At Sunday’s (April 2) 52nd annual ACM Awards live in Las Vegas, there was no shortage of electric collaborations, moving message songs and random public displays of affection.
Before being crowned the ACM’s entertainer of the year, Aldean lit up the stage first with “Lights Come On,” then his friend Bryan made the room move with “Move,” and then cameras panned to Florida Georgia Line on a satellite stage for “H.O.L.Y.” Underwood then took over with an abbreviated version of “Church Bells,” and then Urban entertained with a shortened version of “Wasted Time” from in the middle of the arena.
The marathon opening number wrapped with the first true collaboration of the night — a Chuck Berry tribute with “Johnny B. Goode” featuring surprise guest Joe Walsh backing Dierks Bentley and, on rock piano, Bryan.
When Sam Hunt took the stage for “Body Like a Back Road,” he made sure to share the spotlight with his fiancée Hannah Lee Fowler. Midway through his performance, he walked into the audience, sat next to her in his empty folding chair, put his arm around his future wife and gave her a kiss on the cheek.
Bentley and Aldean then returned to the stage to sing “Black” and “Any Ole Barstool,” respectively.
Then the show took an emotional turn when Maren Morris sang her new song “I Could Use a Love Song.” Miranda Lambert then silenced the crowd with a moving solo performance of “Tin Man,” a song she co-wrote with Jack Ingram for the ACM’s album of the year, The Weight of These Wings. Reba McEntire and Lauren Daigle brought a touch of gospel when they sang “Back to God” from McEntire’s Sing It Now: Songs of Faith & Hope.
The arena audience lit up in thousands waving LED lights for Rascal Flatts’ performance of “It’s Yours If You Want It.”
Through the magic of television, special effects changed Urban playing “Blue Ain’t Your Color” into a blue on black-and-white performance before transitioning into full color for “The Fighter” with Underwood.
Surrounded by a backdrop of bouquets, Little Big Town brought some major flower power to the stage when they sang their newest single “Happy People” from The Breaker.
Then Lady Antebellum brought a massive college marching band to back them on their horn-heavy hit, “You Look Good,” and everyone in the T-Mobile arena clapped along to Brothers Osborne as they performed their latest single, “It Ain’t My Fault.”
Decked out in a sparkly pink romper, Kelsea Ballerini lit up the stage with “Yeah Boy” as flashing neon lights illuminated her set. Then Bryan returned to sing his latest hit “Fast” in a mirrored box surrounded by strings of Edison lights.
They were followed by Chris Stapleton, who delivered an electric performance of his newest song, “Second One to Know.” The song is from his forthcoming album due May 5.
Brett Eldredge’s “Somethin’ I’m Good At” had cameras following the singer as he sang his way into the arena through a room full of Vegas VIPs. Then his former CMT On Tour co-headliner, Thomas Rhett and Morris took over with “Craving You.”
Old Dominion entertained with their new song “No Such Thing as a Broken Heart,” about loving the world no matter what. Cole Swindell and Bentley rocked their new collaboration, “Flatliner” as did Jon Pardi when he performed his three-week No. 1 “Dirt on My Boots.”
The finale — Florida Georgia Line and Backstreet Boys singing “God, Your, Mama, and Me” and “Everybody (Backstreet Boys Back)” — had artists dancing with each other in the aisles.
One of the best reactions caught on camera was McGraw’s in a moment of genuine shock when he saw Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley dance choreography live with Backstreet Boys.