ACM Awards: Five Things to Do in Sin City

Las Vegas Transforms Into a Country Music Theme Park for the Big Weekend
View photos from the rehearsals for the 47th annual Academy of Country Music Awards.

When fans and country artists converge in Las Vegas Sunday (April 1) for the ACM Awards , they’ll find the red carpet has been rolled out all across the city. Special country-related activities are happening all weekend.

Of course, the awards show itself is the main event, but in a town like Las Vegas, the fun tends to compete with itself. Before and after the show, country fans can enhance their stay with street concerts, shopping, BBQ contests, golfing and shooting, more concerts and … well, even more concerts. Oh, and gambling is still legal there.

There’s no use trying to keep a poker face, that’s for sure. Here’s an overview of some of the smile-inducing activities taking place at and around the 47th ACM Awards.

ACM Experience
Held Friday-Sunday (March 30-April 1) at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino, this free event invites fans to “shop country, taste country and hear country.” At the ACM Expo, you can browse through vendors offering Western-themed goodies, enjoy some intimate country performances or take a dance lesson. Outside, fans can try out a new pickup truck on the test track. And for the ACM BBQ Throwdown, some of the world’s best barbecue cooks will compete for a $50,000 prize. With that much money on the line, you’ll want to get a sample from each team and then learn some tricks to take home at the cooking demonstrations.

On Saturday, don’t miss Lee Brice, Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers, Kip Moore, Craig Morgan and Thompson Square salute the military with a free concert at the casino.

Then, during and after the awards show on Sunday, the Zac Brown Band hosts the popular ACM Fan Jam. With help from new artist of the year nominees Brantley Gilbert, Hunter Hayes and Scotty McCreery, part of the event will be televised during the ACM Awards. After that, anything’s possible. “They said we could have some guests, so you know how we like to do it,” Brown tells ACM Tempo magazine. “We’re definitely going to have some special guests coming out … and we’re going to whoop it!”

Fremont Street Experience
The Fremont Street Experience has earned a reputation for drawing huge crowds over the past few years, and it’s getting turned up a notch in 2012 with big name artists. Fremont Street is a huge, covered avenue lined by neon casinos and filled with tourists and street performers. The roof itself is one giant video screen. And that’s on a normal night. For Friday and Saturday, the street transforms into a huge outdoor concert venue with two stages and 10 free performances. Luke Bryan will try to keep your night from ending on Friday with appearances by Brantley Gilbert, Hunter Hayes, Love and Theft and Scotty McCreery. For Saturday’s show Eric Church puts a drink in his hand and takes the stage with Laura Bell Bundy, Craig Campbell, the Eli Young Band and Jana Kramer. The shows kick off at 7 p.m.

NRA Country/ACM Celebrity Shoot and ACM Lifting Lives Celebrity Golf Classic
For fans determined to crawl out of bed early Saturday morning , Blake Shelton and Darius Rucker are hosting events that show off what the stars like to do in their spare time. At 8 a.m. — seriously, 8 a.m. in Vegas — Shelton takes aim against Lee Brice, Craig Campbell, Cowboy Troy, Ira Dean, Edens Edge, Craig Morgan, Jake Owen and Thomas Rhett for the title of best sporting clay shooter in the NRA Country/ACM Celebrity Shoot. Last year, Rascal Flatts‘ Gary LeVox won. Meanwhile, Darius Rucker is shooting for a different kind of win. With another 8 a.m. start, the ACM Lifting Lives Celebrity Golf Classic looks to raise money for the organization’s charitable efforts. I wouldn’t expect any charity from Rucker on the links, though.

47th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards
The moment we’ve all been waiting for! Once the main event gets underway Sunday from the MGM Grand Garden Arena, all eyes will be on the nominees and performers, but I’d put money on a few April Fool’s pranks from the show’s hosts, Reba McEntire and Blake Shelton. The long list of performers includes Jason Aldean, The Band Perry, Luke Bryan, Kenny Chesney, Eric Church, Sara Evans, Toby Keith, Lady Antebellum, Miranda Lambert, Tim McGraw, Rascal Flatts, Blake Shelton, Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban and Chris Young. Plus, we’ll see how the chips fall for Aldean, Chesney, Brad Paisley, Shelton and Taylor Swift when fans help select their ACM entertainer of the year. The show airs at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.

ACM All Star Jam
As soon as the EOTY is crowned, the party moves from one side of the MGM Grand to the other for the ACM All Star Jam. Billed as “One Night, One Stage, All Stars,” the event sells out every year even though there’s no formal lineup. Country stars just show up and take the stage, making for a truly unique concert experience. Last year, Jason Aldean, The Band Perry, Dierks Bentley, Luke Bryan, Easton Corbin, Sara Evans, Toby Keith and Rascal Flatts showed up, among many others. It’s easy to let your imagination run wild for this one. Will Taylor Swift preview a brand new song? Will Carrie Underwood put together another A-list duet? Will Blake Shelton be double-fisting drinks? Probably!

ACM Presents: Lionel Richie & Friends — In Concert
Call this one a bonus round since we’ve already listed five events, but taking place the day after the awards at the MGM Grand is a very special show being taped for TV. Dubbed Lionel Richie & Friends — In Concert, Richie will share duets from his new country album, Tuskegee, and let the stars perform their own takes on his famous pop songs. With Jason Aldean, The Band Perry, Luke Bryan, Sara Evans, Lady Antebellum, Martina McBride, Jennifer Nettles and Rascal Flatts taking part, you can bet Richie’s country side will be plain to see. Plus, Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw and Kenny Rogers are scheduled to duet on “My Love,” “Sail On” and “Lady,” respectively. Call it a hunch, but it sounds like a jackpot for country fans. The special airs April 13 on CBS.

Chris lives in Nashville and has written for CMT.com and CMT Edge since 2007. The devil made him do it the first time, the second time he done it on his own.