Matt Sayles / Invision / AP
Published Sunday, April 3, 2016 | 3:57 p.m.
Updated Sunday, April 3, 2016 | 10:17 p.m.
The night started with a star-studded tribute to new country-music trailblazer Chris Stapleton and ended with Jason Aldean winning the evening’s biggest award.
Aldean sauntered off with his first Entertainer of the Year award and Stapleton captured six trophies — among them Male Vocalist of the Year and Album of the Year for “Traveller” at the 51st Academy of Country Music Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena on Sunday night. The show played live to 11,000 at the Grand Garden and a live TV audience (tape delayed for those in the Pacific Time zone) on CBS.
“To be honest with you, I’ve been in this business a long time, and I just do my own thing,” Aldean said just after the show closed at MGM Grand. “I love music, I love entertaining people and making records. I’m not flashy, but I love what I do.”
Other highlighted artists included country legend Dolly Parton, who was presented the Tex Ritter Award for “Coat of Many Colors,” the award that recognizes major films that center on country music. She later appeared in a highly anticipated medley with Katy Perry.
Miranda Lambert continued her string of Female Vocalist of the Year awards, winning her seventh consecutive trophy. Her first ACM Award was for New Female Vocalist in 2007.
For much of the night, Stapleton was the center of the show, especially at the start, as the broadcast was launched by a series of stars (including co-hosts Luke Bryan and Dierks Bentley) standing from the audience and claiming his success. Stapleton was previously a member of the bluegrass band The Steel Drivers before turning to country two years ago when he recorded “Traveller.” An appearance on “Saturday Night Live” helped propel him to national notoriety.
“I’m shy about all the attention, to answer that question,” Stapleton said. “When that monologue started, it occurred to me that it was just going to go on and on.”
The show might well be leaving MGM Grand for T-Mobile Arena in 2017, though resort accommodations and logistics will need to be ironed out before a decision is finalized. If it was the final show in the 20 held here, it was a soaring sendoff. Check out ACMCountry.com for the complete list of winners. A chronological look at the night with in-time updates posted during the show:
SPOILER ALERT: The 2016 Academy of Country Music Awards airs live at 8 p.m. Eastern Time on CBS from MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. The awards air tape delayed at 8 p.m. Pacific Time. If you are on Pacific Time and don’t want to read spoilers, do not read this column until after the awards. If you want to know what is happening as it happens, read on ...
Updated at 7:38 p.m.: Parton, waring a befittingly bedazzled jacked, is joined by Perry for “Coat of Many Colors.” In her introduction, Perry said, “I’m just a sequin on Dolly’s jacket.” The two scramble through “Jolene,” with Perry in a pink dress and matching boots. Ha! And a revival of “9 to 5” that gets the crowd hopping. Great use of timepieces on the LED screen, incidentally.
Updated at 7:28 p.m.: Consecutive memorable moments as Lambert, Billy Gibbons and Keith Urban fire up the crowd with “Tush.” (A side note: The last time I saw Gibbons was walking through First Friday downtown a couple of years ago). Then, the nights hottest artist, Stapleton, wins the Male Vocalist of the Year award.
Updated at 7:05 p.m.: Topping a strong field for Female Vocalist of the Year is Lambert, who points out fellow nominee Undewood as “the perfect singer.” Mentions the Friday-night performance at Las Vegas Festival Grounds in the opening night of ACM Party for a Cause.
Updated at 6:21 p.m. It’s shaping up as a night that is largely to honor country newcomer Stapleton, who formerly had no beard and was a rocker. He wins the Album of the Year award for “Traveller.” Garth Brooks announces the award while on tour in Ottawa, and Stapleton says he is honored to accept an award “from Garth Brooks, who I think is in Iowa.” This touches off a social media debate about whether Stapleton was mistaken or comical or what. But he's hot right now, no question, here and in Canada.
Updated at 6 p.m.:Thomas Rhett wins the Single Record of the Year Award for “Die a Happy Man,” and in the series of thank you’s in his acceptance speech, he says, “And ... holy crap! God!”
Updated at 5:20 p.m.:The hosts for tonight’s broadcast were introduced by Blake Shelton, who accompanied Bryan on the latter’s single “Huntin’, Fishin’, Lovin’ Every Day.” Shelton is a fun-lovin’ guy, and some of the buzz leading to the show has centered on a possible run-in with his ex, Lambert. Given the high concentration of busy people all over this venue, that would be a heck of an achievement.
Kenny Chesney performs in the first of two venues tonight, singing "Noise” before bolting for the Party for a Cause, where he headlines at 7:15 p.m. at Las Vegas Festival Grounds.
Chris Stapleton wins the Song of the Year award. He also is the New Male Vocalist of the Year and a country music industry and fan favorite. He’s got a gen-u-ine beard goin’, that’s for sure.
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The Kats Report Bureau at this writing is the aforementioned MGM Grand Garden Arena, where tonight and likely for the last time the ACM Awards is being staged at that great TV studio.
Earlier, during sound check, we heard the unmistakable rhythms of "Tush,” the ZZ Top stable, rumbling from the arena. ZZ Top’s Gibbons, Lambert and Keith Urban are teaming on that number tonight.
Also in the run list: A highly anticipated duet from Katy Perry and Dolly Parton, delivering “Jolene” and “Coat of Many Colors,” with Perry wearing one of Parton’s dresses from the 1970s. I’m particularly looking forward to Jason Aldean, a rock star in the country universe, with his new single, "Lights Come On.” I’ve talked to Aldean, oddly enough at the bar at the opening party of “The Duck Commander Musical” last year at the Rio, about a Las Vegas residency. He said he’d love that, something like what Rascal Flatts has performed at the Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel. He might have the fan support to play a few dates in Las Vegas.
To the north of us, the ACM Party for a Cause is staging its third and final night. Saturday’s second night was punctuated by Dierks Bentley being joined by Charles Kelley and Eric Paslay for Kelley’s new single, “The Driver.” Lee Brice, his ball cap flipped backward, played “Crazy Girl,” The Eli Young Band single Brice actually composed, on acoustic guitar. Stapleton’s set was a mix of country and blues, as he sang with his wife, Morgane. Earlier in the set, Dustin Lynch took to an inflatable raft and crowd-surfed during “Where It’s At.” As he was sent away from the stage, he called out, “This can only end badly!”
The second afternoon and evening of the festival drew 20,000 fans through the gates, as expected a slightly larger turnout than Friday and about what we’ll see tonight. Roughly 15,000 to 16,000 three-day passes have been issued, with the remainder of tickets sold on a per-night basis. The Party for a Cause sold about 20,000 tickets altogether. The comparison ACM CEO Bob Romeo is inviting: “Did you see it being different than Route 91? That is the question. If it isn’t different, that concerns me.”
It is different in one crucial capacity, and that is ... capacity. Las Vegas Festival Grounds can easily handle a festival of, say, double the size of Party for a Cause or Route 91 Harvest Festival, which caps at 25,000 at Las Vegas Village’s 15-acre space. Organizers of Route 91 like those two figures — 15 and 25,000 — as easy marks with which to build a three-day event. Route 91 works well, but the one concern is space. There is no room to grow the event on that 15 acres, where the sight lines and access is favorable and where many events — such as Wine Amplified and the iHeart Radio matinee festival — have flourished.
But more versatile is the Festival Grounds space. The total acreage is 47, but event producers are not locked into 47 acres. Party for a Cause has taken up 26 acres for 20,000 fans and a high volume of vendors (nearly 30), a pair of vast VIP decks, a pair of VIP suites brought over from the Village, and even two carnival rides (a Ferris wheel and Big Shot). The use of space allows fans who want to be near that main stage to flood that zone, for people with seats to occupy assigned areas, and for those who want to kick back farther away and play cornhole to do that.
“I hope, four years from now, we’ll have 40,000 to 50,000 people down there,” Romeo said. The space can handle that, easily.
MGM Grand, a AAA Four Diamond resort, offers 5,044 rooms and suites.
MGM Grand features KÀ by Cirque du Soleil; Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club; and world-class entertainment at the Grand Garden Arena and Hollywood Theatre.
The resort offers signature restaurants by celebrity chefs including Tom Colicchio’s Craftsteak, Emeril Lagasse’s New Orleans Fish House, Wolfgang Puck’s Bar & Grill and Michelin three star and Forbes Five Star restaurant, Joël Robuchon.
As part of its ongoing “Grand Renovation,” MGM Grand has remodeled all rooms and suites in its main tower and is adding several new experiences to its lineup including Hakkasan Las Vegas Restaurant and Nightclub, a new upscale dining/nightlife concept (coming in April 2013).
MGM Grand also features a state-of-the-art, non-smoking conference center, the Grand Spa, Cristophe Salon, "CSI: The Experience" and an inviting pool complex featuring the tantalizing daylife of Wet Republic.
Upscale accommodations include The Mansion, an exclusive hotel within the hotel; the luxurious two-story SKYLOFTS at MGM Grand; and The Signature at MGM Grand, a luxury all-suite, non-gaming hotel located adjacent to the main resort.