Academy of Country Music Awards: the un-awards show awards show

Lee Brice performs "I Drive Your Truck" on stage at the 49th annual Academy of Country Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Sunday, April 6, 2014, in Las Vegas. AP/Invision photos by Chris Pizzello.

Lee Brice performs “I Drive Your Truck” on stage at the 49th annual Academy of Country Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Sunday, April 6, 2014, in Las Vegas. AP/Invision photos by Chris Pizzello.

The Grammy Awards have been becoming more of a concert and less of an awards show for the past decade or so. This year, the Academy of Country Music Awards took a page from that playbook and ran with it, all the way to 9:02 p.m., when the first live award was finally presented.

While yes, there were other awards presented, the evening basically became a huge all-star country concert with some stars such as hosts Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton and Shelton’s better half Miranda Lambert getting multiple shots at the stage.

And it was a display that showed the range of what country music is these days, from Lee Brice’s soulful performance of the heartbreaking I Drive Your Truck to Florida Georgia Line and Bryan’s what-the-heck-is-that performance of the rap-based How We Roll with BMX bikers and flames shooting up in the background — the epitome of trying to prove country is cool by not being country.

Blake Shelton, left, and Shakira perform "Medicine."

Blake Shelton, left, and Shakira perform “Medicine.”

But there were plenty of instances showing how good country can be including Keith Urban’s reliably scorching take on Stars Fall for You, George Strait and Miranda Lambert paying tribute to Merle Haggard with Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down and I’m a Lonsesome Fugitive, Lady Antebellum and Stevie Nicks teaming up for their Golden and her Rhiannon, Shelton and Shakira’s Medicine (I seem to be the only person in the world who didn’t think it was weird) and Dierks Bentley and Sheryl Crow’s performance of I Hold On that was so simple, but definitely worth waiting most of the show for.

Yes, like the Grammys, the ACM’s have gotten into the “pairing” thing, trying to give viewers performances they will not see anywhere else. It doesn’t quite reach the spectacle level of, say, Elton John and Lady Gaga. But the ACMs also aren’t as susceptible to the trap of trying to outdo itself Grammy has fallen victim to. Maybe the nicest pairing of this evening was Faith Hill coming out to join husband Tim McGraw on Meanwhile Back at Mama’s, the couple actually looking like they were dressed for an awards show. On a night where a lot of the focus was on the Shelton-Lambert union — we get it, Blake, you get to go home and sleep with Miranda — country’s other superstar spouses quietly reasserted themselves.

Faith Hill and Tim McGraw wave to the crowd after performing "Meanwhile Back at Mama's."

Faith Hill and Tim McGraw wave to the crowd after performing “Meanwhile Back at Mama’s.”

If you like country music circa 2014, there was a lot to like in this year’s ACMs, though I would have liked to have seen a Kacey Musgraves performance. While she may have been slighted in the show’s roster, she wasn’t in the awards, winning album of the year for Same Trailer, Different Park, one of the freshest country debuts in years, and sharing the single of the year for writing Miranda Lambert’s Mama’s Broken Heart.

The ACMs did a nice split on single and song of the year, giving the latter honor to Brice and the writers — Jessi Alexander, Connie Harrington and Jimmy Yeary – of I Drive Your Truck, a  song inspired by the story of a father who drives the truck of his son, who was killed in combat in Afghanistan, to feel close to him.

George Strait accepts the award for entertainer of the year at the 49th annual Academy of Country Music Awards.

George Strait accepts the award for entertainer of the year at the 49th annual Academy of Country Music Awards.

The actual awards left little to complain about — we’ll save complaints for Shelton’s lame jokes — and ended on a high note bestowing the entertainer of the year honor on George Strait, 61, who announced in 2012 he was retiring from touring and will wrap up his final roadshow in June.

“I always say I have the best fans in the world, and I hear this is a fan-voted award, so I rest my case,” Strait said, accepting the award. Bryan and Shelton, who lost to him, punctuated the honor as they closed the show clapping and Shelton exclaiming, “Our hero! Our hero won tonight!”

For an awards show light on awards, its biggest honor gave the proceedings a delightfully subtle grand finale.

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