ACM Tempo | Summer 2021

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Marcelo Gama joins the team as director for the ACM AWARDS®





12  | NEW ACM STAFFERS Meet the new faces joining our team 18  | WELCOME TO THE TEAM, MARCELO Meet a longtime Country fan from Brazil who brought his international live broadcast experience to the ACM Awards®


Editor’s Note


CEO Note


ACM News


In Memory


ACM Moment

Cover Story KEITH URBAN and MICKEY GUYTON teamed up to co-host this year’s ACM festivities



36  |   LUKE BRYAN SAYS VIVA LAS VEGAS Luke temporarily swaps his Tennessee farm for a Las Vegas residency


42  |   ACM WINNERS See the full list of Country artists who took home ACM Awards on April 18 52  |   SOCIAL COMMENTARY Take a look at what your favorite Country stars posted on their social feeds from the 56th ACM Awards





E ditor

Lisa Lee A ssistant E ditor

Libby Gardner C ontributors

Hannah Kellis, Craig Shelburne D esign

Randi Karabin, Karabin Creative

A New Season

P rinting

Graphic Visions Commerical Printing P hotos

ACM, CBS, Getty Images, ACM Lifting Lives, ACM Staff, Ad Council, Emmy Squared, Marcelo Gamma, UMG, WAM ACADEMY STAFF

t has been a rough couple of years for everyone, but with the recent good news on the COVID-19 vaccination rates increasing (thanks in part, no doubt, to the ACM Lifting Lives® PSA campaign in partnership with the Ad Council) and the CDC’s new looser mask mandate along with the varied and inspired musical collaborations on this year’s Academy of Country Music Awards™, there seems to be a glimmer of normal glowing down the road. I feel it coming, and I hope you do, too. If the music featured on the 56th Academy of Country Music Awards™ is any indication, Country fans have a lot to look forward to from their favorite artists when we’re finally allowed to fully immerse ourselves in the live music and iconic venues we love. The Academy has added some new faces to the staff, read more about them on P. 12. Also in this issue, contributor Libby Gardner introduces us to Brazilian Marcelo Gama, who joined us this year for the first time as director for the 56th ACM Awards broadcast. A longtime Country fan, he told ACM Tempo® it was a full circle moment for him. Also, we have a quick conversation with newly crowned ACM® Entertainer of the Year, Luke Bryan. We ride along as he steps off the American Idol stage for a break to do Dad duties back in Nashville, picking up his boys from school. The whole staff is hard at work on this year’s ACM Honors™ event, scheduled for August 25th at Ryman Auditorium. Hope you and yours are healthy and happy no matter where you are!


Damon Whiteside E xecutive D irector/ACM L ifting L ives

Lyndsay Cruz

S enior Vice P resident/E ditorial & C ontent C uration

Lisa Lee

S enior Vice P resident/Events

Erick Long

S enior Vice P resident/M arketing

Brooke Primero

Vice P resident/Finance & O perations

Alexa Fasheh

Vice P resident/ A rtist & I ndustry R elations , B oard A dministration & G overnance

Tommy Moore

Vice P resident/ D igital Strategy & E ngagement

Rory Levine

D irector/Strategic Partnerships

Jen Heaton

S enior Video M anager/C reative & C ontent

Brandon Campbell

S enior M anager/M arketing

Melissa Moldovan

M anager/M arketing

Jessica Curtis

M anager/Events

Lanni Gagnon

M anager/Awards & M embership

Haley Montgomery

M anager/Finance & O perations

Mary Pambukyan

M anager/A rtist & I ndustry R elations ; B oard A dministration & G overnance

Maddy Stessman

M anager/L ifting L ives

Taylor Wolf

C oordinator/Events

Danielle Bardier

C oordinator/M arketing

Bridget Cirone

C oordinator/Strategic Partnerships

Lisa Lee Tempo Editor

Jenny Dunn

C oordinator/C reative & C ontent

Libby Gardner

E xecutive A ssistant to the CEO

David Sassano

A ssistant/ Finance & O perations

Gloria Chavez

A ssistant/C reative & C ontent

Hannah Kellis

A ssistant/M arketing

Dayna Poskanzer I nterns


Alexis Bingham - Events & Operations Emily Leonard - Events & Operations Nicole Marchesi - Marketing Carrie McDonough - Marketing Madeleine O’Connell - Creative & Content Sara Okum - Marketing

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Dear Valued Academy Members, We hope you enjoyed the groundbreaking 56th Academy of Country Music Awards™ on April 18 in Nashville, and that it made you feel some pride for our organization and for the whole Country Music industry. Being just seven months from the last show in September 2020, it was important that we made this show feel bigger, with more music, more artists and an even bigger celebration, which I believe we accomplished via the six different venues featured. A huge thank you to executive producer RAC Clark, our partners at dick clark productions and the entire crew who made this show come to life so beautifully. We were honored to have 15-time ACM Awards® winner Keith Urban host along with ACM Awards nominee Mickey Guyton. Thank you to both of them for their warm, funny and comforting hosting efforts as well as to all of the artists who participated in performing and presenting, and a huge congratulations to all our winners. We were thrilled to see that our former host and two-time ACM Entertainer of the Year, Luke Bryan, once again took home our most prestigious award for ACM Entertainer of the Year once again. Additionally, it was gratifying to see the progress in diversity that Country Music is making as evidenced by our four Black artist nominees and two ACM Awards winners! The press accolades were humbling, but we continue to have a lot of work to do in the diversity, equity and inclusion space. However, the Academy is at the forefront, and we are proud to be called out by media outlets as showcasing the future of Country Music. We also are so proud of efforts by ACM Lifting Lives®, which generated valuable funding that is allowing us to once again open the ACM Lifting Lives COVID-19 Response Fund to help Country Music individuals still in need of financial relief. I hope you will check out the digital series hosted by Chrissy Metz and Ashley Eicher that showcases the impact this fund has had on so many lives. Also, our new PSA campaign, featuring Eric Church, Darius Rucker and Ashley McBryde, is educating and encouraging individuals to get vaccinated. Please check out The Hub to see all of this and more great content. As we start to become more optimistic about the reopening of live entertainment and events this summer, we hope that Country Music will come back stronger than ever. Our community is resilient, and we have a connection with fans that no other genre can claim. I am personally so proud of the ACM Board of Directors and staff for pivoting and innovating throughout the pandemic to produce some of the best awards shows in our history, and especially for the important fundraising and support initiatives we have been able to accomplish together to serve this great industry. We look forward to seeing you in person again very soon! Sincerely,

Damon Whiteside Chief Executive Officer




CLASSICS FOR COUNTRY ACM Lifting Lives ® partnered with Emmy Squared to provide dinners to those in the Country Music community affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The first night of dinners

A True Trailblazer Seeing firsthand how the COVID-19 pandemic has and continues to affect the Country Music industry, artist Brantley Gilbert felt compelled to give back to both the community and fans in a unique way. On April 17, Gilbert hosted trail rides for more than 500 fans at Brimstone Recreation in Huntsville, Tenn. Fans were able to safely enjoy the great outdoors with one of their favorite Country artists as he led the ride through some muddy dirt roads all while benefiting a great cause, the ACM Lifting Lives® COVID-19 Response Fund. Topping off the night, the fans enjoyed an intimate and much-needed live acoustic performance by Gilbert powered by Whiskey Jam. All ticket proceeds benefited the ACM Lifting Lives COVID-19 Response Fund.

From left to right: Lorie Lytle, Taylor Wolf, Brantley Gilbert; Aaron Keiser, Paul Barnabee

was a huge success and the Classic pizza proved much appreciated by the community. Emmy Squared generously hosted another “Classics for Country” dinner, bringing the total to around 200 meals given out to those in need in the Greater Nashville area across both nights.

VACCINATION EDUCATION As Country Music fans and artists alike all crave the return of live music, the importance of becoming educated about COVID-19 vaccination is critical. As part of the larger national campaign, “It’s Up to You,” ACM Lifting Lives, in partnership with the Ad Council, premiered an educational vaccine public service announcement during the live broadcast of the 56th ACM Awards. Featuring Country Music artists Eric Church, Ashley McBryde and Darius Rucker at two of Nashville’s iconic music stages, Ryman Auditorium and Grand Ole Opry House, the ad showcases the important role that education about COVID-19 vaccinations plays in not only a return to live music, but a return to normalcy in our world. Learn more about the COVID-19 vaccines at




Pre-Start the Party! With the help of hosts Buzz Brainard and Cassadee Pope, the official ACM Awards® Pre-Party for a Cause, in partnership with Crown Royal, streamed on Saturday, April 17. The 60-minute pre-taped livestream event featured exclusive performances by ACM® New Male Artist of the Year winner Jimmie Allen, Lindsay Ell, Kameron Marlowe, Ian Munsick, Cassadee Pope, Tyler Rich, Lily Rose, Mitchell Tenpenny, Tenille Townes and Lainey Wilson. Available as a livestream on the ACM official Facebook and YouTube pages, the pre-show remained accessible for fans to watch for 24 hours in the lead up to the live broadcast of the 56th ACM Awards on Sunday, April 18. The stream directly supported the ACM Lifting Lives® COVID-19 Response Fund and Packages From Home. On behalf of all participating artists, Crown Royal donated $20,000 toward the ACM Lifting Lives COVID-19 Response Fund.



he Annual ACM Honors™ returns to Nashville on Wednesday, August 25 at the historic Ryman Auditorium. The event will honor

winners of the 2019 ACM Industry Awards and the 2019 and 2020 ACM Studio Recording Awards. Honorees of the ACM Special Awards will also be celebrated on this special occasion. More details to come.


Top: Jimmie Allen; Clockwise: Blanco Brown; Thomas Rhett; Chris Young; Maren Morris and Ryan Hurd


NEW ALBUM AVAILABLE JUNE 25 EMI Records Nashville; © 2021 UMG Recordings, Inc.




Rory Levine Named Vice President, Digital Strategy and Engagement


ory Levine joins the Academy of Country Music® as Vice President, Digital Strategy and Engagement from a career leading and growing some of the most resonant media brands. Most recently, he led all consumer recruitment and registration efforts for The Atlantic’s acclaimed events business, supporting a robust slate of 150-plus premiere live journalism events staged all across the U.S. Prior to that, he notably served as Vice President, Marketing and Audience Engagement at Viacom’s Country Music and lifestyle cable television network, CMT, heading all consumer-facing advertising campaigns, promotional partnerships and social media activation, notably including the successful migration and relaunch of the fan-favorite music drama series “Nashville” for its two final seasons and nearly 40 all-new episodes. He has also run marketing and communications at U.S. cable TV channel BBC America, including launching breakout original series “Orphan Black” and guiding the remarkably successful rejuvenation and American ascendency


of historic sci-fi title “Doctor Who” through its iconic 50th anniversary global celebration, and for historic arts non-profit AIGA, the Professional Association for Design. Over the past year, he has worked as a marketing and brand strategy consultant for a variety of celebrated businesses, including the Grand Ole Opry, Blake Shelton’s Ole Red restaurants, public-private partnership state organization Launch Tennessee and user-generated content showcase tool TINT. He hails from the Hudson Valley of New York state and is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. In his role at the Academy, Levine is responsible for building and executing dynamic, competitive, and ambitious strategies for the organization’s digital portfolio, aiming to build and develop authentic communities across platforms with impactful short-form original content, refinement of voice and attitude, and integration and amplification of key influencers and thought leaders, synced with the organization’s larger programming and marketing efforts. Levine reports to Damon Whiteside, the CEO of the Academy.

HALEY MONGOMERY NAMED MANAGER, AWARDS & MEMBERSHIP Originally from Huntsville, Ala., Haley Montgomery joins the Academy of Country Music as Manager, Awards & Membership. Previously, Montgomery worked at Opry Entertainment Group as Manager for the Artist & Label Relations team, where she served as a liaison between artists’ teams and the various properties across the OEG portfolio (Grand Ole Opry, Circle, Ole Red, Ryman). Montgomery also spent three years working on the strategic partnership team at the Country Music Association (CMA). There, she managed the assets owed to CMA’s 50-plus brand partners across the team for all of their tentpole events. In addition, she negotiated and managed partners of her own. Her previous accounts have included Vera Bradley, PlayStation, Crocs, KIND Bars, Philosophy, Rent the Runway, Monster, Cracker Barrel and more. Montgomery also owned all industry-facing events for the department, which included CMA’s annual Brand Marketing Summit, CMA’s presence at the Licensing Expo in Vegas, and PartnerSips. In her role as manager, Montgomery is responsible for supporting all initiatives and development of the Academy’s membership and maintains engagements throughout the year in a variety of industry and artist relations activities. Montgomery reports to Tommy Moore, Vice President, Artist & Industry Relations and Board & Governance.

Changing the Face of Music



DAVID SASSANO JOINS ACM AS EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT TO THE CEO Originally from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., David Sassano joins the Academy of Country Music as Executive Assistant to the CEO. Previously, Sassano spent 14 years at Warner Music Group as Director of Operations and Administration. His first 10 years were at WEA (WMG’s distribution and artist services division) in New York, and most recently he spent four years at Warner Music Nashville. Sassano has been responsible for many duties ranging from supporting C-level executives, organizing board meetings and managing major office moves both in New York and Nashville. In his current role as Executive Assistant to the CEO at the Academy, he will provide administrative support to the CEO, Board of Directors and executive team. He reports directly to CEO of the Academy Damon Whiteside.

he Academy of Country Music® partnered with the nonprofit Women’s Audio Mission to bring their WAMcon Virtual Conference to Nashville. On April 24, attendees engaged in interactive presentations by Nashville producers, engineers and artists, including Gena Johnson (2020 ACM Audio Engineer of the Year nominee), Shani Gandi, Cam, Melissa Mattey, Rissi Palmer, Andrea Williams, Leslie Richter and Kazuri Arai, with a special appearance by Mickey Guyton. Terri Winston, Executive Director of the Women’s Audio Mission, expressed great appreciation for the support from the Academy, saying “Partnering with the ACM on our WAMCon Virtual Nashville Conference delivered such a powerful message to all of the aspiring women/ gender-expansive music producers,

recording engineers and songwriters in the world, that they not only belong in the Country Music industry but are its future. Thanks to ACM support, we were able to feature and celebrate the amazing role models of Mickey Guyton, Rissi Palmer, Cam and Gena Johnson, the first woman "Audio Engineer of the Year" nominee, which was incredibly exciting. What a great example of an organization really walking the walk and helping to create meaningful change.” The Women’s Audio Mission remains dedicated to changing the face of sound through the advancement of women, girls and gender-diverse individuals. Visit womensaudiomission. org/events/ for information on any upcoming WAM events.

Clockwise from top from top left: Rissi Palmer; Andrea Williams; Shani Gandhi; Terri Winston



Country Music Lifts Lives

Series host Ashley Eicher interviews Country Music festival worker James Shinault


Live music gives fans unique yet memorable experiences, and with the pandemic abruptly halting most forms of live in-person performances, concerts, festivals and tours, new memory making is on pause. In an emotional and compelling three-episode video series, host Ashley Eicher gets intimate and uncovers the core of what keeps the Country Music industry afloat, and its fan energized — live music. The series features Chrissy Metz and interviews with Country Music artists Jimmie Allen, Kip Moore and Tenille Townes, as well as with ACM Lifting Lives® COVID-19 Response Fund recipients Patrick Boyle, stage manager and guitar tech, and James Shinault, festival operator. Throughout the series, they share their lives and successes before the pandemic hit and, more importantly, how not only they themselves have been affected by COVID-19, but also how the industry as a whole has been affected. Each episode emphasizes the importance of how live music, more specifically touring, is the artists’ and crews’ main source of income and how many fans are unaware of this. The lack of touring due to the pandemic

left artists and all those behind the scenes with no source of income and no similar job to turn to. Patrick’s story is unique to him. James’ story is unique to him. However, they are only two of the many music industry workers whose lives have been altered by the pandemic. Their careers and skill sets are singular, and each day of their work is critical to artists being able to get onstage and fans getting to have once-in-a-lifetime experiences. The artist and behind-the-scenes crew work hand-in-hand — one can’t succeed without the other. In the episodes, they emphasize their gratitude for the ACM Lifting Lives COVID-19 Response Fund, as it provided them some financial safety to help support their families, pay their mortgage and simply put dinner on the table. With $3.5 million raised and distributed to date, there are still many music industry workers remaining on the waitlist to receive funding from ACM Lifting Lives. There is still a clear and present need for more funding and your donation matters. If able, please consider giving to the ACM Lifting Lives COVID-19 Response Fund.

Visit to watch this three-episode series and visit for more information on how to donate or how to apply for financial assistance.






The 56th ACM Awards Pulled Off a Show-Stopping Night The reviews are in and for the second consecutive year, the Academy of Country Music Awards™ dominated the night among viewership. The show was praised for its amazing hosts, diverse performances and unexpected collaborations. “We could not be more proud of this year’s ACM Awards show and its overall performance in this highly competitive TV landscape. The huge digital successes illustrate the fan engagement around Country Music and the ACM brand. Thank you to our incredible artists for sharing the heart and soul of Country Music with the world!” says Damon Whiteside, CEO of the Academy of Country Music.




MASTER OF ONE ACM Awards Director





fter 40 years, Brazil native and Latintelevision director, Marcelo Gama feels his personal and professional worlds have collided. For the first time, he officially went “Country,” joining the ACM team to direct the 56th ACM Awards. Gama reminisces on his journey to the ACM Awards stage and his long, emotional connection to Country Music. “It [music] was a natural passion. I was 8 or 9. I played guitar and I’ve always played instruments my whole life. I always loved music and dance, but I could never be a good dancer or a good musician, so it was one of those masters of none, you know? I would play every instrument you could think of, but I was not good at any of them. But I’ve always liked to be around musicians, and then I discovered dance and I was in love with dance, but I could never be a good dancer either.”

Gama especially recalls the huge presence of Brazilian Country Music in his native country and his childhood. And even though he says he was not any good, he remembers his parents still frequently asking him to play for them. “My father would ask me, ‘Son, play that song that I love.’ So I would play, and he would cry ... My father would always ask for a song called, ‘White Wings.’ My father always had his request, and my mom always requested her own favorite song. Something about hair and it was just very old, very traditional Country Music.” Later, Gama attended engineering school, but never strayed too far from music. “I was going to engineering school but would go at night to play gigs with friends in bars. I would donate my share to the other musicians because to me, it was just a hobby.” At age 21, Gama left Brazil and moved to the United States to study video production at The Art Institute in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. There, he began directing smaller projects, and a month later was interning for CBS. It was 1995 when he returned to his entertainment roots to direct singing and dancing competition shows. “I was able to direct a show for Univision. It was shot in Puerto Rico, but it was for the West. Beautiful. It was like ‘American Idol’ type of thing. It was a format from Spain. From there, I started doing dancing competitions, same format as ‘Dancing with the Stars,’ and that was a different world. Instead of cutting to the beat, you’re cutting to the dance, and I really had to learn to dance.” Gama’s career continued to pivot, this time moving more toward the Latin market, serving as director of the Latin Grammys which he’s done consecutively for the past three years. His love of Country Music always remained, and when the offer to direct the ACM Awards came his way, he felt and saw his world come full circle.

Top, left to right: CUEPILOT managing all musical performances (Technology Gama imported from Denmark, first time used in the U.S. Anglo market); Gama at Ryman talking to a lighting director; On Broadway overseeing the setup for Little Big Town ABOVE: Ricky Martin, Marcelo Gama, Laura Pausini (La Banda), Alejandro Sanz

“You hear the Brazilian Country Music and then you hear the American Country Music, this honkytonk thing … when I was working with Alan Jackson at the Ryman, I was like, ‘My god, this is like so much the same thing I experienced growing up, but in a different language.’ It was so emotionally driven, so amazing … That’s why I fell so much in love with The Bluebird Cafe and The Station Inn because I remember my childhood. Country Music in my country was big and still is. It’s just like here.” In terms of the differences in directing the two genres of music, Latin and Country, Gama says none exist. Music is music, he says. It’s the emotions, the relationships and the history that he draws on when directing. “Honestly, when the music is good, the musicianship is good, there’s not much of a difference. I think the main difference to me with the ACM Awards was all the venues. Being able to be at Ryman, and The Bluebird Cafe, Station Inn, it was so much more meaningful to me than when we do a show in an arena, where of course you make it all beautiful, but being there where so many composers wrote their songs and a lot of people just went there to see them, I think that was the most important thing that I took from the ACM Awards. It was the venues.”


“I found them very humble — the musicians, the artists. Humble and all about the music, all about the traditions.”

Gama playing drums in Florida

Gama playing guitar in Brazil

He specifically loved The Bluebird Cafe. “From the first walk through I did at The Bluebird Cafe and I mean the space is so beautiful, I have to show the bar. I had not seen the bar in big previews of the ACM Awards. I said, ‘I have to find a way to show the bar.’ So I was able to show the bar when we sat down with Chris Stapleton and Miranda [Lambert??]. The background was actually the bar at The Bluebird Cafe … We were able to actually do a 360 on that little place. It’s so meaningful.” Emotion and beauty came as much from the artists as from the historic spaces, and his job, he says, was to convey those intense feelings to viewers. “I found them very humble — the musicians, the artists. Humble and all about the music, all about the traditions. That was the take I had, especially like working with Chris Stapleton. He’s very roots. He’s very unique, and then you have guys like Brad Paisley and the way he showed up to surprise Jimmie Allen at Bluebird. It was just so beautiful. I can go on and on for everybody. When I saw this lady, Kelsea Ballerini, crying when she sat down next to Kenny Chesney, I was like so emotional and I’m like, ‘How can I capture all these emotions?’ There’s so much emotion going on.” Gama felt compelled to represent the artist and their songs as authentically as possible, staying true to the feeling of the songs. “There’s barely any camera cuts because he’s [Chris Stapleton] so deeply concentrated in the song that the camera would keep on zooming and pushing into him as he’s saying goodbye to his dog and then I know for a fact there were people in the house that are crying when we’re doing the song. And I heard from one of the main EPs saying, ‘I was bawling as I was watching’ And I’m


like OK, so we’re connecting. At the same time, you see, for instance, Keith Urban’s “Tumbleweed,” and it was so modern, it was so fresh, it was so fun and so it was two different worlds. Completely dynamic and cameras flying. I was able to put a flying camera inside the Grand Ole Opry House. It was always a ‘no, we can never do a flying camera, never flying camera’ … I was able to convince the guys, let’s try it, this camera’s gonna make a difference and it made a big difference. You could see on ‘Tumbleweed.’ That song was just beautiful, super high energy. The camera on the guitar neck gave us a different spin to it, it was crazy and fun, modern and, of course, Keith is an amazing performer. So you have both worlds, one’s super meaningful, barely any camera cut, slow dissolves, then you have the high energy, ‘Tumbleweed’ of a song. And then everything in between was amazing, a lot of good moments there.” Gama even feels so passionately that if given the chance, he would love to make the next ACM Awards even more compelling, exciting and stronger. “I love how to tell the story in award shows and I think that making the award show more interesting, fresh, a little more dynamic without losing its essence, is the key to make this successful. I would make even a little fresher, a little more up to date without losing the essence because I read so much feedback from people who say the performance that we did at … they were so emotionally connected to it. So, we cannot lose that identity. We cannot lose the type of people that would look for things like that and at the same time, we have to engage this new generation that consumes content differently. So how do you put these two worlds together is the challenge, right? How do you get the people that are so traditionally connected to the traditions and also engage the new generation that consume things differently, but they still like thy music? And I think it’s just being a little more dynamic and modern at the same time without losing the essence we’re really broadcasting.” Gama may refer to himself as a master of none, but most would argue he’s mastered at least one thing — the art of directing. ●


The 56th Academy of Country Music Awards returns to Nashville to spotlight Music City


Country Music from 2020 BY CRAIG SHELBURNE




he city of Nashville glimmered alongside some of Country Music’s brightest stars at the 56th ACM Awards, staged throughout Music City and broadcast live on Sunday, April 18, on CBS. Luke Bryan claimed the trophy for ACM® Entertainer of the Year for the third time, while Dan + Shay, Maren Morris and Old Dominion returned to the podium in some of the night’s top categories. Lee Brice, Carly Pearce, Thomas Rhett and Chris Stapleton also earned major awards during the ceremony, which was hosted by Keith Urban and Mickey Guyton.


Every nominee for Male Artist of the Year and Female Artist of the Year landed a performance slot on the show, giving viewers at home a front-row seat to an all-star night of music. Meanwhile, vaccinated frontline healthcare workers from Vanderbilt University Medical Center viewed the show from the balcony, socially distanced and masked. The organization is a key partner for the Academy’s charitable arm, ACM Lifting Lives®. During the broadcast, ACM Lifting Lives in partnership with the Ad Council and COVID Collaborative premiered a vaccine education PSA featuring Eric Church, Ashley McBryde and Darius Rucker at Nashville’s iconic Ryman Auditorium and Grand Ole Opry House as part of the larger national campaign, “It’s Up to You,” emphasizing the important role education about COVID-19 vaccinations plays in a return to live music. Also, later in the show, a segment aired with online series host Ashley Eicher featuring interviews with both Country artists and recipients of the ACM Lifting Lives COVID-19 Response Fund. The spot featured Chrissy Metz, Kip Moore, Jimmie Allen and Tenille Townes and recipients Patrick Boyle and James Shinault as they discussed navigating the impact of COVID-19 on their careers and how the ACM Lifting Lives COVID-19 Response Fund has and continues to support music industry professionals who have been financially impacted by the pandemic.

Clockwise from top left: Keith Urban; Maren Morris and Ryan Hurd; Mickey Guyton; Miranda Lambert and Elle King


Accepting his award virtually from Los Angeles, Bryan said, “I’m amazingly surprised. What an honor. To the ACMs, I’m so sorry I could not be there. I missed certainly being able to do my song. And all the winners tonight, congratulations. Oh, my God. Y’all got me!” After thanking his label, his industry team, wife and boys, he congratulated Urban and Guyton on their exceptional hosting. He concluded, “To all my fans out there, and Country radio, we miss touring. We miss being on the road with everybody that makes me an entertainer. My bus drivers, my band, my crew. What a challenging year, but to all the fans and everybody, we’ll be back out on the road, doing what we love, and what an amazing honor! I love you guys.” Maren Morris collected two awards during the program: Female Artist of the Year and Song of the Year for “The Bones.” Upon accepting the award, Morris remarked, “This is really bittersweet because I didn’t write this by myself. Each time I’ve been so lucky to accept an award for this song, my co-writers Laura Veltz and Jimmy Robbins, have not gotten to say anything [due to COVID safety precautions]. I so wish they could be here, but thank you to the ACMs for keeping us safe.” She added, “This is so meaningful to me. Song of the Year is something that I’ve just dreamt of for so long and I feel like with this song, with ‘The Bones,’ when I wrote it — I was dating my now-husband and it was just a song to him. I feel sometimes like songs know you better than you know them at the time, and I feel like this song has revealed so many new things to me that I didn’t know were possible the day I wrote it. This has just been a hell of a year and hopefully Country Music and maybe even this song brought you and your family and friends some peace, so thank you so much.”


Clockwise from top left: Jon Randall, Miranda Lambert and Jack Ingram; Thomas Rhett; Ashley McBryde; Keith Urban and Mickey Guyton; Lee Brice and Carly Pearce; Carrie Underwood


Morris also performed the sultry new duet “Chasing After You” with husband Ryan Hurd. When accepting the Female Artist Award, she said, “I feel really, really just happy to be in a category with women that were not able to tour this year but brought so much heat to the game, to Country Music this year. You have inspired me so much, to no end. And even in a year where no one has gotten to play shows, I have heard some of the best music out of all of you this past year. So, thank you so much for inspiring me.” Thomas Rhett delivered a medley of “Country Again” and “What’s Your Country Song,” then picked up the Male Artist trophy for his third time. “This is absolutely unbelievable — especially sitting here next to Dierks and all of his shenanigans over here,” he said. “I just want to say thank you so much to the ACMs, this is absolutely incredible. To my wife and my three baby girls sitting at home watching this on the TV, I love y’all so much. To all the healthcare workers sitting up here, thank you, thank you! C’mon! It just feels incredible to be in this category, to be honest with you. These are literally my heroes, sitting right here in these seats. So thank you, Lord Jesus, we love you.” Carly Pearce and Lee Brice received multiple awards, claiming Single of the Year and Music Event of the Year for “I Hope You’re Happy Now” and later in the show performed the two-time ACM Award® winning song from the Opry House. Upon accepting the Single award, Pearce said, “I’m going to try really hard not to cry. I love Country Music more than anything in the whole world. I want to thank my co-writers: Luke Combs, Jonathan Singleton and Randy Montana. We wrote this song about my story and I


guess it resonated with everybody. Thank you so much, Lee, for everything with this song.” Pearce also thanked her record label, management and late producer busbee, before Brice stepped to the microphone. “I just want to say thank you,” Brice said. “God puts people in your lives, from my management to my wife, who puts up with everything, every day, and helps me and supports me. … He puts people in my life, like you, and lets this kind of stuff happen. So, thanks, y’all, thank you, Carly.” In the acceptance speech for Group of the Year, which they won for the fourth consecutive year, Old Dominion’s Matthew Ramsey noted, “If we look surprised, it’s because everyone in this category, especially this year — it could be anyone’s. We’re just very fortunate to be standing here this year. It’s a crazy

Clockwise from top left: Eric Church; Brothers Osborne; Renaissance Hotel in Nashville; Old Dominion; Keith Urban and Mickey Guyton; Carrie Underwood and CeCe Winans; Kenny Chesney and Kelsea Ballerini

Xxxxxxx Xxxxxxxx



year, and a lot of silver linings that we have all searched for.” Acknowledging the healthcare workers, he continued, “You guys are certainly one of them, the frontline up there. So thank you for all that you have done.” Chris Stapleton accepted his third ACM® Award in the Album of the Year category for Starting Over. His prior projects receiving the honor include Traveller and From A Room: Volume 1. With this win, he collected trophies as an artist and producer. In his acceptance speech, he stated, “I want to thank everybody for giving us this award tonight. We work really hard to make music, and we think a lot about it.” Then, after thanking his wife, producer and others involved with the project, he concluded, “It means a lot to us, it really does. Thank you. Thank you very much.” Dan + Shay received their third consecutive Duo of the Year award at The Bluebird Cafe, where they performed “Glad You Exist.” Dan Smyers noted, “This is absolutely incredible to be standing on stage here at the Bluebird. I remember visiting this place over 10 years ago before I moved to Nashville with dreams of being a songwriter in this town. I’m still just as excited every single day getting to wake up and write Country Music. Thank you to the ACM, everybody who voted for us, all the nominees in our category, we love y’all. Everybody’s deserving of this award. Our team, thank you so much, and my wife, Abby, I love you.” Shay Mooney gave shout-outs to his duo partner and others, adding, ‘This is so special. I want to thank God for this guy. Thank you for doing this with me, man. My wife, Hannah, my two little boys, Ames and Asher, and Country radio, Country fans, thank you for being here with us. We love you guys.”


Clockwise from top left: Dan + Shay; Chris Stapleton; Kenny Chesney; Kimberly Schalpman, Jimi Westbrook and Karen Fairchild of Little Big Town; Brittany Haas, Dierks Bentley, Ben Helson, The War and Treaty; Luke Combs


Prior to the show, Jimmie Allen received the New Male Artist award, Gabby Barrett was revealed as the New Female Artist winner and Kane Brown earned Video of the Year for the eye-popping project, “Worldwide Beautiful.” Allen was surprised by Brad Paisley at The Bluebird Cafe during a performance of “Freedom Was a Highway.” Barrett also appeared at the Bluebird to sing “The Good Ones.” In addition, Brown teamed up with Chris Young on their feel-good single, “Famous Friends.” Other incredible performances filled the night, from nominees such as Kelsea Ballerini, Dierks Bentley, Eric Church, Luke Combs, Mickey Guyton, Lady A, Miranda Lambert, Ashley McBryde, Blake Shelton, Carrie Underwood and Keith Urban. Kenny Chesney and Alan Jackson made powerful impressions, too, as did special collaboration guests Jack Ingram, Elle King, Jon Randall, The War and Treaty and CeCe Winans. Lambert, who has won more ACM Awards® than any other artist in history, joined many of her friends on stage, kicking off the show with Elle King to sing “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home).” She later gathered songwriting pals Jack Ingram and Jon Randall to sing “In His Arms,” from their collaborative project, The Marfa Tapes. When Chris Stapleton surfaced at The Bluebird Cafe, Lambert was on hand as well, harmonizing on “Maggie’s Song.” Kelsea Ballerini reflected on her formative years in “half of my hometown,” alongside fellow East Tennessee native Kenny Chesney. Earlier, Chesney delivered a solid performance of “Knowing You,” concluding with a touching in memoriam segment. Dierks Bentley also offered a stunning collaboration at Station Inn, alongside The War and Treaty to deliver a dynamic rendition of U2’s “Pride (In the Name of Love).” Carrie Underwood dazzled viewers with a medley of songs from her new project, My Savior, sharing that


memorable moment with gospel legend CeCe Winans. Breaking briefly from their hosting duties, Mickey Guyton sang the inspiring “Hold On” and Keith Urban delivered the irresistible “Tumbleweed” from the Grand Ole Opry House. Shelton expertly merged “Austin” and “Minimum Wage” during his time on the Opry stage, while Jackson also offered a medley, choosing “Drive (For Daddy Gene)” and “You’ll Always Be My Baby.” Brothers Osborne electrified Ryman Auditorium with “I’m Not for Everyone” and “Dead Man’s Curve.”

Clockwise from top left: Chris Young and Kane Brown; Lady A; Alan Jackson; Jimmie Allen and Brad Paisley; Blake Shelton; Gabby Barrett and Cade Foehner


From the esteemed Ryman Auditorium stage, Eric Church blazed through “Bunch of Nothing,” while Luke Combs shared a poignant performance of “Forever After All” on the Opry stage. Lady A owned the night with “Like a Lady” filmed at the Bridge Building, with the breathtaking skyline shining behind them. Ashley McBryde took that stage as well to play the riveting “Martha Divine.” Then, after nightfall, Little Big Town (along with drums and horns) marched down Lower Broadway with a rousing rendition of “Wine, Beer, Whiskey.” The night’s presenters included Ingrid Andress, Blanco Brown, Amy Grant, Leslie Jordan, Martina McBride, Dolly Parton, Darius Rucker and Clay Walker. The 56th ACM Awards were produced for television by dick clark productions. The event also streamed live and on demand on Paramount+. R.A. Clark, Barry Adelman and Linda Gierahn served as executive producers. Damon Whiteside was executive producer for the Academy of Country Music. X

Clockwise from top left: Dolly Parton; Blanco Brown; Amy Grant; Martina McBride; Clay Walker; Darius Rucker; Leslie Jones; Ingrid Andress



1000 stories is proud to be the official wine partner of the academy of country music ©2021 FETZER VINEYARDS, HOPLAND, MENDOCINO CO., CA


Luke Bryan



TEMPO: Congrats on the new Entertainer of the

Year award, your third. The first two you won were earlier in your career. Were you bummed not to get to go this year to get this one? LUKE: Everything about the year in this pandemic, there’s so many elements for everybody that are bittersweet. I mean, listen, I’ve been really blessed to win two ACM Entertainer of the Year trophies. And the fact that you get to go on for a year stating that you’re the ACM Entertainer of the Year is pretty dadgum amazing and, and special. So, the fact that I couldn’t be on stage to properly accept after getting COVID and I couldn’t get to do my performance, but it was still really, really amazing to win and I was super surprised and really just humbled by it all. You get — you know I mean I guess back then [when I won my first two] I was on such a roll back then. I would have thought back then that I [if I was going to win another one] that I [would have] won my third one a little closer to the other two. But the stars didn’t have it that way and you kind of start wondering well, are these things not going to happen again? And then to have one a few years later you just still — you still savor it and you still, like I say, you’re really really humbled by it.


Luke temporarily swaps his sprawling Tennessee farm for a Las Vegas residency


Clockwise from top left: First Entertainer win in 2013; Top New Artist win in 2010; Second Entertainer win in 2015; Honored with the 2014 Gene Weed Special Achievement Award

TEMPO: How are you feeling speaking of the

COVID thing? LUKE: It was a rough couple of days. It wasn’t the sickest I’ve ever been, but it was certainly not anything I want to have anything to do with again. But I really kind of bounced back pretty quickly and don’t seem to have any lingering stuff going on [like some people have]. TEMPO: Did Caroline and the boys get it too? LUKE: Caroline got it around New Years and she didn’t

have a real, real bout with it. And then the boys, my boys they never got it, or they never tested positive, and we tested them quite a bit. So, hopefully, like I said, hopefully they can dodge it and we don’t have to think about that kind of stuff. But yeah, it’s just crazy, crazy bad stuff. TEMPO: How do you think you are a different entertainer

now than maybe you were when you won your first two so early in your career? LUKE: I mean, I think you learn, and you grow every year. Even back then I was just — I was just a live wire. I was like a powerline you see down on storms sparking at the street. Every night I was on stage. Heck, I was my first one [ACM Entertainer of the Year] when I was opening for Jason Aldean. So, when you’re doing 40 minutes a night or 45, I just, God, I could keep the energy level so high. So, I think as you mature later in your artist career and you’re doing two-hour shows, um …stuff gets — you know, it gets — you know, you learn how to space it out more and you learn how to — you learn how to kind of control the whole length of the show a little bit more. So, you’ve got quite a bit to learn through that, but it was certainly amazing.


TEMPO: You’ve planned some tour dates for

this year already? LUKE: Yeah. We decided to finally announce some starting in, I think, in July and that’s been a challenge. We had initially slotted for earlier in the year and then quite a bit of logistics, moving puzzle pieces around to make it all happen. But, um … you know, we got it figured out and got Dylan Scott and then Runaway June on some dates and Caylee Hammack on some dates. Just ready to get back out on stage and get back to some normalcy and back to doing what we love as entertainers, which is getting out there and performing and entertaining. I’ll be looking for the extra two hours a night I can run around stage and maybe get a few of these COVID pounds off.












TEMPO: I didn’t realize he was already in college.

Time flies! LUKE: He’s gone to college. TEMPO: Where is he going? LUKE: He’s going to North Georgia, which is kind of like

a satellite school for UGA. So he’ll be done with North Georgia and transferring to UGA. TEMPO: What else is up for you this year besides

touring? Vegas residency? LUKE: We just put out the deluxe edition of Born Here, Live Here, Die Here, we’re riding the wave of that. That’s the main thing. We announced the Vegas stuff, so we’re excited about the Vegas residency next year. That will be pretty cool, just kind of having that going on. We’re just kind of all up in the middle of lots of things.

Two Lane Beer

TEMPO: How important do you think live music is to

keeping us all sane mentally and emotionally during all this weird lockdown stuff? At first you don’t think being in lockdown affects you but then the more it’s dragged on you realize what a big effect it does have on your mind and spirit. How important do you think music has been to getting people back on track? LUKE: Well, I think entertainment and smiling and enjoying yourself and enjoying yourself with friends and family is such a wonderful escape from life and reality and you get to — and I think especially as an adult you get to go — you know, when you’re an adult, it’s your ability to be childish and be a kid and have fun. That’s been one of the most, you know, some of the biggest compliments I’ve had during the pandemic is just people coming up to me stating that we miss … we miss seeing you perform live and we miss the concert experience. So, yeah, that’s been the main thing. I think it’s such an important part of the American way of life is the ability that we can get out there and people can just go experience live music together. It’s just an important aspect of what makes — what makes it special, what makes this country special.

TEMPO: Why did you want to do the residency? What

was it about that that appealed to you? LUKE: You know honestly, Lisa, I just felt like it was — it’s a brand new, shiny casino. It’s something that people have asked me to do for many, many years and the guy that runs Resorts World is someone that I know, and I’ve got a lot of confidence in. So, I just said it would be fun to try it, to be able to go do my regular tour dates and then pop in out there and just kind of turnkey, and there’s all my gear and stuff ready to go. With a lot of the uncertainties of touring in COVID, I felt like the odds were good that Vegas was going to open up and would have it figured out too. So it kind of just seemed like the smartest thing for all of us. ●

TEMPO: How have the boys handled being on

lockdown? LUKE: The problem is when Caroline got it — she had it too — we had to quarantine them for 14 days. But you know, they’ve had some fun days with it, too. This summer was pretty fun because obviously I wasn’t touring, and we got to take some bus trips and stuff like that. TEMPO: I bet they loved that since you’re usually

gone so much. LUKE: Yeah, we had a good — just being there this summer. At the end of the day, they understand — I think they want to go to school. They’ve learned that sitting in front of a computer screen is much more boring than actually being at school … Well Til, my nephew, he’s about to be done with his first year of college and it was pretty much all virtual. American Idol





Thomas Rhett



Old Dominion


Gabby Barrett


Jimmie Allen




Awarded to Artist(s)/Producer(s)/ Record Company–Label(s)

Starting Over

Chris Stapleton PRODUCERS: Chris Stapleton / Dave Cobb RECORD LABEL:

WINNER HIGHLIGHTS of the 56 TH Academy of Country Music Awards™

Mercury Nashville


Awarded to Artist(s)/Producer(s)/ Record Company–Label(s)

“I Hope You're Happy Now”

Carly Pearce & Lee Brice PRODUCER: busbee RECORD LABELS: Big Machine Records / Curb Records


Awarded to Songwriter(s)/ Publisher(s)/Artist(s)

“The Bones”

Maren Morris SONGWRITERS: Jimmy Robbins / Maren Morris / Laura Veltz

PUBLISHERS: Big Machine Music, LLC / Extraordinary Alien Publishing / International Dog Music / Oh Denise Publishing / Round Hill Songs / WarnerTamerlane Publishing Corp.


Awarded to Producer(s)/ Director(s)/Artist(s)

“Worldwide Beautiful”

Kane Brown DIRECTOR: Alex Alvga PRODUCER: Christen Pinkston


Awarded to Artist(s)/ Producer(s)/Record Company–Label(s)

“I Hope You’re Happy Now” Carly Pearce & Lee Brice PRODUCER: busbee

RECORD LABELS: Big Machine Records / Curb Records

MAREN MORRIS won Female Artist of the Year and Song of the Year for “The Bones.” Morris now has six ACM Award® career wins, making this her second Female Artist of the Year win and a first category win for Song of the Year, awarding her both artist and songwriter credits. Jimmy Robbins and Laura Veltz each received songwriter credits. THOMAS RHETT won Male Artist of the Year, marking his third win, eighth win overall. CHRIS STAPLETON won Album of the Year, with an additional win for producer for “Starting Over.” Stapleton has had 12 ACM wins overall.

GABBY BARRETT won New Female Artist of the Year. This marks Barrett’s first ACM Award win. CARLY PEARCE and LEE BRICE were awarded Single of the Year for “I Hope You’re Happy Now” during the broadcast, already winning Music Event of the Year for their collaboration earlier during award show week. This marks Pearce’s first time wins in two categories, and Brice’s third win for Single of the Year and his seventh overall ACM Award win. KANE BROWN won his first ACM Award in Video of the Year category for “Worldwide Beautiful.” Brown is the first Black solo artist to win Video of the Year. The late producer busbee was awarded posthumously with Single of the Year and Music Event of the Year.

OLD DOMINION won Group of the Year, making this their fourth consecutive win. DAN + SHAY won Duo of the Year, making this their third consecutive win, fifth win overall. Previously announced, JIMMIE ALLEN won New Male Artist of the Year, marking his first ACM Award win and the first Black artist to win in the category.



American Country Countdown with Kix Brooks Kix Brooks


(Major Market) KNIX-FM – Phoenix, Ariz.


(Large Market) WQDR-FM – Raleigh, N.C.

KNIX-FM for ACM Major Market Station of the Year and the fourth overall win for KUZZ-AM/FM for ACM Medium Market Station of the Year. Additionally, WQDR-FM received their third win for ACM Large Market Station of the Year.

(Major Market) Double-L Lois Lewis


KNIX-FM (Phoenix, Ariz.)

(Medium Market) KUZZ-AM/FM – Bakersfield, Calif.

received their second wins for



and Medium Market Personality of

(Large Market) Lexi & Banks Lexi Papadopoulos and Jared Banks

KUBL-FM (Salt Lake City, Utah)

ON-AIR PERSONALITY OF THE YEAR (Medium Market) Buzz Jackson

KIIM-FM (Tucson, Ariz.)


(Small Market) Steve, Ben and Nikki Steve Stroud, Ben Walker and Nikki Thomas

WXBQ-FM (Bristol, Va.)

Clockwise from above: Buzz Jackson; Lexi & Banks; Kix Brooks; Steve, Ben and Nikki; Lois Lewis



This is the seventh overall win for

(Small Market) KKNU-FM – Eugene, Ore.

KKNU-FM and Buzz Jackson each

Small Market Station of the Year

the Year, respectively. Additional first-time winners for On-Air Personality of the Year categories include Lexi & Banks, Lois Lewis and Steve, Ben & Nikki.

The Song Lasts A Few Minutes. The Healing Lasts Forever. Ford and Luke Combs are proud to support Guitars 4 Vets, an organization that supports our veterans living with the challenges of PTSD by providing them with free guitars and lessons. Please consider helping this heroic cause today.



Radio Tour T

he Academy of Country Music® produced a successful virtual Satellite Radio Tour for artists and radio stations, keeping safety as a top priority. Artists interacted virtually with many radio stations, discussing the thrill of returning for the 56th ACM Awards and their anticipation to connect with other artists and fans during the live award show at iconic venues such as the Grand Ole Opry House, Ryman Auditorium and The Bluebird Cafe. Artists also revealed their excitement for new upcoming projects and the potential return of live music. More than 20 radio stations participated in the Satellite Radio Tour, contributing to stellar lead-up coverage of the 56th ACM Awards. —HANNAH KELLIS

Clockwise from top right: Carly Pearce; The Cadillac Three; The War & Treaty; Ingrid Andress; Travis Denning





The 56th ACM Awards press room looked a little different this year, but the artists joy, excitement and thankfulness proved a virtual press room can be just as powerful

“We’ve only gotten to sing this song a handful of times together and so to be able to do it on that stage in this place, was extra special. Especially right after winning that award, there was a lot of adrenaline and joy going through our bodies and so it was a really cool moment that’ll be burned in my brain and my heart forever.” —LEE BRICE

“Tonight hit a little bit different. You know, I think with the year we had last year, there were just so many unknowns and a lot of sitting in your basement writing songs with other people and you never know where you stand as a Country Music artist and tonight just hit different man. This is one of the most special Male Artist of the Year awards I’ve ever received and in such good company sitting there with Luke and Eric tonight and Dierks. It was a very special moment.”

“Just to be here, this is a whole new world and I dressed down so I didn’t draw too much attention. I think it’s going to go really well in presenting Duo of the Year and so that should be fun. I’ve got a lot of friends within that category so I’m rooting for them.” —LESLIE JORDAN

“The fact that all the nominees for Single of the Year were female artists, I just think we’re getting there and there’s so many female artists that are here tonight that I ’ve seen perform and kudos to the ACMs for honoring them and also for the women for making such great music.” —MARTINA McBRIDE


“Four times is good. Obviously, this year has been so weird, it just like was kind of up in the air for us, I think. Just cause, we were talking earlier, you feel so disconnected from the normal ways that you measure your success by being on the road or … so it’s just kind of hard to gauge where we even are. We haven’t seen each other that much so we were nervous to be honest, so it feels good.” —MATTHEW RAMSEY OF OLD DOMINION


“I think that I probably couldn’t have pulled that off with anybody else. Obviously, he’s my husband, but I just think with something so intimate, and what that song means to us, and this being Ryan’s first time performing on an award show, I was so excited that I got to kind of be up there with him to witness that as well so it was just super special and to do it at the Ryman, which is where we first performed together years ago, it felt very full circle for us.” —MAREN MORRIS

“Honestly, it’s a bit surreal you know, you haven’t seen anybody in forever and I have been on the verge of crying the whole night like a normal person. But there’s something magical about celebrating everybody in the same room, which I definitely took for granted for a really long time so it feels nice to be back and just celebrating Country Music.” —INGRID ANDRESS

“Well, I’ll tell ya, I mean … you never take these things for granted I mean you just don’t! Obviously, I’ve won two ACM Entertainer of the Years and you know, there’s been some years I thought I might’ve, should’ve won another one and didn’t, so I think you kinda tell yourself, ‘well, maybe you’re done winning em’ and then to win another one is very special. It has been fortunate, I had an opportunity to potentially perform on the show and then I couldn’t because of the COVID diagnosis and so I’m a little removed from being able to be in the room and I wish so bad I could’ve been in the room, but still, the emotions are there, I mean my phone is like literally on fire with people calling and congratulating so what a special night.” —LUKE BRYAN

“There’s nothing I’m looking forward to more than seeing the faces of people out in the crowd and hearing them sing back to me and hopefully hearing some of these new songs sung back to us because that’s when music really gets live to me … I can write a song and I can record a song and I can sing it in a room by myself, but it doesn’t mean a whole lot until it goes out to somebody out in an audience or somebody sitting at home listening or somebody listening in their car. That’s when it gets meaning and so for me, that’s the thing I’m most looking forward to, is get back out into the world and see people and play music with them and enjoy that experience that we have together in a room, playing live music.” —CHRIS STAPLETON



PRESS ROOM “It’s such an honor, it’s incredible. Just honestly, it sounds cliché to say it, but to be nominated is a huge honor to just be in the Country Music family … I was just talking about how Shay and I met, almost a decade ago, which is so crazy, and to think, we used to like sneak into these award shows or try to get pit passes as fans just because at the core of all of this, we’re just fans of Country Music. So, to be invited to the party, to hear our name called on the list of nominees is an honor. Every

single artist who is nominated at the awards, they work hard for what they do and everybody deserves to win it, especially in our category. They are all friends of ours and we root for each other and we’re grateful. It’s a win and the end of the day and we’re grateful for our team, for our fans, for the ACM, for having our backs and for supporting us all these years. I mean we’re on cloud nine, seriously, it feels like the first time every time.” —DAN SMYERS OF DAN + SHAY

“It felt magical [to be back on stage]. I can’t wait to get back on stage and perform for the first time. Just to be on stage with the lights and having something to do, purpose over everything is what I stress myself all the time and to others.” — BLANCO BROWN

“We are so thankful to have had the opportunity to get to do what we get to do. We’re just very thankful and this time has reminded us of that of how important it is that we tell each other that we love ‘em. The people that we care about, you gotta tell them how much you love them because life is short and that’s what this song, ‘Glad You Exist’ is all about.” —SHAY MOONEY OF DAN + SHAY


“It means the world to me that the doors are opening for everybody and that Country Music’s embracing everybody, females, men, black men, anybody. So, it means the world to me.” — K ANE BROWN

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From sneak-peek photos to stories of thankfulness and perseverance, artists kept fans informed and entertained about their journey to and participation in the 56th ACM Awards.


@keithurban mickeyguyton !!! Thanks for sharing hosting duties with me this year! I loooooved getting to host alongside you. It was an absolute blast !! @acmawards MICKEY GUYTON

@mickeyguyton Dream team! Wouldn’t have wanted to do this with anyone else. Thank you Keith Urban for the opportunity. This is a moment I will never forget. #ACMawards


@mirandalambert A recap of last night @acmawards. I woke up this morning (with a headache but totally worth it) feeling so thankful that I get to sing country music with some of my favorite artists and favorite people. Thank you @elleking @chrisstapleton @jonrandallmusic @jackingram for inspiring me and for sharing your stage with me PS: gittin’ to wear jeans, boots and my cowgirl hat all night was epic! Most favorite red carpet ever.


@nataliehemby ACM Selfies @thehighwomen @amandapearlshires @marenmorris @ryanhurd @jasonisbell



@ingridandress thank u @thelesliejordan for the fabulous stage prep


@ladya Quick outfit change #ACMawards R YA N H U R D

@ryanhurd prom was awesome. @catherinepowell @acmawards @marenmorris @dolcegabbana @omega @kristaroser @davidyurman R YA N H U R D

@ryanhurd That was an awesome night. Thanks to everyone for the kind words, so proud to sing on the @ACMawards with Maren. Hurd, out.


@jimmieallen Thank You! I think back to all the birthdays, weddings, holidays and time with family I missed while chasing this dream. This is a win for my entire team. The struggle is a part of the journey and I appreciate every single moment. Thank you @acmawards Country Radio, Country Music Family and Country Music Fans.





Thank you to the legendary @cecewinans and the amazing choir and musicians for joining me on the #MySavior performance last night! Watch at the link in bio. #ACMawards : Brent Harrington/CBS

Thank you so much to the @acmawards, and Country Music Community. #NewFemaleArtistOfTheYear Feeling AMAZING!!!!



@carlypearce The biggest thing I’ve learned this year is the true power of unwavering, blind faith. Thank you God for redeeming my story & continuing to show me that you work all things together for GOOD. I’m so unbelievably touched, y’all. Thank you for this. God bless country music. #acmawards


@olddominionmusic So grateful. #acmawards #groupoftheyear #weareolddominion


@jackingram Had a great time at the @acmawards, with great people, playing great music... last night was... GREAT!! Thanks for having us #ACMAwards #TheMarfaTapes


@brothersosborne Beyond pumped to get to play some music on a damn stage again @acmawards



D A N + S H AY

@danandshay y’all did this for us and it truly means the world. thank you.


Humbled to be able to honor the @stationinnnashville in our @acmawards performance tonight. I remember walking through those doors when I moved to town and feeling like I had found the authentic source of what I had come to Nashville to find: people playing music from the heart and for the love of it.

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5/21/21 9:34 AM







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Richie Albright

Pam Bedford

Charlie Black

1940 – 2021

1951– 2021

1949 – 2021

Richie Albright, the drummer who

Pam Belford, a co-writer of

Charlie Black, one of Nashville’s

helped define Country Music’s

George Strait’s “If I Know Me,”

top songwriters for three

Outlaw era, died February 9, 2021.

died April 22, 2021. She was 70.

decades, died on April 23, 2021.

He was 81.

He was 71.

Albright grew up in Bagdad,

Know Me” spent two weeks at No. 1

Born in Maryland and raised

Ariz., and first encountered Waylon

on Billboard’s Country airplay chart

in Washington, D.C., Black came

Jennings in the music scene around

in May 1991. Strait also filmed a

to Nashville in 1970 to pursue a

Phoenix in the early ’60s. Jennings,

music video for the ballad, which

recording career. He earned a No. 1 hit

a local sensation who didn’t use a

appeared on his 1991 platinum

with Anne Murray’s “Shadows in the

drummer in his band at the time,

album, Chill of an Early Fall. Another

Moonlight” in 1979. Murray returned

liked Albright’s endearing personality

cut with Dillon, “Holding My Own,”

to No. 1 with Black’s “A Little Good

and driving musical approach, and

became the title track to Strait’s

News,” a 1983 ACM nominee for Single

hired him. The partnership lasted

1992 platinum album.

of the Year.

for decades on the road and in the

Belford grew up in Cincinnati and

Black’s No. 1 songwriting credits

studio. Albright produced Jennings

moved to Nashville in the late 1970s.

include Alan Jackson’s “Right on the

in the late ’70s and early ’80s, as well

Her songs were recorded by Leon

Money,” Reba McEntire’s “You Lie”

as albums by Jessi Colter, Johnny

Everette, Connie Francis, Doug Stone

and K.T. Oslin’s “Come Next Monday.”

Rodriguez, Billy Joe Shaver and Hank

and others. In songwriter rounds,

In the 1980s, he landed chart-topping

Williams Jr. Albright received ACM

Belford often shared clever parodies

singles with the Bellamy Brothers,

Award nominations for Drummer

such as “Strawberry Pie.” In later

Earl Thomas Conley, Gary Morris and

of the Year for years 1979 and 1980.

years, she worked for the Nashville

T.G. Sheppard. Black was inducted

His songwriting credits include the

Public Library.

into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of


1983 Jennings/Williams hit duet, “The Conversation.”


Written with Dean Dillon, “If I

Fame in 1991.


Dewayne Blackwell

Patsy Bruce

Connie Bradley

1939 – 2021

1940 – 2021

1945 – 2021

Dewayne Blackwell, who won an

Patsy Bruce, who co-wrote

Connie Bradley, a longtime ASCAP

ACM Award for co-writing Garth

“Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies

executive and true champion for

Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places,”

Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” died May

songwriters, died on March 24, 2021.

died on May 23, 2021. He was 84.

16, 2021. She was 81.

She was 75.

Blackwell shared his 1990 ACM

Bruce moved to Nashville in 1966

During her professional ascent at

Single of the Year win with songwriter

with her husband, singer-songwriter

ASCAP, she rose from the position

Earl Bud Lee. Blackwell received his

Ed Bruce. Their iconic composition

of membership representative to

first ACM nomination for writing

became a four-week No. 1 hit for

senior vice president and head of

David Frizzell’s “I’m Gonna Hire a

Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson

the Nashville office. Throughout her

Wino to Decorate Our Home,” a clever

in 1978. The recording received ACM

tenure, she encouraged countless

No. 1 hit in 1982. Other Top 10 credits

nominations for Single and Song of

new and established songwriters and

include Marty Robbins’ “Honkytonk

the Year and won a Grammy. Tanya

worked to create legislation that would

Man” and Conway Twitty’s “Saturday

Tucker carried “Texas (When I Die),”

protect their intellectual property.

Night Special.” Brooks also recorded

written by the Bruces and Bobby

Blackwell’s “Mr. Blue” (originally a

Borchers, to No. 4 in 1978. Patsy

Tennessee and attended Middle

1959 pop hit for the Fleetwoods) and

Bruce managed her husband’s career

Tennessee State University. She

“Nobody Gets Off in This Town.”

and served as NSAI president. As a

joined the ASCAP staff in 1976, and

Blackwell grew up picking crops in

recording artist, Ed Bruce landed

in time, Bradley emerged as one of

California after his family migrated

multiple hits in the early ‘80s with

the Nashville music industry’s most

there from Texas. He was inducted

their compositions. The couple

prominent and pioneering female

into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of

separated in 1986. Their son, Trey


Fame in 2017.

Bruce, is a Nashville songwriter.

Bradley was raised in Shelbyville,

Bradley received numerous accolades, including the Nashville Symphony’s Harmony Award, the Leadership Music Dale Franklin Award, induction into the SOURCE Hall of Fame and the CMA Irving Waugh Award for Excellence. She is survived by her husband, former head of RCA Nashville and Country Music Hall of Fame member Jerry Bradley, and her son, BMI Vice President of Creative, Clay Bradley.



Jason “Rowdy” Cope

J.T. Gray

Dennis Payne

1979 – 2021

1946 – 2021

1949 – 2021

Jason “Rowdy” Cope, the founding

J.T. Gray, the owner of celebrated

Dennis Payne, the guitarist

guitarist of The Steel Woods, died

bluegrass club The Station Inn,

and songwriter known for

January 16, 2021, in his sleep. He was

died on March 20, 2021, after a brief

“Highway Patrol,” died April 8,

42. His death came just as the band

illness. He was 75 years old.

2021. He was 71.

was preparing to release its third

Earl “J.T.” Gray was born in

Payne was born and raised in

Corinth, Miss., and moved to

Bakersfield, Calif., and found a mentor

Nashville in 1971. He played in various

in songwriter Red Simpson as a

up on Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson

bands and toured with Jimmy Martin

teenager. Written by Payne, Simpson

and Led Zeppelin, then moved to Los

until 1981, when he purchased The

and Ray Rush, “Highway Patrol”

Angeles to work as a session guitarist,

Station Inn. The venue provided a

became a Top 40 Country single for

songwriter and producer. He relocated

gathering place for both rising and

Simpson on Capitol Records in 1966.

to Nashville in 2007. Cope toured

well-known musicians to perform, jam

After recording for independent

and recorded with Jamey Johnson for

and network. Gray drove tour buses to

labels, Payne signed to Capitol under

nine years, appearing on the albums

keep it afloat in its early years. By the

the guidance of Buck Owens, releasing

That Lonesome Song and The Guitar

early 2000s, the Gulch neighborhood

two singles in 1975. In 1979, Vern

Song. Cope met the Steel Woods’

had grown up around it, though Gray

Gosdin reached No. 21 with Payne’s

co-founder Wes Bayliss at a one-off

remained a fixture. He was inducted

“All I Want and Need Forever.” As an

gig in Nashville in 2015. Their shared

into the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame

artist, Payne charted twice in 1988 on

inspirations of outlaw Country and

in 2020 and presented a Grammy

True Records. With a hilarious music

Southern rock earned an international

Award from the venue in 2021.

video, Junior Brown revived “Highway

album, All of Your Stones.

Born in Asheville, N.C., Cope grew


Patrol” in 1995. Payne released the album Bakersfield’s Native Son in 2007.






Just the Beginning 51st ACM Awards MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas | April 3, 2016 2020 ACM Group of the Year Old Dominion takes home their first ACM Award as New Group of the Year at the 51st Academy of Country Music Awards™.


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