Performances by Miranda Lambert, Jason Aldean, Roy Clark, Randy Houser, Restless Heart, Josh Turner and Kacey Musgraves were among the highlights of the ninth annual ACM Honors show held Tuesday night (Sept. 1) at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium.
Unlike the nationally-televised Academy of Country Music Awards special each spring, the Honors ceremony is a relatively low-key affair meant to recognize those who’ve performed special functions within the country music industry or achieved a certain level of career prominence.
There were no TV cameras and no special staging — just barebones music and talk. But that was more than enough and a throwback to the days before country music fancied itself up.
Jake Owen hosted the event with the same good humor and finesse he displayed in the role last year, and he opened the proceedings with a smooth cover of Alabama’s “Feels So Right.”
One of the most affecting performances was Clark’s reprise of his 1969 hit, “Yesterday, When I Was Young.” Intrinsically a doleful tune, it was made even more so by the fact that the 82-year-old Clark sang it from a seated position, attesting to the realities of aging.
But his voice was still steady, and his grasp of the lyrics as subtle and nuanced as that of a Shakespearean actor.
Houser enchanted the room with his soaring cover of Bryan’s “Roller Coaster,” which he sang in honor of Bryan’s receiving a special achievement award.
Restless Heart, who took the stage to pay tribute to their former producer, Tim DuBois, did so by revisiting their 1988 classic, “The Bluest Eyes in Texas,” which DuBois also co-wrote. Their voices sounded as fresh as when they routinely topped the charts.
Aldean and his band tipped their hats to Alabama with a jaunty and seamless medley that generously sampled “Mountain Music,” “Tennessee River,” “Love in the First Degree” and “The Closer You Get.”
Turner offered a powerful — yet suitably wistful — rendition of “Good Ole Boys Like Me” to spotlight its composer, Bob McDill, who was there to receive the ACM’s poet’s award.
Long a fan of country music, pop singer Chris Isaak brought a youthful sparkle to “Bye Bye Love,” the Felice and Boudleaux Bryant tune made popular in 1957 by the Everly Brothers. The Bryants were posthumously honored with a poet’s award.
Musgraves expressed her musical regards to Luke Laird, ACM’s songwriter of the year, with the sweetly sassy “Good Ol’ Boys Club,” a song Laird co-wrote.
Holly Williams sang an immensely moving version of Church’s “Like Jesus Does” just before he came forward to accept a prize for taking country music to other countries.
The final performance of the evening belonged to Miranda Lambert. She channeled all the righteous indignation of the original in her rendering of Loretta Lynn’s 1972 rant, “Rated X,” which focused on the perceived sexual availability of divorced women.
Following the song, Lynn was escorted in from the wings, whereupon she embraced Lambert and quipped that she just dropped in to see if Lambert was still “keeping it country.”
Actually, Lynn was there to accept ACM’s Crystal Milestone Award. “This thing weighs 50 pounds,” she observed as she took the trophy.
“I want to thank you for the award,” she continued, “and I’ll be back next year for another one.”
Here is the complete list of the evening’s honors and honorees:
Gene Weed Special Achievement Award: Luke Bryan
Mae Boren Axton Awards: Tim DuBois, Barry Adelman
Songwriter of the Year: Luke Laird
Career Achievement: Alabama
Jim Reeves International Award: Eric Church
Poet’s Awards: Felice & Boudleaux Bryant (posthumous), Bob McDill
Crystal Milestone Award: Loretta Lynn
A previously unannounced award to Bob Romeo for masterminding the 2015 ACM Awards show at the 80,000-seat AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, which became the largest attended awards show in history.
Studio Recording Awards
Greg Morrow (drums)
Tom Bukovac (guitar)
Michael Rojas (piano/keyboards)
Dan Dugmore (steel guitar)
Ilya Toshinsky (specialty instruments)
Glenn Worf (bass)
Chuck Ainlay (audio engineer)
Jay Joyce (producer)
Casino of the Year
Small Capacity: Hard Rock Live (Biloxi, Mississippi) Biloxi, Ms
Medium Capacity: MGM Grand Casino (Las Vegas)
Festival of the Year
Country Thunder USA: East (Twin Lakes, Wisconsin)
Nightclub of the Year
Joe’s Bar (Chicago)
Venue of the Year
Small Capacity: Ryman Auditorium (Nashville)
Medium Capacity: Red Rocks Amphitheatre (Morrison, Colorado)
Large Capacity: Hollywood Bowl (Hollywood, California)
Don Romeo Talent Buyer of Year
Sally Williams (Ryman Auditorium)
Promoter of the Year
Ed Warm (Joe’s Live)