LAS VEGAS -- Country fans were treated to a four-of-a-kind free concert at the Fremont Street Experience on Saturday night (April 17) with early Academy of Country Music award winners Miranda Lambert, Luke Bryan, Gloriana and Joey & Rory performing to thousands of enthusiastic country fans and curious out-of-towners.
The ACM Awards will take place Sunday (April 18) at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. CBS will telecast the show at 8 p.m. ET/PT.
At the Fremont Street concert, Lambert announced from the stage that she had just won the ACM's video of the year award for "White Liar" and encouraged the audience to sing along when she delivered her twangy rendition of the song. She spent most of her 75-minute set with a pink guitar slung over her shoulder, balancing a mix of country and rock 'n' roll.
Before she took the stage, the stereo system played a few lines of Steve Earle's "The Revolution Starts Now," a nod to her latest album, Revolution. And the first song she played was "Kerosene," which Lambert has acknowledged was heavily influenced by Earle's "I Feel Alright." (Indeed, she later gave him a co-writing credit.) After that, she rolled through a lot of fan favorites, such as "Only Prettier," "Famous in a Small Town," "Dead Flowers" and "Dry Town." The native Texan praised Las Vegas as a vacation destination because there's drinking everywhere, and if you're cute enough, the drinks are free.
As she dedicated "More Like Her" to the women in the audience, Lambert planted herself at the lip of the stage catwalk and dangled her feet over the edge. In the song, she has an epiphany that if she had treated her man better, he'd still be around -- and not with the new girl who is "beautiful in her simple little way." In "Heart Like Mine," she said she would have gotten along well with Jesus because they both like wine.
A few songs later, she pulled out an oldie ("Brand New Strings"), followed by her newest single, "The House That Built Me." The audience greeted the nostalgic ballad warmly, and as it climbs the charts, it could become a centerpiece of her live set.
Then she started digging out the cover songs -- Rod Stewart's "Stay With Me," Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Travelin' Band," John Prine's "That's the Way That the World Goes Round" (on Revolution) and Joan Jett's "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" among them. After declaring herself "one of those redneck chicks" and that "I don't like to take crap off nobody," she closed her main set with a rousing "Gunpowder & Lead." She concluded the night with a cover of Rick Derringer's "Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo" and a surprise after-midnight appearance by her boyfriend, Blake Shelton, who partnered with her for "Hillbilly Bone." Shelton had won the ACM's vocal event of the year award earlier that night for "Hillbilly Bone," his duet with Trace Adkins. So I guess that brought the night's grand total of ACM winners to five-of-a-kind. After all, the joker's wild.
Luke Bryan was an early winner for top new solo vocalist, so it was unusual to hear him close his set with Metallica's "Enter Sandman." (No, that's not a joke. He really did.) But he backed up his country credibility early in his set with crowd-pleasers like "Doin' My Thing," "What Country Is," "Rain Is a Good Thing," "Country Man," "Welcome to the Farm," "I'm Hungover" and his big ballad, "Do I." Dressed in a ball cap, jeans and T-shirt, he tenaciously worked the stage, and the mostly-tourist audience quickly felt at home with his friendly demeanor. Prior to his unusual finale, he also played the laidback "Drinkin' Beer and Wastin' Bullets," the sentimental "We Rode in Trucks" and the raucous "All My Friends Say."
The Randy Rogers Band didn't win the ACM Award for top new group, yet they remain on a mission to gain country music fans outside of their native Texas. After playing "Buy Myself a Chance," Rogers told the audience, "If that ain't country, I'll kiss your ass." With 1,500 shows under their belt, the ensemble knows how to keep a show moving right along, and a handful of new songs kept their longtime fans flush with excitement. Their next album is due in June, with a single called "Interstate" on the way. Highlights of their fast-paced set included the melancholy "In My Arms Instead" and the sensual "Kiss Me in the Dark," as well as "Tonight's Not the Night," "This Time Around" and "One More Goodbye." When country radio picks up on these guys, they definitely will be able to hit the ground running.
Gloriana took a break from the Taylor Swift tour to celebrate their ACM win for top new group. They blended quite a few songs from their debut album with familiar covers. For example, "How Far Do You Wanna Go?" sampled Fleetwood Mac's "Go Your Own Way." They also dipped into the Doobie Brothers' "Black Water" and Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog." Initially, they concluded their set with their latest single, "The World Is Ours Tonight," and their first one, "Wild at Heart." But since it was Las Vegas, they decided to play one more. Citing Johnny Cash as "a huge influence," they encored with ... Tom Petty's "Mary Jane's Last Dance."
Joey & Rory, who are this year's ACM top new vocal duo, also offered a few choice covers, such as Loretta Lynn's "You Ain't Woman Enough (To Take My Man)" and Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird." Throughout their 30-minute set, the charming husband and wife team stayed true to their country roots with a lot of punch lines to keep the audience amused. Wisely, the former contestants on CMT's Can You Duet started off the night with "Cheater, Cheater," and the dedicated country fans in the crowd identified them immediately. (Rory Lee Feek's signature denim overalls were a big clue, too.) Their new album is due this summer, so here's hoping that sincere songs like "That's Important to Me" will stack the deck in their favor.
Read about Lady Antebellum's free ACM concert in Las Vegas.