NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – At the Academy of Country Music Awards on Wednesday, there will be no fake fans, canned applause, or pre-recorded acceptance speeches. After a five-month delay due to the coronavirus pandemic, the awards ceremony aims to bring back the live television experience.
The 55th Annual ACM Awards, normally held in Las Vegas in April, were postponed this year and moved to Nashville, Tennessee for the first time. But while other music award shows have tried a hybrid of virtual stages, music video-style performances, or home shows, the ACMs will be broadcast on CBS from three indoor stages in Nashville, Tennessee.
“We have tried, for lack of a better word, to maintain the standard of what we do at the ACM Awards, which is to present many live performances on stages,” said RA Clark, who is in his 21st year as Executive Director. producer of the show.
The performances, some of which are pre-recorded, include three historically significant stages in country music history, but none are open to fans. The smallest, the Bluebird Cafe, could seat only about 90 people prior to the pandemic, and the location helped kickstart the careers of Garth Brooks and Taylor Swift, among others. Miranda Lambert will sing the aptly titled “Bluebird” from the small stage, with other performances from Tim McGraw, Jimmie Allen and Luke Combs. An early milestone for gospel, bluegrass and country, the Ryman Auditorium features performances by Maren Morris, Thomas Rhett with Jon Pardi and Kelsea Ballerini.
Even Taylor Swift returns to ACM after seven years with a performance of her new album ‘Folklore’, which hit # 1 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart for six weeks. Swift will perform at the Grand Ole Opry House, the center of operations for the live broadcast where host Keith Urban and presenters will present the awards. Clark said that’s what sets this pandemic awards show apart from others.
“Hearing the winners and live acceptance speeches are essential,” said Clark.
An entirely new division focusing on COVID-19 precautions and regulations has been added by Dick Clark Productions. Whether they’re a guitar technician, a grip, an artist, or a producer, anyone entering any of their venues should take a COVID-19 test, wear a mask, and have their temperature checked, Clark said.
But moving from a major arena in Las Vegas to three smaller stages has actually given them more flexibility in the face of the pandemic.
“When we’re at MGM (Grand Arena) or in one location, so many people huddle on top of each other, from staff to crew to talent, changing rooms, all that,” Clark said. “Part of the advantage of three different locations is that everyone is scattered and there is less population density, which helps with our protocols.”
Damon Whiteside, ACM CEO, said they put a lot of thought into what they normally do for an awards show, right down to setting up a virtual press for artists and media ahead of Wednesday’s show. But he also thinks fans will appreciate the realism the show is trying to achieve with its performances.
“When you see an artist onstage who is in an empty Ryman Auditorium, and you start to see the empty pews, it gets really powerful,” Whiteside said. “That’s more important to us than cardboard cutouts or fake applause or things like that.”
Urban, the reigning ACM entertainer of the year, will take over the show hosting duties for the first time this year and has his job off his hands. But he is grateful that he gets the chance at all.
“I’m so glad they are doing it,” said Urban. “Because I thought for a moment that we should just keep going this year? That would be heartbreaking. “
But he joked about how the awards ceremony will look very different this year.
“I don’t know if it will look like an NFL Draft night when we hand out the awards,” Urban said with a laugh. ‘I keep seeing that in my head, like they’re at Miranda Lambert’s house or Eric Church’s or someone else’s and they’re going there’ Woo-hoo! ‘with their families in the background. “
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