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