The 55th annual Academy of Country Music Awards (ACMs) kicked off Wednesday night from Nashville, Tenn., with a slew of performances from the nominees for the entertainer of the year category.
Singing to empty seats from music venues around the city, Luke Bryan opened one of country music’s biggest nights by singing his song, “Rain Is a Good Thing,” before throwing it to Eric Church then to Luke Combs before Thomas Rhett took over. Carrie Underwood closed out the opening act by belting out “Before He Cheats.”
Following the performances, host Keith Urban took the stage, taking a moment to talk about 2020 and how it’s been an “unpredictable and unsettling year for everyone.”
Keith Urban speaks onstage during the 55th Academy of Country Music Awards at the Grand Ole Opry on September 16, 2020 in Nashville, Tennessee. The ACM Awards airs on September 16, 2020 with some live and some prerecorded segments. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/ACMA2020/Getty Images for ACM)
After noting wildfires on the West Coast, hurricanes in the South, Urban said the country is battling two pandemics: COVID-19 and social injustice.
“Far too many lives have been lost to both,” he said. “But the examples set by essential workers, our first responders, along with the voices crying out for equality in all walks of life, have echoed around the world and right here in our country community.”
Following Urban’s introduction, Jimmie Allen went on to perform at the Bluebird Cafe before Old Dominion sang a medley of their biggest hits.
The first on-air award went to Dan + Shay for duo of the year, while song of the year went to Old Dominion for “One Man Band.”
In this screengrab, Carrie Underwood performs onstage during the 55th Academy of Country Music Awards at the Grand Ole Opry on September 13, 2020 in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo by ACMA2020/Getty Images for ACM)
The 55th annual ACM Awards, normally held in April in Las Vegas, were delayed this year and moved to Nashville, for the first time.
The performances and segments, a mix of pre-taped and live numbers, floated between three historically important stages — the Grand Ole Opry, Bluebird Cafe and the Ryman Auditorium — in country music history, but none are open for fans.
Trisha Yearwood will perform a memorial tribute performance that will likely include Kenny Rogers, Joe Diffie, Charlie Daniels and John Prine, who all died in 2020. Country singer Mickey Guyton’s performance of “What Are You Gonna Tell Her?” will highlight food insecurity. The ACMs will also showcase their charity contributions to unemployed workers in the music industry.
Taylor Swift is also set to make her first return to the ACM stage in seven years.
The Associated Press contributed to this report