At this year’s ACM Honors, the little-known people, who work their wonders out of the spotlight, were highly recognized. The Wednesday night event saw big country music artists honoring the behind-the-scenes architects of Music Row.
Without them, music – and music promotion and consumption – truly wouldn’t be what it is today, and yet they’re mostly the unsung heroes, but not on Wednesday’s ACM Honors.
ACM Honors Showcase Various Fields of Music Professionals
Country singers from Alan Jackson, Lee Ann Womack, Ronnie Dunn, RaeLynn, Caylee Hammack, Ashley McBride to the legendary Keith Urban and more took to the stage of Ryman Auditorium to pay tribute to songwriters, producers, filmmakers and fellow artists.
“Everything starts here,” Shay Mooney, one half of the hitmaking duo Dan + Shay, told the media backstage via Zoom about the contributions made by the off-stage team to country music. “It all starts with a song. It’s the pulse of the music industry and it goes from Nashville out into the rest of the world.”
Carly Pearce, who just became the latest member of the Grand Ole Opry, hosted the Wednesday event, which incorporated 2019 and 2020 off-camera Academy of Country Music Awards recipients. The organization postponed Honors last year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and for this event, audience members are required to show vaccine proof or a negative COVID-19 test before entering the Ryman, according to ACM.
Carly Pearce kicked off the musical performances with the song “Dear Miss Loretta”, a modern ode dedicated to country legend Loretta Lynn, who earned one of the night’s three Poet Awards.
Lynn wasn’t present in the house, but she sent in a voice message acknowledging her win. “Thank you ACMs for giving me the Poet’s Award,” Lynn said. “I think [that’s] the greatest award I could get.”
Other honorees included Rascal Flatts and industry executive Joe Galante (both earned the Cliff Stone Icon Award); tenured ACM Awards producer RAC Clark (ACM Mae Boren Axton Service Award); live music professional and COVID-19 relief advocate Michael Strickland (Gene Weed Milestone Award); and Ken Burns for his 16-hour documentary “Country Music” (ACM Tex Ritter Film Award).
Country Musicians Salute Their Little-known Musical Partners
Chris Janson paid tribute to late songwriter Curly Putman with “She Stopped Loving Her Today” and, along with making her Ryman debut, newcomer Brittany Spencer sang a riveting take of “Independence Day” for Gretchen Peters, who emotionally watched the performance from the Ryman pews. Peters and Putnam joined Lynn in earning a Poet’s Award.
“I was a fool to think I wouldn’t cry,” Peters said. “I really believe that songwriting is a calling and what we do is much, much more than entertainment. At their best, songs are empathy machines. … They take us into other worlds, they let us stand in somebody else’s shoes for a few minutes.”
“Songs can literally change the world. And the world needs love and empathy more than it ever has,” Peters added.
Four songwriters – Jessie Jo Dillon, Jorgan Reynolds, Laura Veltz and Nicolle Galyon – took to the stage to sing a medley of Dan + Shay’s biggest hits “Speechless” “Tequila” and “10,000 Hours”.
The musical duo Dan + Shay earned the year’s Jim Reeves International Award, recognizing global contributions to country music.
When asked “if there was anybody important … that could come up on stage at the Ryman and honor you,” Dan Smyers replied that his first call was to the group’s collaborators.
“I’m shaking,” Smyers said. “That was so special. Without the songwriters in this town, we would have none of this. We would have none of the shows, we would have none of the record sales — any of this.”
Hilary Lindsey went home with two years’ worth of trophies, earning songwriter of the year for both 2019 and 2020. “[She’s written for] Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood, Lady Gaga and me, which is not that impressive when I say those other names,” Alaina joked when introducing the award. “Her songwriting skills are simply unmatched.”
Be sure to catch up on everything happening with Country Music right now. Come back here often for all ACM Honors spoilers, news, and updates.