Epic but not grand

Academy of Coun­try Mu­sic’s Texas-sized spec­ta­cle is too much.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Mikael Wood

Is big­ger nec­es­sar­ily bet­ter?

There was no doubt­ing the Academy of Coun­try Mu­sic’s an­swer to that ques­tion Sun­day night, when the En­cino-based trade group threw its 50th an­nual awards show at the cav­ernous AT&T Sta­dium near Dal­las.

With an in-per­son au­di­ence of ap­prox­i­mately 70,000 — so huge “we just made the Guin­ness Book of World Records,” ac­cord­ing to co-host Blake Shel­ton — the 31⁄2 -hour cer­e­mony, broad­cast live on CBS, flaunted its size as a way to stand out in the in­creas­ingly crowded

awards-show scene. And, in­deed, you had to ad­mit that all those sweep­ing crane shots made a strong vis­ual im­pact as they took in the mas­sive crowd — images far more mem­o­rable than any from, say, last month’s iHeartRa­dio Mu­sic Awards.

But an event of this scale re­quires big mo­ments to fill it up, and the ACMs didn’t al­ways pro­vide them. At points, the show made you miss the rel­a­tively cozy con­fines of the MGM Grand Gar­den Arena in Las Ve­gas, where it’s usu­ally held.

One per­son surely happy about the larger plat­form was Luke Bryan, who in ad­di­tion to co-host­ing with Shel­ton won the night’s top prize, en­ter­tainer of the year. Ac­cept­ing his tro­phy from Steven Tyler (one of sev­eral coun­try car­pet­bag­gers on hand Sun­day), Bryan ex­uded the kind of un­abashed ex­cite­ment you rarely see on the back-pat­ting cir­cuit.

Other win­ners in­cluded Mi­randa Lam­bert, for fe­male vo­cal­ist of the year, al­bum of the year and song of the year; Ja­son Aldean, named male vo­cal­ist of the year; and Lit­tle Big Town, whose victory as vo­cal group of the year all but cer­ti­fied its takeover from the flail­ing Lady An­te­bel­lum.

Of course, view­ers aren’t tun­ing into awards shows for the awards; they’re watch­ing for the per­for­mances, which is why the ACMs front-loaded the show with a cou­ple of pow­er­ful ones.

Up first, Eric Church growled through “Pledge Al­le­giance to the Hag,” his ode to coun­try vet­eran Merle Hag­gard, whom we were told had been named most promis­ing male vo­cal­ist at the first ACM Awards in 1966. Then Ge­orge Strait took the stage for a to­tally as­sured “All My Ex’s Live in Texas” that showed why he was able to play AT&T Sta­dium on his own last year. That show served as the last stop on what Strait said would be his fi­nal tour, but here he hardly seemed like a man fit for re­tire­ment. (Some­body start a pe­ti­tion for a come­back now.)

Lam­bert put across a sim­i­lar de­gree of con­fi­dence in her punky mash-up of “Mama’s Bro­ken Heart” and “Lit­tle Red Wagon,” as did Garth Brooks in “All-Ameri- can Kid,” his salute to sol­diers that was in­tro­duced by Taya Kyle, widow of “Amer­i­can Sniper” sub­ject Chris Kyle. More pa­tri­o­tism, al­beit of a sub­tler va­ri­ety, came from Alan Jack­son, who sang a beau­ti­fully stripped­down ren­di­tion of his Sept. 11-in­spired “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turn­ing)” in re­mem­brance of the vic­tims of 1995’s Ok­la­homa City bomb­ing.

Some acts met the de­mands of Sun­day’s gig with jit­tery in­ten­sity, in­clud­ing Sam Hunt in a head-turn­ing “Take Your Time” and Nick Jonas, the for­mer kid­die-pop star who turned up at the ACMs to per­form his hit “Chains” with help from the heav­ily man-scaped pop­coun­try duo Dan + Shay.

Why ex­actly was Jonas there? It wasn’t clear. Per­haps he’d been drafted to fill the slot once oc­cu­pied by Tay­lor Swift be­fore she left coun­try for pop. Swift didn’t per­form Sun­day, though she did ac­cept a life­timeachieve­ment award from her mother, who gave a strik­ing speech about watch­ing “a young girl with very few friends be­come a young woman with many.”

Those were high points. Yet the ACMs felt equally packed with less ef­fec­tive mo­ments, such as Martina McBride’s shaky “In­de­pen­dence Day,” which seemed to get lost in the sta­dium’s boomy acous­tics, and Dierks Bent­ley’s dreary “Riser,” which used the space for empty bom­bast. Florida Ge­or­gia Line and Aldean had elab­o­rate py­rotech­nics but lit­tle per­sonal charisma.

And then there was the grind­ing, chem­istry-free duet be­tween Ras­cal Flatts and Christina Aguil­era, which came com­plete with gospel choir and drum corps. Was it a Texas-sized spec­ta­cle? Sure — it took ad­van­tage of the enor­mous room. But some­times too much is pre­cisely that.

Here’s a con­cept for next year: Just enough.

Max Faulkner

LUKE BRYAN, left, and Blake Shel­ton co-hosted the Academy of Coun­try Mu­sic Awards show Sun­day night.

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