Should the Highwomen win Group of the Year at the 2021 ACM Awards on Sunday night (April 18), the award will go to Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris and Amanda Shires -- the four women who released the band's debut album in September of 2019.

Americana singer-songwriter Shires was the one who first conceived of the Highwomen, all the way back in 2016, but she doesn't see its membership as stagnant; British soul-leaning singer-songwriter Yola, for example, is a guest on the album's title track, and the quartet has also worked with folky pop-rock legend Sheryl Crow. They, too, are Highwomen, as are others who've yet to publicly make music with the band.

"In the future, [my vision for the Highwomen is] to continue to expand, to make sure that the band and the group is never as important as the names inside of the group," Shires says. "It's always meant to be a place where people could come in, tell their stories, get their voices heard, and be a place of love and accommodation, you know? So what I see for us is continuing to expand and bring people in and accommodate, also, the roles that we have as women."

Who the Highwomen are may expand and contract, but, Shires says, it will always be "a place where we can all be Highwomen and all have trust for one another. And, more than that, we like to have fun and play music."

As long as there is a need to be heard, a need to fight for equality, the Highwomen should exist, Shires reasons. "Equality: It's a big word, and it's gonna take a while to get there," she says, "and it's gonna take a lot of stories to understand."

Shires has been writing and gathering ideas for a second Highwomen album. "Future plans," she says, "include new music, new stories, new voices, old stories, old voices -- no ageism -- all the cool stuff."

And as for that Group of the Year nomination -- the Highwomen's second consecutive nod in the ACM Awards category? Shires says it's beyond what she'd dreamed for the group.

"To me, the idea of success was getting together with a bunch of women and playing music and making a record and having shows where women who couldn't be part of the project initially could come join and play live," she reflects. "The support and the nominations, they make the fire so much stronger within me. It makes me hopeful for the world: for myself and my sisters ... for daughters -- mine and everybody else's.

"It's just," Shires adds, pausing, "it's crazy, and it's very, very cool."

After relocating from Las Vegas to Nashville in 2020 out of necessity during the COVID-19 pandemic, the ACM Awards are back in Music City in 2021. As showrunners did last year, they're spreading this year's event out across iconic venues (the Grand Ole Opry House, the Ryman Auditorium and the Bluebird Cafe), though a few performances will take place elsewhere. They'll be following local guidelines related to the pandemic, as well as additional, self-imposed safety measures.

The 2021 ACM Awards will begin at 8PM ET and will air live on CBS and be available to stream on Paramount+. Sign up for the streaming service here.

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2021 ACM Awards Nominees: The Full List

Maren Morris and Chris Stapleton lead all 2021 ACM Awards nominees with six each and Miranda Lambert has five, including Female Artist of the Year. Thomas Rhett and Ashley McBryde will be up for four ACM awards on April 18. The CBS broadcast will award trophies for Entertainer, Song and Album of the Year, in addition to Duo and Group of the Year. This is a list of all ACM Awards nominations for 2021.

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