These days, the country music ranks are as fond of throwing parties in their own honor as they are of testifying to the thrills of muddying 4X4 tires off road or staunchly defending the merits of living in what uppity coastal types dismiss as flyover states.
On Tuesday, the festivities continued with the American Country Awards at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, the fourth event of this kind of the year following the Country Music Association Awards, the Country Music Television Awards and the Academy of Country Music Awards, which are also held in Las Vegas in the spring.
Man, the industry’s palms must be sore from administering so many pats to the back.
Like Narcissus in Wranglers, Nashville, Tenn.’s in love with its own reflection.
Of all these productions, though, the ACAs put on the least amount of pretense about the awards themselves.
They’re voted on by the fans, and they’re less a vehicle to advance careers than justify the expense accounts associated with a trip to Las Vegas for a star-studded concert broadcast on national television.
As such, the show was loose and knowingly goofy, with no easy joke spared and plenty of sight gags between co-hosts Trace Adkins and NASCAR star Danica Patrick (He’s really tall! She’s really not!)
The ACAs pretend to convey no great import, and as such, deliberately deflate the pomp and circumstance of many awards shows, flaunting a lack of polish, with Adkins commanding Patrick to slow down while reading the teleprompter at the outset of the show before wondering, “How the heck do you fit into the world of country music anyway?”
Of course, she fits in.
Everybody does, right?
Country has become as big-tent a genre as there is, with pop, rock, electronic dance music and even hip-hop all figuring into current hits to varying degrees.
“Anything can happen on a country album,” noted rapper Big Smo, presenting album of the year honors, which went to Blake Shelton’s “Based on a True Story,” alongside fellow country/hip-hop hybridist Cowboy Troy.
To underscore his point, there were several cross-genre performances during the show, like ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons jamming with Jake Owen on the latter’s “Days of Gold” or Darius Rucker teaming up with Sheryl Crow on a cover of Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel.”
Now, about those awards, the nominal reason for the festivities, a handful of which were actually presented.
Last year at the ACAs, Luke Bryan’s then-emerging superstardom was cemented with nine wins.
Bryan was the evening’s first big winner this go ’round, too, taking home the honors for male artist of the year and the top award for artist of the year.
“What more could you ask for?” he wondered afterwards.
Other winners included Miranda Lambert (female artist of the year), Lady Antebellum, (artist of the year: group, single by a group), Taylor Swift (worldwide artist award), Scotty McCreery (breakthrough artist of the year), and Florida Georgia Line (artist of the year: new group, single of the year: new artist, radio track of the year and three others).
Mostly though, the show was centered around live performances, which ranged from established arena-fillers like Brad Paisley and Lady Antebellum to up-and-comers like Justin Moore, Randy Houser and Thomas Rhett.
The highlight of them all was a stirring tribute to Patsy Cline on the 50th anniversary of the year of her death by LeAnn Rimes, who was frequently compared to Cline upon her emergence in the early ’90s and gave gorgeous voice to a medley of Cline classics, breaking into tears when she was finished.
“I think I’m going to need a tissue to talk about this, too,” she said later in the press room. “I feel like she’s almost a part of my DNA, my makeup … being compared to her from the time I was 11.”
Rimes’ emotional performance aside, the show was all about the party, even for the 20-year-old McCreery, a college student at North Carolina State University who has a term paper due Friday.
“We’re in Vegas,” he said after his win when asked about completing his school work. “We’ll worry about that tomorrow.”
Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at email@example.com or 702-383-0476. Follow on Twitter @JasonBracelin.