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10 things to watch for at the ACM Awards

Thanks for holding our beer, Nashville.

For nearly 20 years now, country music’s biggest night, the Academy of Country Music Awards has been held in Vegas. Sure, there was a brief detour in 2015 to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, home of the Dallas Cowboys, but that’s just because they wanted to see some winners there for a change.

Then the pandemic hit, and the ceremonies were relocated to Music City for the past two years.

Come Monday, however, the ACMs are back where they belong, right here in Las Vegas, albeit with a new home in their old stomping grounds: Allegiant Stadium.

Of course, the two-hour show doubles as one big concert, with Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Kelsea Ballerini, Walker Hayes, Maren Morris, Thomas Rhett, Chris Stapleton, Carly Pearce and Ashley McBryde among this year’s performers.

It’s a lot to take in, but, per usual, we’re here to help, compiling this handy list of 10 things to watch for during this year’s ACMs:

1. So long CBS

Better hook up the Budweiser IV drip — you won’t be leaving the couch for any ad breaks during this year’s ACMs, as it will become the first major awards show to ditch broadcast TV and stream commerical-free exclusively on Amazon Prime, beginning at 5 p.m. Monday. We know, it can be a little scary at first: What to eat and/or drink without the good folks at Pepsi and Pizza Hut highlighting our options? What are we supposed to survive on? Rainwater and shoelaces? We’ll get through it — deep gulp — together.

2. Dolly gets her due

Dolly. Parton. Is there anyone/anything more adored in all of country music? She’s almost as beloved as songs about dirt roads (See: “Dirt Road Anthem,” “One Dirt Road,” “Red Dirt Road,” “That’s Why I Love Dirt Roads,” “Gentlemen Prefer Dirt Roads,” “Butter on My Toast, Dirt on My Road,” “Asphalt? Not on My Road,” etc. — OK, we’re still in the process of getting those last three recorded.) And Dolly deserves the adoration: She possesses one of country music’s most singular voices, owns her own theme park and took no crap from Dabney Coleman in “9 to 5.” Not only is she hosting this year’s ACMs, but she’ll also receive a tribute from Kelly Clarkson. Take that, Jolene.

3. Triple crown alert

Like major league baseball, horse racing and alpine skiing, the ACMs have a triple crown. In baseball, it’s leading the league in batting average, home runs and RBI. In horse racing, it’s winning the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. In alpine skiing, no one cares. And at the ACMs, it’s being named Entertainer of the Year while also having scored top honors in the New Artist and Artist of the Year categories at some point. This year, three superstars could earn the prestigious designation should they win Entertainer of the Year: Chris Stapleton, Luke Bryan and Miranda Lambert. Speaking of the latter …

4. You can not stop Miranda Lambert, you can only hope to contain her

Talk about dominance: Miranda Lambert is to the ACMs what 1950s Biff Tannen is to 1950s George McFly, slapping the awards show around malt shops, bullying them in front of her future offspring, making them do her homework, etc. To wit: Lambert, already the most nominated artist in ACM history at age 38, is up for another five awards this year, including her record-tying 16th Female Artist of the Year nomination. Geez, Lambert, save some trophies for the rest of us …

5. Taylor Swift’s back! Sort of …

Remember when Taylor Swift was country? It was back before all those poppy break-up songs directed at celebrity exes like Jake Gyllenhaal, Calvin Harris, Harry Styles and … Jake Gyllenhaal, once more for the people in the back. (Man, she hates that dude almost as much as anyone who paid to see “Bubble Boy” does.) For the first time since 2018, Swift is up for an ACM — her 32nd nod overall — in the Video of the Year category for “I Bet You Think About Me (Taylor’s Version).” And guess who produced and directed said clip? Actress Blake Lively — nominated for a pair of ACMs herself — she of “The Sisterhood of Traveling Pants 2” fame. From one cinematic masterpiece to another …

6. Women can write songs too, ya know

Catch that recent dustup between Taylor Swift and Blur/Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn, where the latter curiously accused the former of not writing her songs even though she has a boatload of songwriting credits? (And boats can hold a lot of songs, as evidenced by the garbage barge used to ferry all those Mumford & Sons tunes across the Atlantic). Point is, female musicians often don’t get the recognition they deserve for penning their own tunes, especially in country music circles. But at least some progress is being made at this year’s ACMs, where Nicolle Galyon becomes just the third woman to ever be nominated for Songwriter of the Year. Women are making headway in other categories as well: After becoming the first woman to be nominated for Audio Engineer of the Year in 2020, Gena Johnson receives her second nod in the same category. Let’s hear it for the ladies!

7. New faces going places

What do Jerry Jones, John Travolta, Courteney Cox and the ghost of Joan Rivers have in common? They all love new faces. And so do the ACMs. Hence, 35 percent of this year’s nominees are either first-timers overall or in their respective categories. Some names to watch: ACM co-hosts Jimmie Allen and Gabby Barrett are up for Male Artist of the Year and Female Artist of the Year, respectively; Morgan Wallen, whose “Dangerous: The Double Album” was the top-selling record of 2021 regardless of genre, has earned first-time nods for Male Artist of the Year, Album of the Year and Song of the Year, while ACM ball-hog Miranda Lambert is nominated as a producer for the first time, because of course she is.

8. Country music’s next power couple?

Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood. Empty beer cans and pickup truck bed liners. Country music is full of beloved pairings. Add another to the list: Ryan Hurd and Maren Morris, who are the first husband-and-wife duo to be nominated for ACMs in the same year since McGraw and Hill in 2017. She’s in the running for Female Artist of the Year, he’s vying for New Male Artist of the Year. They brought the house down at the 2021 ACMs by performing their duet “Chasing After You.” This year, they’re chasing after some more of that ACM hardware.

9. Local love

OK, so this one’s not on the broadcast, but still, a couple of area casinos are up for off-air ACMs. (Yes, there are trophies for casinos here — your move, Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards.) First up, in the Best Casino — Theater category, the brand-spanking-new Resorts World gets a nod after being open less than a year. That’s like the ultrasound of a future child actor being up for an Academy Award. And vying for Casino of the Year — Arena is the Madison Square Garden of the Mojave, the venerable Laughlin Events Center. Congrats!

10. Never give up on a cowboy …

He’s the country music equivalent of one of those “Hang in there” posters depicting a cute little kitten clinging for its life on a clothesline over the Grand Canyon or something, a look of sheer terror spread across its adorable, adorable little mug. Seventeen years ago, singer Walker Hayes moved to Nashville to pursue a career in music. Nearly two decades later, he’s a first-time ACM nominee, up for five awards, including New Male Artist of the Year. Similar to what you’ve just read, that is one incredible, incredible story.

Contact Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476. Follow @jbracelin76 on Instagram.

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