Composed from memory and scant notes in the wee hours of the morning after, so don’t be shy about mentioning any corrections or important moments I missed.
Blake and Luke
The show’s script was mostly toothless and forgettable, which sort of has to be the case when the hosts themselves exemplify much of what’s ripe for mockery in contemporary country music. Can’t exactly have Luke Bryan delivering pointed jabs at bro-country tropes, can we?
From his first stone-faced reaction to a Haggard/Bieber joke in the opening, it immediately became clear that what someone should have done is keep a camera on Merle Haggard to get his reactions (and non-reactions) to the three hours ahead. Maybe even put the continuous shot of him in a small box at the top of the screen for the duration of the show, through performances by Jason Aldean, Florida Georgia Line, et al. In my dream scenario, this feature of the show would prove so popular that the Merle-Cam would immediately be spun off into its own television network consisting solely of Merle Haggard’s reactions to strange and stupid things. I’d never leave home again.
Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan prowled along front row looking for big enough stars to include in an Ellen-style selfie. After rejecting George Strait, Jason Aldean, and Tim McGraw for various reasons, they decided that THEY (Blake and Luke) were the biggest stars in the place and got set to take the shot… only to readjust when they noticed Sheryl Crow in the background. “Get her out of there!”
Justin Moore Won New Artist…
… even though they never bothered to officially amend the rules to make him eligible, which would have been a questionable enough tack in itself. No, they just named him the winner while keeping the rule that should have made him ineligible on the books, showing an alarming disregard for their own awards criteria and leaving the door open to more category slippage in the future. That Moore delivered one of the most sincere, stirring acceptance speeches of the night and seemed to have even his competitors happy for him is testament to the fact that he’s a nice guy who probably does deserve the recognition – just not, per the ACM’s own rules, in this category, in this year.
Nerves or Alcohol?
New Artist nominee Lee Brice, who seemed unusually sweaty and rattled to start his snippet of “I Drive Your Truck” and never quite recovered. Later, taking the stage after “I Drive Your Truck” was announced as winner for Best Song, Brice appeared confused and unsure of whether the songwriters were in the house to accept, which they were and did after an awkward wait. Brother Brice’s Vegas party ended like the best of frat house nights, with a quick cut to him feeling it during Darius Rucker’s performance of “Wagon Wheel.” (Also feeling “Wagon Wheel” was Taylor Swift, whose moves appeared to endanger everyone in the vicinity. Think Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Elaine on “Seinfeld.”)
Speaking of Bros
Florida Georgia Line bro-hugged on their way to accept Best Duo, conveying the depth of their respect for the industry recognition by dressing up in a Garth tee (Kelley) and a white cotton undershirt (Hubbard) to receive it. On his way out, Kelley let loose with this confounding statement: “Country music is alive and well, baby!” Somewhere, certainly, it is.
Are You Sure About That, Blake?
Another head-scratcher: After “Mama’s Broken Heart” won for Single, Blake Shelton introduced Miranda Lambert’s performance of “Automatic” by saying that they share the “same taste in songwriting.” Do they, though? I don’t see Miranda cutting much of the Peach Pickers oeuvre.
Miranda Goes It Alone
With Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift, and Kacey Musgraves present but not performing, Lambert held down the show’s only solo female performance slot. Really? That’s pitiful. Hope I forgot something.
Tim McGraw Debuts a New One
McGraw’s seated, stripped-down performance of “Meanwhile Back at Mama’s” – presumably set to appear on his next Big Machine release, Inadvertently Racist Title – started off so pitchy that he seemed to be learning or inventing the song on the spot. It improved with the walk-on addition of Faith Hill. By the end, a skeletal-looking McGraw summoned enough strength to rise briefly from his chair, a feat applauded enthusiastically by all in attendance.
Guy Fieri Is a Ridiculous, Ridiculous Man
Someone make him go away. I don’t like him when he’s called Dee Jay Silver, either.
Hunter Hayes and “Invisible”
The trouble with songs for a cause sung by nice guys is that you cannot dislike them without seeming like a huge jerkwad. And yet, between the loud orchestral backing, Hayes’ breathy, off-key shrieking to overcome it, and the trite lyrics, this – more than Florida Georgia Line’s BMX theatrics, more than any alleged joke, more than Guy Fieri – was the show’s least bearable juncture. Elsewhere, things could be bad and also kinda funny in how bad they were. But this was so bad and yet so earnest, demanding that you take it very seriously even as it made your ears bleed.
Kacey Musgraves and George Strait Won
Album of the Year and Entertainer of the Year, respectively. Great.
The Haggard Tribute
Garth bungled some lines, introducing (I think) a “melody” instead of a “medley.” George Strait and Miranda Lambert handled themselves nicely on “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive” and “The Bottle Let Me Down.” Battling pneumonia and looking more frail than usual, Haggard was slow to take the stage. Eric Church reached out and patted him on the back on his way up the aisle while everyone sang “Happy Birthday,” which I guess makes more sense if I remember to mention that this was also Merle’s birthday. Upon reaching the mic, Haggard seemed either too ill or simply ill-prepared to offer much comment. Just a quick “thank you.” Kind of anticlimactic, but still good to see him get some love. Feel better, Hag. We need you in top shape if we get any bites on this network idea.