Sunday night (April 18), the 56th annual Academy of Country Music Awards handed out a few awards, including to an absent Luke Bryan, who snagged his first entertainer of the year trophy since 2015, on a show that featured more than 20 performances from some of country’s top names. Collaborations ruled the night with pairings—some likely and some surprising—providing some stellar musical moments.
Here are some of the top performances from the evening.
Carrie Underwood Takes Us To Church
It may have been Sunday night, but it felt like Sunday morning when Underwood showed off her “altar” ego with a medley of songs from her chart-topping gospel album, My Savior. Opening with an a capella version of “Amazing Grace,” Underwood then went toe to toe with gospel icon CeCe Winans on “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” and “The Old Rugged Cross” before ending solo again on a soaring “How Great Thou Art.” She showed why she was the reigning ACM entertainer of the year and why she deserved to be in the category again this year, though only men were nominated. Undeniably powerful.
Dierks Bentley Shares the Stage
Bentley had already paid homage to U2’s classic “Pride (In the Name Of Love”) on his fine 2010 bluegrass album, Up on the Ridge, with guests the Punch Brothers and Del McCoury, but he somehow found a way to elevate the song even higher with awe-inspiring assists from sister act Larkin Poe and from The War and Treaty’s Michael Trotter Jr and Tanya Blount Trotter from Nashville’s venerable Station Inn, a venue Bentley first visited when he was 19. Bentley generously ceded the stage much of the time to his guests for a staggeringly good version of the song that you didn’t know how badly you needed it until you heard it. Bentley should release this version immediately. The Trotters brought chills every time they opened their mouths.
Mickey Guyton Continues to Light Up Any Stage She’s On
Guyton, who co-hosted with Keith Urban, reached back a few years to perform “Hold On” from 2017’s faith-based film, The Shack. Bolstered by a string orchestra and a choir in the audience, she was the personification of elegance as she flawlessly delivered the inspirational, uplifting track. It may not have been quite the chill-inducing moment that her Grammy performance of “Black Like Me” was last month, but she proved once again why she deserves to be a star, despite country radio’s seeming indifference.
Chris Stapleton Pays Homage to Our Four-Legged Friends
As anyone who’s had a pet knows, they quickly become members of the family and their departure leaves us devastated. On “Maggie’s Song,” from Stapleton’s album, Starting Over, which won album of the year, he tells us the story of “an old friend of mine,” a “black fuzzy” pup he and his wife rescued in a parking lot. Stapleton was joined by Miranda Lambert, an avowed dog lover, on a delicate, poignant version of the song from the Bluebird Cafe. The song was sad in all the right ways.
Keith Urban Rocks the House
Urban traded in his hosting duties for a rollicking “Tumbleweed,” a sly, sultry rocker about a woman who kicks up dust all around her. It’s a barnburner of a song that’s meant to be played at maximum speed and peak volume before a full arena. A fret cam highlighted Urban’s guitar wizardry, but it was Urban’s sheer joy at playing live that sold the song and made it clear how much he yearns to get back on the road.
Brothers Osborne Play Two
Brothers Osborne deservedly got a two-fer, playing “I’m Not For Everyone,” their delectable single about knowing they aren’t everyone’s taste during the show. That track showed off T.J. Osborne’s growly vocals, but it was on their return to close the show with “Dead Man’s Curve” where John Osborne’s blistering guitar work shone. As rock as they are country, Brothers Osborne come alive on stage in a way that their albums don’t always capture (although the excellent Skeletons comes the closest). Both songs were so well delivered, it was hard to be upset that they didn’t use the national platform to perform “Younger Me,” the poignant, uplifting tune released last week written after T.J. came out and serves as a missive to his younger self.