Dolly Parton, Chris Stapleton, Lainey Wilson Own the Night
Garth Brooks named Dolly Parton country music’s GOAT, Chris Stapleton won Entertainer of the Year for the first time, and Lainey Wilson continued her rise to stardom at the 2023 Academy of Country Music Awards.
Parton concluded Thursday’s two-hour awards ceremony with a performance of her rock anthem, “World on Fire,” which she borrowed from her forthcoming rock debut rock star. The song includes lyrics like, “Don’t start me on politics/Now how are we supposed to live in a world like this?”
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During the performance, which featured a full band and ten dancers, fire broke out from the stage.
“The rock star of country music,” co-host Brooks said at the introduction Rock and Roll Hall of Famers and co-hosts.
Early in the night, Brooks listed the likes of Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, George Jones, Buck Owens, Charley Pride, George Strait, Keith Whitley and Randy Travis as he tried to pick the country’s greatest of all time Music.
“What defines the GOAT? Selection, vocals, musicianship, awards…then add the last category: time/length of career. Guys, I’m not so sure that last statement doesn’t make the king of country music a woman,” he said. “That’s right, and that woman is at the house tonight, Texas. Give it up for the GOAT, Dolly Parton.”
The icon strutted onto the stage with a goat to 9 to 5. “Did I hear you said you were looking for a goat? “Well, I have your goat right here, Garth,” she said, laughing.
Parton also joked about the meaning of GOAT. “I saw you telling all the nice people out there online that I’m your hall pass. Yes. He said that. And that I’m Trish’s ticket too. Hey, I just had a thought. I know why you’re doing that GOAT thing: I think it stands for ‘Garth Organized a Threesome’.”
The pair hosted the commercial-free show (excluding Amazon Prime Video program ads) from the Ford Center at The Star in Frisco, Texas.
Stapleton, who has won eight Grammy Awards, 15 ACMs and 20 Country Music Association Awards, won the grand prize for the first time. Despite multiple nominations, Stapleton was never named Entertainer of the Year at the CMAs.
“Well, I’m really shocked. By any standards I don’t deserve this, but thank you,” he said. “I get up and play music. I try to do that every night. I write songs and I make records… I never thought I would be someone who would win this award.”
Stapleton also thanked his children and his wife, singer Morgane Stapleton, who was shocked when her husband’s name was called.
“My kids are sitting at home sacrificing a lot of my and my wife’s time so we can do this,” he said. “This is for you.”
Stapleton edged out major artists to take home the award including last year’s winner Miranda Lambert, Jason Aldean, Luke Combs, Carrie Underwood, Kane Brown and Morgan Wallen, who was named Singer of the Year but out of the Award ceremony had to drop out because of his vocal cord injury.
“We all know what it takes to win this award and how much work has to be done. Winning it is one thing, being here not to get it has to kill him so let’s all celebrate,” Brooks said in Wallen’s honor.
Hardy and Wilson were the night’s big winners, each winning four awards. Together they voted Music Event of the Year and Visual Medium of the Year for the murder ballad Wait in the Truck, which tells a story of revenge after domestic violence against a girl.
“Thank you everyone for resonating with this song, especially something on this subject,” said Hardy, who also won Artist-Songwriter of the Year.
“I didn’t want people to identify with this song, but it’s true, a lot of people do, so this one is for all of you,” Wilson added.
The singer was also named Singer of the Year and Album of the Year Bell bottom country.
“For the little girls watching this – this represents hard work. If you want to be a dreamer, you better be a doer,” she said.
The evening was full of passionate moments on stage. Old Dominion’s Matthew Ramsey delivered an emotional speech to the crowd and viewers as his band was named Group of the Year.
“I also know that there are obviously people in the world right now who are doing poorly and are trying to figure out how to understand divisions and shootings and stuff like that. And there are people who are really hurting right now, and we’re still proud to be in a room full of country fans and making music for those people, but most of all we’re proud to be able to make music for people, “I’m on it,” said Ramsey, who used a cane after fracturing his pelvis in three places in an ATV accident in March.
“Thank you for including us in this party and allowing us to make music for anyone who needs it. We’ll keep trying and thank my friends here for supporting me when I needed it,” he continued.
Cole Swindell was in tears when he won song of the year for “She Had Me at Heads Carolina,” which he co-wrote with Thomas Rhett and sampled Jo Dee Messina’s 1996 hit “Heads Carolina, Tails California.” The song, which Swindell performed along with Messina, also won Single of the Year.
“A kid that looks at this tonight is going to be inspired by a song and follow it up and pursue the dream like we all have,” he said.
Cross-genre artist Jelly Roll also shed tears after sharing a touching and heartfelt performance of his song “Save Me” with Wilson.
“I love you, mate,” she said after the performance.
The War and Treaty, who made history as the first black duo to be nominated for the Duo of the Year award, also put on a groundbreaking performance and earned a standing ovation. The couple performed “Blank Page” seated, facing each other, holding hands and soulful singing – all while the audience, including Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban, watched in awe.
“That’s exactly what you want to achieve in music,” Brooks exclaimed after the performance.
“This is fantastic,” added Parton.
Ed Sheeran has teamed up with Luke Combs to sing “Life Goes On,” a song about the death of his best friend Jamal Edwards, who helped the English singer launch his career. Up-and-coming singer Bailey Zimmerman impressed with a performance of his Top 10 pop hit “Rock and a Hard Place”; Hardy rocked so hard his hair stood on end with static electricity, matching his rendition of “Truck Bed”; and Cody Johnson honored Willie Nelson, who turned 90 last month, with a performance of “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” which the icon and Waylon Jennings released in 1978. It topped the country charts and won the duo a Grammy.
Parton even took up singing, singing the traditional gospel hymn “Precious Memories” as he thought of the country superstars who had passed away Loretta Lynn And Naomi Juddwho both died last year.
She also gave a salute to Nelson, who appeared on screen via video call. He thanked Parton for sending the flowers and asked Brooks if his gift was still on the way.
Nelson said: “Dolly got it right. I love all kinds of flowers and plants.”
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