Going Back to Las Vegas: Country Community Ready to Reflect, But Have Fun, at 2018 ACM Awards
On Thursday (April 12), the Academy of Country Music will launch the 2018 Party for a Cause, kicking off four days of country music-focused events throughout Las Vegas, Nev. Seventeen ACM-sanctioned events will take place over those 96 hours, culminating in the 2018 ACM Awards, the 53rd annual ceremony, during which a number of the genre's brightest stars will take the stage to perform and / or accept awards.
The ACMs are dubbed Country Music's Party of the Year, but in 2018, there's a greater significance to the annual event: The long weekend will be, for many of the artists, fans and media members attending, as well as for a number of those behind the scenes of the event, the first time in Las Vegas since the Route 91 Harvest Festival shooting.
The 2018 ACM Awards will take place six months and two weeks after the tragedy, during which a gunman opened fire during the final night of the 2017 Route 91 Harvest Festival, killing 58 people and injuring hundreds more; most of those killed or injured were fans. It is, to date, the deadliest mass shooting committed by an individual in United States history.
We love to have fun and party, so we're going to have a lot of fun and excitement on the show but, at the same time, be very mindful of the tragedy.
While the country music community has already come together since the Route 91 shooting -- including at the 2017 CMA Awards, which took place on Nov. 8, a little over one month after the tragedy -- the Academy of Country Music knows this year's Party for a Cause and ACM Awards ceremony are going to be a big part of the post-Route 91 healing process. ACM CEO Pete Fisher says the Academy hopes to strike a balance between festivity and reflection.
"It's important for us in the entertainment industry to connect with people's hearts, and to be genuine and authentic about the pain and loss we feel," Fisher tells The Boot. "We love to have fun and party, so we're going to have a lot of fun and excitement on the show but, at the same time, be very mindful of the tragedy."
Of course, at some point during the 2018 ACM Awards, the show will pause the fun to remember and pay respects to all of those killed, injured and affected by the Route 91 shooting. Fisher is tight-lipped about the exact tribute plans, but he says that, while he's looking forward to "the plans we have on paper," he's also excited about "the 'X factor' -- the intangible."
"[That] is often the emotion that we will experience that night," he adds. "It will only happen on one night, and it's going to be very special."
In the days leading up to the 2018 ACM Awards, numerous artists have spoken out about the need to not only bring the country music community back to Las Vegas, but also, in the words of this year's ACM Awards host, Reba McEntire, "be strong" and "move forward."
"That is a very critical and important thing to do. We do pay tribute, we pay honor to those who were victims of that shooting, and then we remind everybody that we are Americans, and we do not let that shut us down," McEntire says. "We will go on, we will have a great time that night, and we’re going to have fun for them and remember them."
Remembering the Victims of the Route 91 Harvest Festival Shooting
The ACM Awards moved to Las Vegas in 2003 and have taken place there every year since, with the exception of a one-time move, in 2015, to Texas, to celebrate the show's 50th anniversary. Fisher admits that not going back to Vegas in 2018 "was certainly an option," but one "that was quickly dismissed."
"I would actually say that the exact opposite was the pull we were feeling: We felt the need to return to Vegas," he notes, "and, actually, it's been a little difficult waiting six months ... Everyone has been really anticipating the return to Las Vegas.
"The Vegas community has been so supportive of the Academy and the country music industry," Fisher adds. "We are very grateful to the Vegas community, and our hearts -- they just dropped when we heard of the tragedy."
The ACM Party for a Cause and ACM Awards bring thousands of country music fans -- not to mention dozens of artist and hundreds of media members and industry professionals -- to Las Vegas. While security was always important, this year, it's especially key to making those in attendance feel safe.
"We can't go into the specific security measures that we've taken ... [but] the safety and security of our guests are absolutely the number-one priority," Fisher says. "Cost is no object. We do everything that the experts and the local authorities tell us that we need to do."
It's been a little difficult waiting six months ... Everyone has been really anticipating the return to Las Vegas.
In a video put together by the Academy of Country Music to promote this year's festivities, artists including Michael Ray, Ashley McBryde, Lanco echo Fisher's sentiments about returning to Vegas. Luke Combs, who played the 2017 Route 91 Harvest Festival and was backstage when the shooting took place, says he's "glad" the ACMs are taking place in Las Vegas "because I think it shows solidarity." The ideas of solidarity, community and togetherness are likely to be themes throughout the weekend.
"If we’re gonna go back, I think the ACMs are the place to go back and be," Jason Aldean says, "because you’re surrounded by all your friends and artists and everyone who was there."
Aldean was playing his festival-closing set when the shooting began at Route 91; he and his wife Brittany (who was also at the festival that night) returned to Las Vegas to visit those injured in the attack one week later, but the 2018 ACMs will be one of his first times back in the city. He admits that while he's "excited" for the 2018 ACM Awards -- he's got the chance to win Entertainer of the Year for the third year in a row and is also nominated for Male Vocalist of the Year -- he thinks this year's event "will be a little bit of a different experience for me."
"To say that you’re never going to have to go back to Vegas and never sort of have to face that stuff again is kind of unrealistic," he acknowledges. "[Going back in October, after the shooting,] was a little weird. But I’ve also had a lot of great times in Vegas.”
The 2018 ACM Awards will air live on CBS beginning at 8PM ET. The ceremony will take place at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
The Boot will be staying up late covering the most buzzed-about winners, fashion and moments at the 2018 ACM Awards. Readers can watch along with us by checking back to TheBoot.com for the latest ACMs headlines, liking The Boot on Facebook and following The Boot on Twitter.
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