With a whopping four ACM trophies to prove it, love was truly in the air at this year’s 33rd Annual Academy of Country Music Awards, telecast live on CBS from Hollywood’s Universal Amphitheatre. It was by no means just any love, however — “It’s Your Love.”
Penned by veteran songwriter Stephony Smith and recorded by the world’s token “Country Couple,” Tim McGraw and wife Faith Hill, the dynamic “It’s Your Love” duet smash took center stage attention throughout all four categories for which it was earlier nominated. The multi-winning ballad’s husband/wife team, McGraw and Hill, couldn’t have been more thrill-shocked about accepting honors for Song of the Year, Video of the Year, Single Record of the Year and Vocal Event of the Year.
“I just know we get to take eight of these trophies home,” quipped Tim after the show.
“And I get to buy another piece of furniture for them,” laughed Faith.
“I just really believe in the song and I think everybody else did, too,” Tim continued. “I think this song is just very relatable to everybody. I think that probably everybody has been in that same type situation in one way or another. And I think that radio also really got it and got it well.”
“I think this song was just logical for the two of us, as a couple,” concluded Faith who also mentioned that baby daughter Gracie was at a nearby hotel. Faith also commented about the very first time she and Tim recorded the song and watched the video playback. “It was really special because it didn’t feel like anybody else was really watching.”
Millions of television viewers across the nation were watching Garth Brooks when he accepted the top honor of the evening for Entertainer of the Year, as well as one of the night’s most prestigious salutes — the Special Achievement Award, presented to him by friend and duet partner Trisha Yearwood. This marks Brooks’ fifth Entertainer of the Year Award win. He took home the trophy in 1991, 1992, 1993 and 1994.
“Right off the bat I have to say that probably the greatest honor for me about getting the Entertainer of the Year award would have to be having it presented by the entertainer of the year, Barbara Mandrell,” admitted Brooks upon accepting his trophy. “I’d like to thank my wife, and I’d like to thank those three hard-working little girls that are touring out there with us. I love you. To the most important thing out there — the people and God himself — thank you for a wonderful ride!”
George Strait, who Brooks referred to as “The Man,” also experienced a nice ride himself throughout the evening — accepting honors for both Top Male Vocalist and Album of the Year for his phenomenal Carrying Your Love With Me disc. The evening’s duo honors mark Strait’s 11th ACM award, including the Entertainer of the Year pat on the back in 1990. “To be nominated always feels great, and to be picked a winner is kind of like the icing on the cake,” Strait admits. “It’s been a great career that I’ve had and it’s just unbelievable. It surprises me every day. I just know that as long as the people out there keep buying my records, I’ll keep touring.”
Trisha Yearwood, who picked up her first ACM trophy for Top Female Vocalist, can also relate to having such an unyielding support of fans. Yearwood made her first trip to the ACM winner’s podium in 1992 when she was honored with the Top New Female Vocalist award.
“I can’t believe this is still happening,” exclaimed Trisha, who also accepted Female Vocalist of the Year honors at this year’s Country Music Association Awards.
“A big thank you to MCA Records, my parents and my sister, who’s my date tonight because my husband is in London. I love you, Robert, wherever you are,” said Trisha. “I want to say how much it means to me to accept this award, especially from Miss Donna Fargo, because the first song I think you ever sang on tape was ‘I’m The Happiest Girl In The Whole USA’ when I was about six years old. I also want to say that I’m very proud and honored to be in a business that I can say hello to Buck Owens, and he knows who I am, and to be able to present awards to people like Garth and get a chance to work with all of you.”
It was not just by chance that music icon Charlie Daniels made his way to the stage as well. Brooks, Travis Tritt and Marty Stuart, who’ve each admitted that Daniels has long been one of their biggest musical influences, presented the Southern rocker legend with the coveted Pioneer Award following a special video career tribute.
“I’m in shock,” stated Charlie after accepting one of the night’s biggest honors. “I was told that I was coming out here to present an award. When Garth said my name, I thought he made a mistake. There is no way I could stand here and take the rest of the show, and there is no way I can tell you how very deeply honored that I am. I’ve been doing this for about 40 years, I guess, and I hope to do it 40 more. Thank you and God bless you everybody.”
While Daniels was deeply touched by such an honor from the Academy, perhaps no other artists were moved more than newcomer Lee Ann Womack, who took home the trophy for Top New Female Vocalist, and Kenny Chesney, who accepted a long overdue Top New Male Vocalist award.
“I love you!” Womack cried out to the audience with sobbing tears. “And television watching fans, I love you and I know you because I’m one of you. I grew up loving country music, so I know how you feel. It’s like being a littel girl growing up and watching the Miss America Pageant and saying ‘I want to be up there one day and I want to be Miss America.’ This is what I wanted,” she added while lifting up her trophy. Lee Ann also went on to thank her parents and sister who gave her a car back when she was first starting out in the music business.
Chesney, with teary eyes and his mother Karen by his side, was as equally grateful. “This is Mama’s first trip to Hollywood and she met Bubba from In the Heat of the Night, and I think that’s about the best thing she ever did,” laughs Kenny. “She’s always been so supportive of me even back when I was little playing baseball. So this award is as much hers as it is mine. I want to thank all my friends and family from East Tennessee. And I want to thank each and every country radio station in America that’s ever played a Kenny Chesney record. God bless ya’ll. I’ve been asked ‘Does it feel weird to win an award like this and to have had music out on the radio for five years?’ Well, I’ll take it any way I can get it.”
For country’s dynamic duo Brooks & Dunn, stepping into the ACM winner’s circle this year marked their 12th trophy, including the Entertainer of the Year honors awarded in both 1996 and 1997. “These things have gone a long way to promote our career,” says Ronnie Dunn about winning their seventh award for Top Vocal Duet or Group. “We’re really thankful to all you guys for voting for us. The further along you go in this business, the harder it is to have people’s attention. I appreciate you thinking of us again.”
“There’s a wonderful tradition here, an awful lot of history and an awful lot of hits from the people in this category,” adds Kix. “It’s just an honor to be up there with you.”
Another twosome act that could not have been any more honored and surprised after hearing their name announced as this year’s Top New Vocal Duet or Group were The Kinleys, twin sisters Heather and Jennifer. “Everything we’ve gone through and experienced to get here tonight has been worth it,” they both agreed with tears of joy.
As always, this year’s three-hour gala award event held nothing back as the show unfolded with top-notch musical performances along with classic Golden Moments from the previous 33 years of ACM history highlights. Stellar performances included such greats as Alabama, LeAnn Rimes, Martina McBride, Collin Raye, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Sawyer Brown, Diamond Rio, Deana Carter, Donna Fargo, Glen Campbell, George Strait and Garth Brooks along with Steve Wariner. Reba McEntire, who flew 14 hours from Australia to perform, joined Brooks & Dunn on stage to premiere their debut single, “If You See Him/If You See Her.”
Equally touching as every performance throughout this year’s show was a special tribute to many of this year’s lost legends — Floyd Cramer, Carl Perkins, Tammy Wynette, John Denver and Owen Bradley. The four late music pioneers were musically tributed by Dwight Yoakam, Bryan White and the Dixie Chicks.
More than 60 top names in country music, along with such Hollywood celebrities as Jane Seymour, Olivia Newton-John, Lisa Hartman Black and Patrick Swayze, helped to create one of the most exciting and star-studded awards presentations in television history.