Country Music Artists Flocking to Vegas for ACM Awards

Music Abounds Even Before Sunday Night's Main Event

LAS VEGAS — Country music artists, their managers, record label executives and … well … just about the entire industry are flocking to Las Vegas in advance of the 43rd annual Academy of Country Music Awards taking place Sunday (May 18) at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. The show airs live at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.

Things appeared to be laid-back backstage Friday (May 16) as production crews prepared for rehearsals with Taylor Swift, Sugarland, Rascal Flatts, Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley and Brooks & Dunn. The performance rehearsals continue Saturday with Keith Urban, Toby Keith, Miranda Lambert, Garth Brooks, Kenny Chesney and George Strait. Others performing on the awards show include Trace Adkins, Rodney Atkins, Montgomery Gentry, Kellie Pickler and LeAnn Rimes. Reba McEntire is hosting the awards show for the 10th time.

A pairing of two country superstars and the introduction of at least two new songs will be among the highlights. Chesney and Strait will provide the first live performance of “Shiftwork,” their duet from Chesney’s latest album, Just Who I Am: Poets & Pirates. Chesney and Strait are each nominated for multiple ACM awards, including entertainer of the year. Sugarland will perform “All I Want to Do,” the first track from Love on the Inside, their new album that’s scheduled for release on July 22. Pickler will debut her new single, “Don’t You Know You’re Beautiful,” a track from her upcoming album.

In addition to his performance, Garth Brooks will be presented the first-ever ACM Crystal Milestone Award in honor of his career achievements. Rascal Flatts will receive The Home Depot Humanitarian Award in recognition of their ongoing community service and contributions to a variety of charities.

Among those appearing or presenting awards Sunday night include Clint Black, Sara Evans, Jewel, Lady Antebellum, Little Big Town, Brad Mates of Emerson Drive, Randy Owen, John Rich, Carrie Underwood, Clay Walker and Trisha Yearwood, along with Dr. Phil and Robin McGraw, magician Criss Angel and actress Kaley Cuoco.

Country music is already taking a high profile here. The ACM Awards show is the cover story of the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s weekend entertainment guide. Also featured in the guide is an interview with Trace Adkins, who appears Friday at the Sunset Outdoor Amphitheater in nearby Henderson, Nev. The Las Vegas Hilton ran ads in the newspaper to play up its country music shows scheduled during the National Finals Rodeo in December. The lineup includes Brooks & Dunn, Gretchen Wilson and, as a solo act, John Rich.

Randy Owen and Sugarland are playing free concerts at the Fremont Street Experience as part of a promotion sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. Owen, best known as Alabama’s longtime lead vocalist, will appear Friday night, followed by Sugarland’s performance on Saturday.

Live music will also follow the ACM’s fifth annual charity motorcycle ride taking place Saturday. Hosted by Montgomery Gentry, artists participating in the ride include Keith Anderson, Sarah Buxton, Carolina Rain, Jamey Johnson, Lady Antebellum, Little Big Town, Richie McDonald, James Otto and the Road Hammers. Also scheduled for Saturday is the ACM Celebrity Golf Classic hosted by Rascal Flatts.

Later Saturday, a selection of country’s top newcomers will perform short sets during the ACM’s Party for a Cause, a fundraiser for the organization’s charitable fund. The event will include top new male vocalist nominees Luke Bryan, Jack Ingram and Jake Owen, top new female vocalist nominees Sarah Buxton, Kellie Pickler and Taylor Swift and top new vocal group or duo nominees Carolina Rain and Lady Antebellum. The Wreckers, who are also nominated in the latter category, are pursuing other projects and will not appear.

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