The 12th Annual ACM Honors were held at Nashville’s famed Ryman Auditorium on Aug. 22, and it was an evening filled with hilarious moments, memorable performances and heartfelt speeches. The event recognized the special honorees and off-camera category winners from the 53rd ACM Awards, including the Special Awards, Studio Recording Awards, Industry Awards and Songwriter of the Year Award.
Jon Pardi and Lauren Alaina proved themselves comical co-hosts throughout the nearly three-hour ceremony, which featured performances from Chris Stapleton, Old Crow Medicine Show, Cam, Deana Carter, Ashley McBryde, Kassi Ashton, Morgan Evans, Joe Diffie, Dustin Lynch, Dallas Davidson, Ben Hayslip and each of the co-hosts. Here’s a look at the top 12 most memorable moments from the 2018 ACM Honors.
1. Old Crow Medicine Show’s Gets it Rolling with “Wagon Wheel”
Darius Rucker was honored with the Gary Haber Lifting Lives Award for his dedication to countless charities, including ACM Lifting Lives and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Ahead of his acceptance speech, Old Crow Medicine Show sang the infectious “Wagon Wheel.” The group–who made the song famous years before Rucker put his own distinct spin on it–showed the Mother Church of Country Music how it’s done with a riveting performance that had the entire venue singing along. The most energetic set of the evening, the group received a very-deserved standing ovation.
Well that was AMAZING!!! Thank you so much @acmawards for asking me to perform. Y’all put on a really incredible show. My first red carpet experience was better than I could have asked for and any chance to sing at The Ryman is an absolute honor. (Many more posts of the same outfit and night to come).
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2. Kassi Ashton Shows her Swag on “Body Like a Back Road”
Kassi Ashton stole the red carpet with a stunning pink two-piece ensemble that she made herself, and when it was time to take the Ryman stage to pay tribute to Sam Hunt, who was given the Gene Weed Milestone Award recognizing the success of his 34-week No. 1 hit, she stole the stage, too. Prancing in front of the crowd, Ashton performed her own take on the record-breaking 2017 jam. “If you’re not dancing you’re not doing it right,” she said mid-song. The singer then closed her performance sitting on the steps of the Ryman, introducing herself to Hunt himself. “Congratulations, I’m a huge fan!” she said at the close of her set.
3. Two Words: Chris Stapleton
Stapleton’s voice is unlike anyone else in country music, and to witness him perform at the Ryman is a transcendent experience. The singer helped honor Alan Jackson, who was being recognized with the Cliffie Stone Icon Award. Performing Jackson’s 1990 hit “Here In the Real World,” Stapleton gave new meaning to the classic with his soulful take on the song.
4. Sam Hunt’s New ‘Do
Hunt walked up to the Ryman stage to accept his award and was barely recognizable. The singer, who shaved his head and ditched his polarizing beard, could likely go incognito anywhere in Nashville with his new look. The clean-cut award winner was oh-so-suave in a tan suit as he thanked his co-writers and the industry for embracing “Body Like a Back Road.”
5. Stick to Singing, Jon Pardi!
These were the exact words from Dierks Bentley when he accepted his Merle Haggard Spirit Award. How do we put this nicely? Pardi was a little distracted during his job as co-host. He missed a few cues, mispronounced several words and accidentally called award winners the names of musicians who weren’t being honored like Kris Kristofferson and Jimi Hendrix. Reading a teleprompter isn’t for everyone.
6. Pardi’s Jaw-Dropping Performance
The California native later redeemed himself with a powerful take on Bentley’s 2013 hit, “I Hold On.” Alone with his acoustic guitar, Pardi belted the poignant lyrics as if he wrote them himself. As his voice echoed throughout the famed venue, the song’s message rang loud, clear and true.
7. Girl Power
Singer-songwriter Matraca Berg was recognized with the Poet’s Award for her impact on the country songwriting community. With songs recorded by Kenny Chesney, Trisha Yearwood, Patty Loveless and Deana Carter, Berg was toasted with a rousing performance by three women whom she influenced. Carter’s stirring rendition of her 1996 debut single “Strawberry Wine” captivated, while Lauren Alaina showcased her powerful pipes on Chesney’s “You and Tequila.” Ashley McBryde, meanwhile, gave a rollicking performance of Yearwood’s “Wrong Side of Memphis” which had the audience cheering in approval.
8. Lauren Alaina’s Comic Chops
Co-hosting an event can be nerve-wracking, but Alaina handled the spotlight with poise and humor. At one point, Pardi was nowhere to be found to read his lines from the teleprompter, so the quick-witted Alaina went with it and took over. Moments later Pardi ran on stage with his guitar, trying to recover unsuccessfully. “There is a TV right there,” Alaina told her co-host when he started to look around the stage. “Help me, Jesus!” After his performance, Pardi remained on stage, asking her if he was supposed to stay there. “No!” she said to the audience’s laughter. “Story of my life.”
9. Rhett Akins’ Winning Speech
Rhett Akins was awarded Songwriter of the Year and it’s easy to see why. The man has penned timeless hits for countless artists, and while the stories within his songs captivate, so do his tales about real life. During his acceptance speech, he shared a full-circle moment with the audience about his first time visiting Nashville in 1991. After touring the Ryman Auditorium and taking his picture on the stage while dreaming of performing there one day, he decided to check out some live music at one of the bars on Broadway. “I walked by and I heard this voice coming out. I never met a real singer-songwriter in Nashville so I walked in there and there was no one in the bar. [It was just] the guy on the stool and the bartender,” he recalled. Akins said the man performing was so excited another person was in attendance that he asked him where he was from and if he wanted to play one of his songs on the stage. “He said, ‘Well, man, if you ever move to Nashville, I’ll give you my number.’ He wrote his number on the card and it said 615-whatever Kenny Chesney.” Nearly 30 years later Akins’ son, Thomas Rhett, is opening for Chesney on his stadium-filling “Trip Around the Sun” tour.
10. Cam Reps California Country
Cam was on hand to honor her fellow Californians with a performance ahead of the Mae Boren Axton Service Award, given posthumously to Eddie Miller and Mickey and Chris Christensen for their founding of the Academy of Country Music in 1964 (then called the Country & Western Music Academy) in Los Angeles. Cam delivered a stirring performance of Buck Owens’ 1964 hit “Crying Time” that would no doubt make the late singer proud with her smoky vocals and throwback instrumentation.
11. Morgan Evans’ One-Man Band
One of the most memorable performances of the night, Evans delivered a unique set to honor the late Rob Potts who was being recognized with the Jim Reeves International Award for championing country music in Australia. Singing “Things That We Drink To,” Evans used a loop pedal to record his acoustic guitar, drum beat, keyboard accompaniment and later an electric guitar part as he sang the reflective song.
12. Even Bono Loves Dierks
Several of the award recipients earned a video montage that highlighted their accomplishments and influence on others in the industry. Ahead of Bentley accepting his trophy, the singer was praised by a wide range of industry colleagues–even U2’s Bono. “When he sings ‘Home’ I feel patriotic about America and I’m not even American,” the iconic frontman confessed. You know you’ve made it when Bono is a fan.