by Madison Palmieri ’22 A&E Staff
Although the Academy of Country Music (ACM) Awards are usually held in April or May, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the program to be postponed until Wednesday, Sept. 16.
As with other recent awards shows, the ACMs looked much different from what fans are used to. Many artists performed live in locations such as the Grand Ole Opry House, the Ryman Auditorium, and the Bluebird Cafe, but they did so in front of empty audiences. While the larger venues made use of colorful lights and other visual effects, the absence of fans’ energy was certainly noticeable throughout the night. Another interesting adaptation was the use of a hyper-realistic Google Earth graphic to indicate when the performance venues shifted from one location to another.
Not only did COVID-19 force the ACM’s usually packed audiences to watch the show from home, it also forced the show’s participants to abide by social distancing restrictions. Acceptance speeches were given onstage but surrounded by individuals in masks and distanced from one another.
Following an opening medley in which the nominees for Entertainer of the Year, including Eric Church, Luke Combs, Thomas Rhett, Luke Bryan, and Carrie Underwood, performed some of their most iconic songs, host Keith Urban took to the stage of the Grand Ole Opry to solemnly welcome the crowd. He acknowledged the ongoing wildfires on the West Coast and the threat of Hurricane Sally on the Gulf Coast, as well as the ongoing movement for social justice and, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic.
With regard to the awards themselves, some of country music’s most-beloved artists took home the night’s biggest awards: Carrie Underwood and Thomas Rhett tied for Entertainer of the Year, a first in the award show’s 55 years of production; Maren Morris and Luke Combs won the ACM Female Artist of the Year and Male Artist of the Year, respectively; Dan + Shay received the ACM Award for Duo of the Year; and Old Dominion won the ACM Award for Best Group. Newcomers were likewise celebrated, with Riley Green and Tenille Townes taking home the prize for New Male Artist of the Year and New Female Artist of the Year, respectively. Other winners included Old Dominion for Song of the Year with “One Man Band,” Blake Shelton for Single of the Year with “God’s Country,” Luke Combs for Album of the Year with What You See Is What You Get, and Thomas Rhett for Video of the Year with “Remember You Young.”
Notable performances include the debut of two duets: Keith Urban and P!nk’s “One Too Many” and Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani’s “Happy Anywhere.”
The most-anticipated moment of the night, however, came with Taylor Swift’s long-awaited return to the country stage after a seven-year departure with her first-ever live performance of “betty,” a track from her new album folklore. Strumming an acoustic guitar and accompanied by a harmonica, her simple, stripped-back performance was reminiscent of the country hits that defined the singer’s early career, yet with the wisdom and maturity of her later albums.
While this year’s ACM Awards ceremony differed from those of years past, it will certainly be remembered not only for its sheer volume of musical talent, but also for its ability to adapt to these uncertain and unprecedented times.