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ACM weekend highlights

It’s easier, and certainly cheaper, to watch the awards show at home. But as the Academy of Country Music expands its reach in Las Vegas, the goal has been to create more events accessible and affordable to fans.

A breakdown of the highlights:


The Academy’s first outreach beyond the televised awards show has grown into such a big party that it rages on into the witching hour; starting later than last year and running later both today and Saturday.

Both today’s headliner, Gary Allen, and Jake Owen on Saturday don’t take the stage until around midnight.

Joe Nichols also is part of today’s schedule, and laughs at the notion of being a country music veteran at age 36. Ten years ago, when he toured as an opening act for the Dixie Chicks, Nichols was noteworthy for his long hair and lack of a cowboy hat. Today, he sings in a market where no one expects such conformity.

“Most of the guys in country music were hat acts,” he says. “At the time I think our mission was to (explain) we don’t have to ride horses and wear a cowboy hat and look like George Strait to be a country singer. It’s not a lifestyle that I do, it’s a music preference.”

Today: Sunny Sweeney, 9 p.m. (1st Street Stage); Joe Nichols, 9:50 p.m. (3rd Street Stage); Kip Moore, 11 p.m. (1st Street); Gary Allan, midnight (3rd Street).

Saturday: Chris Janson, 9 p.m. (1st Street); Randy Houser, 9:50 p.m. (3rd Street); Jana Kramer, 11 p.m. (1st Street); Jake Owen, midnight (3rd Street).


The winds of change, literally, redirected this year’s daytime activity from Mandalay Bay to the Orleans Arena’s parking lot. “We really want to grow this outdoor festival,” Academy head Bob Romeo explains, and the parking lot bordered by West Harmon Avenue and Arville Street is protected from spring winds by the arena itself on the west.

The parking lot will be divided into two areas, with the free expo on the south and a ticketed area for the Party For A Cause acts on the north.

The expo includes shopping, a beer garden, a bucking bull arena, a driving test track, a country kitchen and, at 10 a.m. Saturday, Luke Bryan hosting a free archery event with fellow nominees.

The Party For a Cause shows benefit several causes; today’s revenue is earmarked for hunger-related charities and Saturday’s for military and veterans causes.

Today’s lineup: Greg Bates, 3 p.m.; Cassadee Pope, 3:50 p.m.; Florida Georgia Line, 4:40 p.m.; Justin Moore, 5:55 p.m.; Brantley Gilbert, 7:10 p.m.; The Band Perry, 8:25 p.m.
Saturday’s lineup: Dustin Lynch, noon; Love and Theft, 1:05 p.m.; Kix Brooks, 2:10 p.m.; Lee Brice, 3:15 p.m.; Hunter Hayes, 4:45 p.m.; Eli Young Band, 6:15 p.m.; Dierks Bentley, 7:45 p.m.

Love and Theft singer Stephen Barker Liles says he hasn’t spent a lot of time practicing an acceptance speech for Sunday, when he and singing partner Eric Gunderson are nominated for Best Vocal Duo; he expects to get beat by Florida Georgia Line.

However, Love and Theft will never be topped on effort. “We’re going to work harder than anyone else and that is a guarantee,” he says.

“The music industry, it can go down as fast as it goes up,” Liles says of having a No. 1 single, “Angel Eyes,” followed by one (“Runnin’ Out of Air”) that didn’t catch fire. “We definitely don’t have that momentum yet … to where radio and (industry) people can’t say no to you. We’re going to have to work a lot harder. We’re willing to do that though.”


Sunday’s main event challenges its producers to “fit 10 pounds of potato salad into a 1-pound container,” CBS executive Jack Sussman noted in a recent conference call with reporters.

The three-hour special caught fire in the ratings when it began focusing less on acceptance speeches and more on special performances. Chief among them this year: Garth Brooks and George Strait teaming up for a tribute to Dick Clark (whose company, headed by his son, continues to produce the awards).

“I personally reached out with hand-written notes to both guys,” says R.A. Clark, son of the music industry legend who died last year.

The evening also promises the triple-threat combination of Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw and Keith Urban, and Hunter Hayes teaming up with Stevie Wonder. Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan team up as hosts.

If you do score a ticket for the live show, it’s at 5 p.m. Sunday at the MGM Grand Garden. The rest of us catch it at 8 p.m. Pacific time on KLAS-TV, Channel 8.


The awards show’s “annex” moves from Mandalay Bay to the Orleans Arena this year, offering a better value for fans.

A $55 ticket lets the audience witness the portions of the awards show that cut away to The Orleans for Brad Paisley, Dierks Bentley and Hunter Hayes, New Artist of the Year nominees and Jewel’s performance on behalf of the Lifting Lives campaign.

Then, once the show is TV show is over, Brad Paisley and “friends” come out for a regular concert-length set.


Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Taylor Swift and genre-hopping Ne-Yo join McGraw for Monday’s MGM arena show, which has become part of the Academy’s annual deal with CBS for a second show that maximizes the arena and stars’ availability.

CBS has not set an air date for the special, which lands just as McGraw is promoting his new album, “Two Lanes of Freedom,” and wrapping up a limited run of shows with spouse Faith Hill at The Venetian.

When McGraw and Hill met local reporters, he said Monday’s 7: 30 p.m. show was coincidental to him already singing in Las Vegas. “Lifting Lives is the ACM charity, and they asked me to do this show for the (foundation),” McGraw said. “We’re sort of taking it over for that night and inviting a bunch of friends.”

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@
reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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