LAS VEGAS -- If you're going through hell, keep on going. That's pretty much what you had to do on Monday night (May 14) at the MGM Grand Ballroom in Las Vegas, as a charity fundraiser stretched into a three-and-a-half hour event filled with extensive silent auctions, expensive drinks and -- luckily -- nine of the most promising new artists in country music.
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Rodney Atkins capped the Academy of Country Music's Party for a Cause with a three-song set, and the crowd happily sang along to "If You're Going Through Hell (Before the Devil Even Knows)" before heading back to the slot machines. Prior to that, Miranda Lambert and the Wreckers rolled through their memorable hits, as well as their new singles. All three performers are nominees in the new artist categories at the ACM Awards, which take place Tuesday night (May 15) at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
The other nominated artists for top new male, female or duo/group are Chris Young, Taylor Swift, Heartland, Craig Morgan, Kellie Pickler and Little Big Town -- all of whom enthusiastically performed three songs for a half-full ballroom. All momentum was lost between performances, however, as the blinding house lights were repeatedly flipped on to auction meet-and-greets with many of the biggest names in country. Visits with Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw brought in a staggering $30,000 and $40,000, respectively, with all the money going to the ACM's Charitable Fund. Concert packages with meet-and-greets were also placed on the auction block by Dierks Bentley, Big & Rich, Vince Gill, Reba McEntire, Rascal Flatts, Keith Urban and Gretchen Wilson.
Despite the seemingly never-ending nature of the event, curious country fans could catch an insightful glimpse of country music's future. Little Big Town kicked off the evening with strong renditions of "Good as Gone," "A Little More You" and their breakthrough hit, "Boondocks." Many women in the audience enjoyed singing along with Pickler's "Red High Heels," though she cited "Didn't You Know How Much I Loved You" as her own personal favorite. She fought back tears before, during and after her heart-tugging autobiographical single, "I Wonder." After thanking the crowd, she glanced over the edge of the stage and joked, "Sorry about you guys in the front row with all my snot."
Morgan, Young and Heartland relied on their boundless energy during their shows while Swift was eager to chat with the audience. She didn't bother with her initial hit, "Tim McGraw," opting instead for "Our Song," "Teardrops on My Guitar" and "Picture to Burn." The talented teenager is about the same age as many of the students who have recently benefited from new musical instruments purchased by the ACM Charitable Fund. It's certainly a good cause for everyone in this lineup to be associated with, especially if the proceeds will teach and encourage future generations of up-and-coming country stars.