Country Goes Vegas With ACM Awards

LAS VEGAS — Nashville will remain the country music capital of the world, although you’d be hard-pressed to find many major country artists or record labels executive in Tennessee on Wednesday (May 21). The brief exodus is taking place for the 38th annual Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas.

Hosted by Reba McEntire, the show at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas will be broadcast live on CBS at 8 p.m. ET, with a delayed telecast for the West Coast at 8 p.m. PT. Rehearsals began Sunday night (May 18), but the awards show isn’t the only event taking place in the desert this week.

Sara Evans hosts the ninth annual Sizzlin’ Country Concert, a fundraiser for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation on Tuesday (May 20). The benefit at the House of Blues will include performances by Tracy Byrd, Deana Carter, Diamond Rio, Lonestar, Darryl Worley and the Warren Brothers. Also performing is Rushlow, a new band featuring former Little Texas lead vocalist Tim Rushlow. Other surprises guests are expected at the event that will include a live auction. Over the years, the Sizzlin’ Country concerts have raised more than $3 million for cystic fibrosis research.

This marks the first year the ACM Awards show has taken place outside the Los Angeles area. It remains to be seen whether the change of geography will have a drastic effect on the show’s overall tone, but you can count on seeing awards presented by several Las Vegas regulars, including Wayne Newton, Penn & Teller and magician Lance Burton.

As is the case at every awards presentation, the show’s producers are keeping most of the details under wraps. However, here’s some of what you can expect:

• As an indication of his current status in country music, Kenny Chesney will open the three-hour show with his current hit, “Big Star.”

• Via satellite from a concert in Austin, Texas, the Dixie Chicks will perform “Truth No. 2,” a track from their Home album.

• When Lonestar concludes its performance of “I’m Already There,” the spotlight will shine on four true stars — U.S. Army personnel previously imprisoned in Iraq. Lonestar’s special guests are former POWs Spc. Shoshana Johnson, Pfc. Patrick Miller, Chief Warrant Officer Ronald Young Jr. and Chief Warrant Officer David Williams.

• Reigning NASCAR Winston Cup champ Tony Stewart will introduce his friends in Diamond Rio before the band performs the current single, “I Believe.” Toby Keith and Willie Nelson will deliver their duet, “Beer for My Horses.” Wynonna Judd, who is recording a new album with producer Dann Huff, is expected to sing the project’s first single, “What the World Needs.”

• George Strait will receive the ACM’s prestigious special achievement award. It marks the fourth time the award has been presented. Previous recipients include Garth Brooks (1997) and Jeff Foxworthy (1995). The award was first presented in 1980 to comic George Burns, who scored a No. 15 country hit that year with “I Wish I Was Eighteen Again.”

• Alabama will accept the Pioneer Award, one of the ACM’s highest honors, for its contributions to country music. Retiring from the road, Alabama has concerts booked through November for its farewell tour.

• Vince Gill will present the entertainer of the year award. This year’s nominees are Brooks & Dunn, Chesney, the Dixie Chicks, Alan Jackson and Keith.

• The winner of the second annual Home Depot Humanitarian Award will be decided by voting during the first two hours of the show. The nominees are Brooks & Dunn, Lonestar and Wynonna. As the only fan-voted award on the telecast, voting is underway at CMT.com.

• The list of other performers includes Alabama, Brooks & Dunn, Terri Clark, Jackson, Keith, Martina McBride, Montgomery Gentry, Rascal Flatts, LeAnn Rimes, Strait, Shania Twain, Keith Urban and Worley. Presenters will include Trace Adkins, Kellie Coffey, Emerson Drive, Bill Engvall, Jennifer Hanson, Rebecca Lynn Howard, Carolyn Dawn Johnson, Cledus T. Judd, Louise Mandrell, Sawyer Brown’s Mark Miller, Joe Nichols, Pinmonkey, Blake Shelton, Pam Tillis, Trick Pony, Phil Vassar, Mark Wills and Lee Ann Womack.

Following the awards show, the ACM is also sponsoring an all-star jam. With tickets priced at $300 and $350, the event at the Mandalay Bay will feature Clark, Coffey, Diamond Rio, Emerson Drive, Howard, Cledus T. Judd, Lonestar, Montgomery Gentry, Nichols, Rascal Flatts, Shelton, Trick Pony, Vassar, Wills and Worley.

The activities actually continue through next week, if you count an online auction for the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Dozens of country artists are donating personal memorabilia, including items worn or used at this week’s rehearsals for the ACM Awards. Among those making donations are McEntire, Faith Hill, Keith, Tim McGraw, Sheryl Crow, Gill and many others. Bidding starts Thursday (May 22) at 9 a.m. ET and will continue through Thursday (May 29) at 8 p.m. ET at CMTauctions.com.

Calvin Gilbert has served as CMT.com’s managing editor since 2002. His background includes stints at the Nashville Banner, Radio & Records and Westwood One.