LAS VEGAS — On the brink of their farewell tour, Brooks & Dunn finally got to see a Brooks & Dunn concert — even if it was performed (almost) entirely by other performers.
The hard-working duo became the subject of an outstanding all-star tribute concert in Las Vegas on Monday night (April 19), with effusive praise doled out for their music as well as their wicked sense of humor. Presented by the Academy of Country Music, the special will air on CBS in May.
Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn were situated on a road case-turned-couch on stage left as a nod to their favorite place to watch the opening acts they’ve taken on tour in the previous two decades. With prime seats, the duo reminisced over the course of three hours with Taylor Swift, Keith Urban, Faith Hill, George Strait, Rascal Flatts, Lady Antebellum, Reba McEntire, Kenny Chesney, Miranda Lambert, Darius Rucker, Carrie Underwood, Sugarland, Jennifer Hudson, Jason Aldean, Brad Paisley and Tim McGraw.
Rather than give away too many details in advance of the show premiere, it may be more appropriate to describe the positive vibes flowing in the room. Nearly all of the artists shared funny stories about Brooks & Dunn’s keen practical jokes. Swift’s anecdote (and home video) of Dunn’s impersonation of her brought down the house. Hill also recalled how Brooks had slipped a thawed eel into her bed during a Canadian tour — but she got the last laugh when she described her “revealing” revenge. Current superstars like Chesney and Urban effusively praised the duo for showing them how to entertain.
Although the duo never toured with McGraw, he told the crowd he accepted the invitation to perform Monday as a longtime fan, stretching back to his early days in Louisiana. And Strait stated that when people ask who he likes to listen to, his answer is just three words long. Meanwhile, R&B singer Jennifer Hudson received two standing ovations for her jaw-dropping rendition of “I Believe,” leaving many audience members in tears.
Presenters included actor Matthew McConaughey, iCarly star Miranda Cosgrove and (in a video tribute) Dr. Maya Angelou.
During a press conference earlier in the week, Sugarland’s Kristian Bush said he and musical partner Jennifer Nettles chose to perform “Red Dirt Road” partially because they feel a kindred spirit with Brooks & Dunn as country artists who write their own material. Nettles added that Sugarland was the opening act on Brooks & Dunn’s Red Dirt Road tour.
“Obviously, that song was huge,” she said. “I think being able to hear that song every night — and that being our first tour — holds something special in that respect, as well.”
Underwood, who was named the ACM’s entertainer of the year for the second consecutive time, told reporters, “I don’t want to give everything away, but the song I’m singing came out when I was 8 years old. Brooks & Dunn have been a part of my life forever, ever since I was little. I remember I made up a dance to ‘Boot Scootin’ Boogie.’ They’ve been such a part of raising me in country music. I’ve always loved them, and they’re the nicest guys. They’re my neighbors! I see them all over Nashville, and I’m honored to know them. I’m sad that they’re leaving, but they’ve definitely made their mark on our hearts and on country music.”
Lambert, who won the ACM’s album, female vocalist and video categories, said fans have not seen the last of Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn.
“I love Brooks & Dunn,” she said. “I am a huge fan, and I have been for a really long time. First of all, I don’t buy it because when music is in your blood — like it is with Ronnie and Kix — you don’t quit quit. I know in some form or fashion, we’re going to see them — together, apart, I don’t know. They’re both amazing. You can tell it’s their passion and their lifeblood. I think they’re going to be back.”