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ACM Honors Pioneers in Country Music

Rick Diamond, Getty Images

The sixth annual ACM Honors, held Monday night (Sept. 25) at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, was an evening of celebrating the pioneers of country music as well as the musicians, producers and behind-the-scenes people who bring the genre to the masses.

Dierks Bentley was one of the biggest fans at the event, though his real job was to host it. As he came onstage at the onset of the evening, he proclaimed, “I’m just like Minnie Pearl tonight — I’m just so proud to be here.”

At one point, Dierks flubbed a line, stopped and explained, “I’m very nervous just being around these guys. I know where they’re all sitting but I’m just focusing on my little friend (the monitor) up there.”

The atmosphere was one of camaraderie, as artists visited with each other, offering congratulations and catching up, before the show began. Dierks pointed out that it was an evening free of the constraints of television, so those who shared the stage were not under pressure to get on and off in mere seconds.

Stories about the different honorees flowed freely, as peers and friends came forward to perform songs and present awards. There were no elaborate sets or directors making sure everyone spoke on cue, as this was an evening that focused totally on the performers and the songs.

Presenting an award to one of his dearest friends, Luke Bryan recalled his first meeting with Dallas Davidson, who was named the ACM Songwriter of the Year. That award has been given only one other time, to Roger Miller, who was also among last night’s honorees.

“The first time I ever met Dallas .. well we really didn’t meet. It was in 1995 and during deer season, I was hunting off a stand down in Georgia. When I walked back to my truck, there was a note tucked under the windshield. It was very long and precise, and it basically said that I was using his deer stand. Isn’t it fitting that we met fighting over a deer stand?”

Dallas had 13 songs on the charts last year, among them Luke’s “Country Girl, Shake It For Me,” Craig Morgan‘s “This Ole Boy,” Joe Nichols‘ “The Shape I’m In” and “If Heaven Weren’t So Far Away,” a hit for Justin Moore. Luke performed “Country Girl Shake it For Me” at the ACM Honors, along with another big hit for him, “I Don’t Want This Night to End.”

All-around nice guy and everyone’s favorite backup singer, Vince Gill was honored with the Career Achievement Award. A video presentation drew laughs when it showed a very young Vince onscreen. His wife, Amy Grant, along with Keith Urban and Reba McEntire, sent taped messages for the video.

“When I first came to town I had no money, so I was playing for tips down on Broadway in this little club,” Dierks recalled. “One night I look up and Vince Gill walks in, and he played with us for an hour and 22 minutes. I know because I kept looking at the clock thinking, why is he still here? That demonstrates the goodness of Nashville and all the people who are here for the music.”

Vince gave the rest of the story when he took to the stage. “On my way home after playing with Dierks, who I didn’t have a clue who he was at the time, I told Amy, ‘You know that guy playing guitar has that ‘thing.’ I think something good will happen to him.”

The legendary singer received a standing ovation as he ended his remarks by saying, “I get tired of hearing people in country music tell me how country they are. What I long to hear is how country it is.”


Flip Through Photos From the ACM Honors

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Alan Jackson, who received the Jim Reeves International Award for helping popularize country music around the globe, recounted a story that gave him insight into how international his music has become. “I have a friend whose parents are missionaries. They went to China and the first time they walked in the church in the town where they had been sent, they heard the kids in the church singing along to my gospel album.”

Clint Black honored Roger Miller, who received the Poet’s Award, by singing the late legend’s “King of the Road,” “Dang Me” and “Husbands and Wives.” In the video about Roger, Kix Brooks proclaimed that the country pioneer was from another planet, while Toby Keith said, “Roger must have had a word wrench that he could fit a word into any situation.” Dwight Yoakam, another honoree of the evening, said, “Writing with Roger was like trying to make a taxi keep up with a Lear jet.” Long time friend Stan Moress recalled Roger’s answer when someone asked him why he didn’t co-write very much. “Roger just looked at him and replied, ‘Did Picasso co-paint?’”

Bobby Braddock shares the Poets award with Roger. Bobby has written such timeless classics as Tammy Wynette‘s “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” and Toby Keith’s “I Wanna Talk About Me.” Honoring him were songwriter Will Hoge, who performed “Time Marches On,” originally recorded by Tracy Lawrence, and Kellie Pickler, who sang the Tammy Wynette hit, “Stand By Your Man.” Randy Houser did a spine-tingling version of “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” a George Jones hit that has been hailed by many as the greatest country song ever written.

Kenny Chesney was awarded the Crystal Milestone award for touring. The “Come Over” singer has grossed 630 million dollars for 607 shows. He has total command when he takes the stage these days, but that wasn’t always the case.

“I remember that first night I headlined, in West Palm Beach, Fla., in 2002, I made them (his manager) go take photos of the crowd to prove to me that I wasn’t going to be singing to empty seats,” Kenny recalled. “The longer I do this, the more I realized how fortunate we are to do what we do. I love what I do and I have a great passion for it. I hope I represent country music in a good way. I’ve always tried to do that.”

Kenny went on to tell a story about Dierks opening for him several years ago. “He was so excited to be on the tour and he called me almost every day to thank me,” Kenny remembered. “Then the first night of the tour he climbed up on a riser and jumped down and tore out his ACL. He was in a boot for the rest of the tour!”

Emmylou Harris also received a Pioneer Award. The singer is credited with saving the Ryman from extinction when she recorded her “Live at the Ryman” album at the then aging venue. At that time, she said the Ryman had “hillbilly dust and a soul.”

Honoring Emmylou in song were Rodney Crowell, who sang “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight,” and Buddy Miller and T Bone Burnett, who performed “Boulder to Birmingham,” a song the angelic-voiced singer penned for her friend, the late Gram Parsons.

Upon accepting the award, Emmylou confessed, “I was a Joan Baez wannabe, even while my brother was playing country music at home on his record player. Then Chris Hillman saw me performing at a little club and brought Gram to see me, and he introduced me to the Louvin Brothers and other classic country singers and I became an obnoxious country music convert.”

Ricky Skaggs was also given a Pioneer Award. He said that all artists like to be recognized for the work they do, although sometimes people don’t get that opportunity, and he said it was very special for him to be receiving the award. Dailey & Vincent performed two of his hits, “Highway 40 Blues,” “I Wouldn’t Change You if I Could” and “Honey (Won’t You Open That Door?).” Dierks then took to the stage to sing “I Don’t Care.”

Dwight received the final Pioneer Award of the evening. He was the only person to have actors in his video, as both Billy Bob Thornton and Vince Vaughn sent him their regards. Ashley Monroe performed a fantastic rendition of “A Thousand Miles From Nowhere,” and Hunter Hayes did an exceptional job on “Fast as You,” causing Dwight to adlib, “Hunter, you might think about recording that song!”

“I just love who Dwight is and what he stands for,” Hunter said. “He’s got the thing that we all try to have, where you know it’s just undeniably him.”

Dwight said he was thrilled to be a part of the evening, commenting, “What a great gift to be here to watch these people receive their awards, who were beacons to me to come to the West Coast, like Emmylou. My mother is here tonight, and I was privileged to be born into a unique culture of country music. Ricky Skaggs was the gangplank. Buck Owens and Merle Haggard were also on the West Coast when I arrived. Beyond all those artists are the people who believed in me, so I’m accepting this award for all of them … I cried like a baby watching Roger’s presentation tonight. All of us who came later walked the road these people paved.”

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