When Eric Church hit the stage at the 2015 ACM Awards, the performance was all about honoring Merle Haggard -- an idea that came straight from Church's manager.

Church teamed up with Keith Urban to open the 2015 ACM Awards with a medley of their duet, "Raise 'Em Up," and Church's "Pledge Allegiance to the Hag," which was released on his 2006 album, Sinners Like Me.

“That was my manager’s idea. He was watching footage from 50 years ago, and Merle Haggard won the Most Promising Male. He got the idea it would be cool to pay homage for the 50th anniversary. He thought it would never go, and it did!" Church tells Country Countdown USA. "I just loved that we’re able, 10 years later, an album track gets to open the ACM Awards. It’s never been done before. We checked.”

Haggard is definitely deserving of the honor: The icon was the recipient of the ACM's Crystal Milestone Award in 2014. He took home Most Promising Male Vocalist during the inaugural awards show in 1965, he won Entertainer of the Year in 1970, and he's also been named Male Vocalist of the Year six times.

In planning his tour schedule for the rest of 2015, Church says that he's hoping to play more solo and acoustic shows. The singer unexpectedly played without his band at a show in Salt Lake City earlier this year, but he says that he began loving playing unplugged while opening two shows for George Strait on Strait’s farewell Cowboy Rides Away Tour in 2014.

“That’s really where it started for me, because I walked out there in the round, 20,000 George Strait fans, and had no clue what I was going to do, and I was scared to death,” Church recalls. “It was the first time in a long time I’ve been scared to death on stage, and I loved it. It’s that feeling that you don’t get every night, and I think it made for a really special show.

“And then Salt Lake happened — and again, it was just one of those times it was a magical night, I could never duplicate that — but somewhere during that show, I just found myself having a lot of fun,” he adds. “So I’m going to look at doing a few of those special things by myself."

Where Does Eric Church Land on The Boot's List of Country Music Risk-Takers?

You Think You Know Eric Church?