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Photos: ‘ACM Presents: All-Star Salute to the Troops’ an emotional night at MGM Grand


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Toby Keith, right, speaks onstage with members of the armed forces during “ACM Presents: All-Star Salute to the Troops” at MGM Grand Garden Arena on Monday, April 7, 2014, in Las Vegas.

‘All-Star Salute to the Troops’

Kellie Pickler and Staff Sgt. Baily Zimmerman perform during “ACM Presents: All-Star Salute to the Troops” at MGM Grand Garden Arena on Monday, April 7, 2014, in Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »

2014 Academy of Country Music Awards at MGM Grand

Florida Georgia Line arrives at the 2014 Academy of Country Music Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena on Sunday, April 6, 2014, in Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »

Members of the military who performed in their dress uniforms alongside country music’s biggest stars proved that singing to Monday night’s 14,000 fans at MGM Grand Garden Arena was far less a challenge than the dangers they face in combat.

In fact, they were so good that Nashville talent scouts should be on their own tour of duty at our U.S. military bases around the world because there’s a ton of undiscovered music talent serving our nation. I wouldn’t be wrong describing some of them as stars already for stealing the show from the celebrities.

Right from the start, country legends Merle Haggard and George Strait set the tone for “ACM Presents: All-Star Salute to the Troops,” for the men and women of our armed services, with Merle’s classic “The Fighting Side of Me.”

What a way to kick off two more hours of the five-hour CBS juggernaut of network specials from the Strip over the weekend. This new two-hour taping on the heels of Sunday’s three-hour 49th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards airs May 20.

The all-star salute included performances by Miranda Lambert with husband Blake Shelton, Carrie Underwood, Kellie Pickler, Toby Keith, Luke Bryan, Hunter Hayes, Dierks Bentley, Florida Georgia Line and The Eli Young Band. “NCIS Los Angeles” stars LL Cool J and Chris O’Donnell hosted the special.

Destiny Coates was the first armed service representative to sing — “For You” with Keith Urban, which won him a Golden Globe from “Medal of Valor.” Hunter followed with Coast Guard Officer Katie Spira on their version of Imagine Dragons’ “Top of the World.”

One of the most moving moments was the teaming of Kellie Pickler with Officer Baily Zimmerman, who had the audience in simultaneous tears and cheers. There were more emotions spilled when Luke Bryan played a solo acoustic version of “Drink a Beer,” a song inspired by the deaths of his sister and brother.

And when Miranda sang “Over You” with hubby Blake playing guitar, you could see on the screens his face grimace with eyes closed as he recalled the death of his brother.

Kudos to Carrie Underwood for her ballad “Keep Us Safe” that she wrote for the production and which is now available as a free download with your donation to ACM’s Lifting Lives charity. She was teamed with Army SSG Patrick Johnson.

There also was a standing ovation for Army Officer Kelly Gregg, who played with The Band Perry on “If I Die Young” as if she’d been a longtime fourth member of the trio of siblings Reid, Neil and Kimberly Perry. Lee Brice performed the new ACM Song of the Year “I Drive Your Truck” with Army Sgt. Christiana Ball.

The Marines were well represented performing alongside Rascal Flatts and Lady Antebellum. Marine Lt. Col. Mike Corrado joined Toby Keith and Scotty Emerick for “Call a Marine.” Toby wrapped up the night on “American Soldier” with all 12 of the military performers onstage.

It was all about patriotism, and there was fun mixed in with the poignant moments of poise, dignity and inspiration. But it was tough not to tear up on such an emotional night:

“We are so thankful for the men and women in our armed forces and proud to present this fantastic night of performances in their honor,” said Academy of Country Music CEO Bob Romeo. “This special is a remarkable moment in our history and continues our TV specials that have been so successful over the years helping fund the important charitable work of Lifting Lives.”

The country stars have been huge supporters of our military with free overseas entertainment tours (Stars for Stripes) and in hospitals here caring for troops and veterans (Musicians On Call), plus returning Wounded Warriors with disabilities in need of assistance and housing.

My friend Brittany Mason best summed up the exceptional night of talent from the superstars and their military partners: “This definitely goes into the books as one of the all-time top concerts. There wasn’t anybody in the arena who wasn’t touched by the songs and the duets by the servicemen and servicewomen with their favorite stars.

“It was thrilling entertainment with wonderful messages about our nation’s heroes and protectors. It was so memorable and emotional, we will all remember it for our entire lives.”

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

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