(CMT Offstage keeps a 24/7 watch on everything that’s happening with country music artists behind the scenes and out of the spotlight.)
If you see Wayne Newton and Kiss walking down a red carpet together, your first thought has to be “Only in Vegas.” Right? So why not keep that only-in-Vegas momentum up all night long? That had to be the attitude of the people putting together Sunday night’s (April 1) ACM All Star Jam.
It was right after the ACM Awards show, just down the hall of the MGM Grand. It lasted three hours, and the lineup was full of well-received surprises and trips down country music’s memory lane. Rodney Atkins kicked things off with a couple of his songs, then Dierks Bentley took the stage for “Am I the Only One” and his new crazy-good-timin’ tune, “5-1-5-0.” And the hits just kept coming, from newly-crowned ACM new artist of the year Scotty McCreery along with Chris Young, Clay Walker, Craig Morgan, The Band Perry and so many more.
Then, the Gatlin Brothers showed up. It’s probably safe to say that a few people in the vast Grand Marquee Ballroom didn’t know who the Gatlins were, but they’d charmed the crowd by the end of their set. “Thirty-five years ago, the radio world was not really ready for us,” Larry Gatlin told the crowd. “But if they can play ‘Red Solo Cup’ and ‘Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy),’ then we can do whatever we want.”
Then it was time for Jeff Hanna of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. He started off with the band’s 1987 hit, “Fishin’ in the Dark,” and then brought out singer-songwriters Matraca Berg (his wife) and Deana Carter to sing “Strawberry Wine” together. It was, well, so bittersweet. It was the kind of simple, pure and heartwarming performance that made me wonder why we don’t get to see more of Carter and Berg.
But after a few songs from country music’s way-back archive, out came Hunter Hayes. This young man can work a room. Even the waitresses stopped working to watch his set. He did his own “Storm Warning,” then a very convincing cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.”
Toward the end of the night, the Eli Young Band performed, fresh off the ACM Awards stage where they’d won song of the year for “Crazy Girl.” When they played it, frontman Mike Eli said, “Thank you to everyone who believed in this song — for those of you who said, ‘Hey, I like this song.’”
And all I could think, after those three hours of nonstop country music, was, “Hey, I like all these songs. Let’s do this again next year.”