LAS VEGAS (AP) – Jason Aldean paid tribute to the victims of the massive shooting at a country music festival during his acceptance speech after being named entertainer of the year at Sunday’s Academy of Country Music Awards.
“It’s been a rough year,” Aldean said during the ceremony in Las Vegas, thanking those “that showed us love and support over the last six months.”
Last October a lone gunman killed 58 people at country music’s Route 91 Harvest Festival in Sin City, becoming the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Aldean was onstage when the shooting occurred.
“You guys are in our hearts always,” he said. “We love Las Vegas. Vegas strong.”
The country music community, returning to Vegas on Sunday six months after the massive shooting, opened the show in memory of the victims.
Miranda Lambert said the world can be “united through the healing power of music,” while Luke Bryan said “music helps us remember what really matters in life.” At the MGM Grand Garden Arena, Maren Morris said music “makes us stronger” and Thomas Rhett said music gives us “a chance to rejoice.”
Aldean closed the emotional moment, saying in respect to the victims and music fans, “we celebrate the music tonight. America, this is your ACM Awards.”
The ACMs also marked an important night for Chris Stapleton, who missed the show because his wife, Morgane, gave birth to twins. Sunday was also the singer’s 40th birthday.
Stapleton, the leading nominee with eight, won male vocalist of the year and album of the year, where he won twice as a singer and producer.
Carrie Underwood made her first television appearance since injuring her face in strong form at the ACMs, owning the stage with her powerhouse vocals.
Underwood, in a glittery dress, returned to the stage like an A-List veteran when she performed her new song, “Cry Pretty,” earning a rousing, and long, standing ovation from the audience. Underwood injured her face and wrist last year due to a fall at her home.
Following the performance, she immediately won vocal event of the year for the dance-infused country song, “The Fighter,” with Keith Urban.
“Thank you for having me,” Underwood said to Urban onstage. “I am still kind of shaking right now,” she added, appearing teary-eyed.
Lambert also made history Sunday: She surpassed Brooks and Dunn as the most decorated act in ACM history with 32 wins. Lambert won her ninth consecutive female vocalist of the year trophy and won twice for song of the year — as the performer and co-writer of “Tin Man.”
“I cannot believe this. I really can’t. …I love country music. It’s my entirely life,” Lambert said onstage. “I will never ever take it for granted.”
Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard wore an all-red ensemble and Brian Kelley was in all-white when they hit the stage with pop singer Bebe Rexha to perform the massive hit “Meant to Be,” which is spending its 19th week on top of Billboard’s Hot country songs chart. It ties Leroy Van Dyke’s “Walk On By” as the third longest-running song of all-time on the chart.
The longest-running No. 1 song of all-time on the country charts, Sam Hunt’s “Body Like a Back Road,” won single record of the year at the ACMs; Hunt didn’t attend the show.
Little Big Town sang Elton John’s “Rocket Man” in celebration of the icon’s new album, “Restoration,” which features country singers covering his songs. Kane Brown and Lauren Alaina were impressive when they sang their duet, “What Ifs.” Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith, Kelsea Ballerini, Alan Jackson, Lady Antebellum and Dierks Bentley also performed.
McEntire, who performed with Kelly Clarkson, hosted the three-hour show a year after Bryan and Bentley did the job.
“It takes one woman to do the job of two men,” she said, earning a rousing applause.
Old Dominion won vocal group of the year, besting Little Big Town and Lady Antebellum.
“This is heavy in a lot of ways,” lead singer Matthew Ramsey said, holding the trophy in his hand.
“We’re so lucky. Look at us, look at us!” he said about his bandmates, all dressed in trendy suits. “We look good. We feel good. We’re friends. And we’re having a ball.
“Thank you for letting us make music.”
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