The ACM Awards were supposed to return to the Las Vegas Strip. Instead, they moved, at least in part, to a Nashville mall.
Six months ago, the Academy of Country Music planned to hold its 55th annual awards ceremony at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, where it has been held almost every year since 2006.
Instead, the coronavirus pandemic led the organization to postpone the April 5 show with envelopes already sealed and performances planned. And now the extraordinary circumstances of 2020 have led this Los Angeles-born show to do something that it clearly had never done before.
He came to Nashville.
Wednesday night on CBS, viewers will see country stars perform on stages at the Grand Ole Opry House, the Ryman Auditorium and the Bluebird Cafe. The latter is housed in this shopping center in Green Hills, which the academy takes over completely for the evening, setting up production offices in the next lounge and dry cleaners.
The approach allows ACMs to truly celebrate what Nashville is, in the three most iconic country venues around the world, said CEO Damon Whiteside.
But on Wednesday, these three venues will host televised performances without a live audience. Performers will use their tour buses as changing rooms, and the protocol aims to ensure that only one performer is inside one building at a time. When not performing, nominees will be waiting in the parking lot, and winners will be able to walk to a film crew and accept their prizes in person.
Even though the city has lifted the (restrictions) a bit, we still decided, just for the peace of mind, for our team, staff and artists that it wasn’t worth trying to have someone in the audience, Whiteside said.
We think the show really speaks for itself. An artist on stage in front of an empty Ryman is really powerful.
ACM AWARD 2020: How To Watch Nashville’s Very First Event
When revealed as the ceremony’s new host in February, Keith Urban was already planning to enter uncharted territory. Now doubly.
It’s just a first on so many levels, he says. I’m happy to do it, first and foremost. I’m happy to use three different places in Nashville and, it’s okay, we just need it. A little lightness. A little entertainment. I’m not sure what to expect, so I rush in and go with it.
It’s safe to say that the ACM Awards’ very first move to Music City was also unexpected. The organization was founded in 1964 as the Country and Western Music Academy. He sought to promote country music made in the Western states, unlike sounds produced in Nashville.
But that distinction has all but evaporated in mainstream country music over the past few decades, and with it, organizations’ presence in Nashville has grown. For the past decade, it has held its annual ACM Honors ceremony at the Ryman Auditorium, and Whiteside notes that its board of directors is also based here.
I think (bringing the show to Nashville) is just signaling that while we definitely have an initiative to connect the West Coast, Hollywood, and the media world with the country and that we’re going to continue to make the heart of our organization stand at Nashville, and must be in Nashville.
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It was also, of course, a practical decision for the show to come to the city where almost all kinds of stars reside and have been crammed now for months.
While the performances and awards shows at the Opry House and Bluebird will be live, segments at the Ryman have been pre-recorded. This included Kelsea Ballerini, who recorded a stripped down rendition of Hole in the Bottle on the stage at historic locations.
It’s just nice to have something semi-normal, she said. I have been looking forward to this award ceremony for months. Being on stage singing and doing interviews feels like we’re on the right track.
Among the silver liners heading into this year: Whiteside believes this show could have the most performance in ACM history. Forty songs will be performed (in whole or in part) by 25 participating artists. That now includes Taylor Swift, who performs on the Opry House stage at her first country awards show in seven years.
ACM also announced this week that Wednesday’s show will feature a medley featuring the five nominees for Artist of the Year: Carrie Underwood, Eric Church, Luke Combs, Luke Bryan and Thomas Rhett.
Wednesday’s show will be the first of three country music shows to be held just weeks apart this fall. The CMT Music Awards (which were rescheduled from their usual spot in June) will now air on October 21, with the CMA Awards following on their original date of November 11.
The ACM Awards will air at 7 p.m. CT Wednesday, September 16 on CBS.
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