If the house always wins in Las Vegas then clearly Chris Stapleton is the man of the house.
Sunday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, at the 51st annual Academy of Country Music (ACM) awards, the acclaimed singer-songwriter continued his winning ways, copping four trophies related to his debut album as a solo artist, Traveller: Album of the Year, New Male Vocalist, Male Vocalist, and Song of the Year for “Nobody to Blame.” He also performed the slow burner “Fire Away,” harmonizing righteously with wife Morgane, during the three hour telecast. The raspy-voiced country rocker won so many awards that when Little Big Town took the stage to accept the award for Vocal Group of the Year they jokingly thanked him for not being eligible in that category.
The “Girl Crush” quartet also shared the Vocal Event of the Year honor with the night’s other multiple award winner Miranda Lambert for their collaboration on “Smokin’ and Drinkin’.” Lambert, who performed a sassy rendition of ZZ Top’s “Tush” with that band’s Billy Gibbons and Keith Urban, walked away with her seventh consecutive Female Vocalist of the Year trophy and gave a shout out to the up and coming female artists in commending them for “The great songs they wrote themselves.”
Jason Aldean finally nabbed the top award, Entertainer of the Year, after six nominations. He admitted “I was starting to think this one just wasn’t in the cards for me,” before adding “This is one of the best nights of my professional career.”
Aldean was among several performers to debut a new single from a forthcoming album on the show with the guitar heavy track “Lights Come On.” Kenny Chesney — sporting sleeves on his T-shirt — did the same with his buoyant new sing along “Noise,” as did Blake Shelton, who sang his moody new ballad “Came Here to Forget.”
Shelton had previously co-hosted the show with Luke Bryan and couldn’t resist crashing the monologue with Bryan’s new co-star Dierks Bentley. The “Riser” singer proclaimed that “Bluke” was over and it was time to usher in the era of “Lierks” in the duo’s opening monologue. The monologue itself was then hijacked by a succession of artists claiming “credit” for Stapleton’s success. From Bentley and Bryan themselves to Aldean to Thomas Rhett to Charles Kelley of Lady Antebellum to Carrie Underwood, all tried to explain why they were the ones responsible for the veteran artist’s breakout as a performer after many years as a hit songwriter and previously a member of the SteelDrivers.
While many artists performed ballads that can be difficult to put across in an awards show setting Tim McGraw scored with the poignant “Humble and Kind,” Cam impressed with her tremulous hit “Burning House,” and Eric Church — winner for Video of the Year — brought his trademark swagger and heart to “Record Year,” which included a mid-song DJ tribute to David Bowie, Glenn Frey of the Eagles, Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead, and Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots.
Both Kelley and Rhett took the show in a more soulful direction with the Lady A singer performing the keening “Lonely Girl” and Rhett crooning his way through the Single Record of the Year winner “Die a Happy Man.”
The night’s highest octane performances came from veteran acts going deeper into their current releases. Carrie Underwood brought heat — and some formidable footwear — to bear on the dramatic “Church Bells” and Little Big Town joined up with Trombone Shorty to import some New Orleans swing to Sin City on a vibrant take of “Stay All Night.”
The most colorful performance of the night, however, came courtesy of Dolly Parton and Katy Perry. Parton was given the Tex Ritter Award for her recent NBC movie adaptation of her song “Coat of Many Colors” and the Smoky Mountain legend gave a funny speech explaining, among other things, that she chose to wore a shiny, sequined version of the coat of many colors that highlighted her most famous assets because “I had to do something to overcome all those long-legged women I’m having to work with around here.” Then Parton and Perry performed a playful medley of a few of the icon’s biggest hits including “Coat,” “Jolene” and “9 to 5,” with Perry bowing respectfully before Parton at the conclusion.
The night’s other winners included Florida Georgia Line (Vocal Duo of the Year), Kelsea Ballerini (New Female Vocalist of the Year), and Old Dominion (New Vocal Duo or Group of the Year). See the full 2016 ACM winners list here.