ACM Awards Backstage Report

Eric Church and Chris Stapleton backstage at the ACM Awards; Francis Specker/CBS

Co-host Luke Bryan may’ve made it two in a row as Entertainer of the Year at the CMAs, but he wasn’t able to repeat the feat at Sunday night’s ACM Awards. In the end, it was Jason Aldean’s night to win the award he’s had his eye on for some time.

“To me, this was really important to me. I’ve never tried to downplay it, I’ve always said that I just want it once. If I get it once, I’m happy and you don’t have to nominate me again. I just want it once and so I’m good. That ain’t to say that now I don’t want it again,” he joked, “but I’m just saying it’s all good now, you know?”

Jason admits he’d almost given up on ever taking home the Entertainer of the Year trophy.

“There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing, and I’ve just always felt like, you know, all I can do is what I do, and everything else is out of my hands. And if at some point it was my time, it would happen. And I was starting to think this one wasn’t in the cards, but you know, tonight was the night for us, and it was a good feeling for sure.”

The “Gonna Know We Were Here” hitmaker says the award means even more to him, because he feels like ultimately, it recognizes success as a touring artist.

“I mean. obviously it’s the biggest one. It’s the one that’s at the end of the night. It’s the one that everybody wants and to me, this award has always been a touring award, so I’ve built my career largely on that and I take a lot of pride in going out and performing for people and making my live show what it’s been and laying it out there for everybody every night and that’s been what I’ve done my whole career.”

— Chris Stapleton continued the incredible winning streak that started at last November’s CMA Awards.

“I’m thankful for it. It’s very nice. There’s a lot of great people doing a lot of great things and making a lot of great music, a lot of people working really hard. So when you get this kind of a thing going, I don’t think anybody deserves it,” he said humbly. “You know, it’s a lot of luck and a lot of stars lining up, and so, I’m grateful for the moment.”

The “Nobody to Blame” singer adds he got a kick out of the bit where Luke, Dierks Bentley, Carrie Underwood and others all tried to take credit for his success.

“It was a pretty funny monologue. I didn’t know anything about it. And as soon as it started, I was like, this is gonna go on and on. I thought it might have carried on throughout the night, and I was a little worried about that, cause it could’ve gotten darker and darker. But it didn’t so we’re good. Who gets credit? Everybody. Everybody but me,” he adds, settling the question.

— For Thomas Rhett, winning the Single Record of the Year trophy answered a question he’s had for a long time.

“I’ve always wondered what it actually feels like when people do walk up there and accept awards. And the body rush I got when they called my name, especially Jake [Owen] calling my name, because I’m really good buddies with Jake. And I was on the elevator with Miss America right before, so it was kinda like good vibes all the way around. You know when they called my name, me and Lauren just looked at each other and we were like, ‘I can’t believe that just happened.’ We had no idea that was gonna happen. And to have a song so personal like that to have the success it did was pretty amazing.”

Thomas believes timing and tempo likely played a part in helping the very personal song stand out.

“Sitting there watching Cam singing ‘Burning House,’ I mean I was just entranced. It was like watching a fire,” he says of his fellow nominee. “That girl is so talented and everybody else in the category is so talented. You know I think when the song came out it came out amongst a bunch of other up-tempos, so it was like the only love ballad at the time.”

The fact that fans can witness the authenticity of the relationship that inspired the song just may be what sealed the deal, Rhett says.

“I think the people that follow us on Instagram and Twitter, you know, they see me and Lauren just kind of moseying about Nashville and the country,” Thomas adds. “I feel like Lauren should have her own meet-and-greets sometime. I mean there’s people who come through meet-and-greets and they’re like, ‘Can we meet your wife? We don’t really care about you, but we want to meet your wife. So I just think all the stars just sort of lined up. It’s one of the coolest moments of my life, hands down.”

— Ten years after winning their first award, Little Big Town took home another Vocal Group of the Year trophy.

“I still remember the emotion of that moment and just bouncing up there and freaking out that we’d finally won something,” Kimberly Schlapman recalls. “But it also feels like a long time ago. I look upon those four like ‘Aw, bless em!’” she laughs.

“If you just knew what you were gonna do in the next ten years,” Jimi Westbrook adds.

— Florida Georgia Line made it three in a row, when it comes to Vocal Duo of the Year wins.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” Tyler Hubbard said. “I mean, it’s very humbling for us, it’s very motivating and I feel like it never gets old to feel like you’re accepted as part of the country music community. And as much as we’ve continued to evolve, our life, our music, our songwriting, we just continue to feel accepted. You know, there’s nothing better than that. So to be at the ACMs and to win for Duo of the Year the third year in a row feels good. We’re gonna take this one home and sit it up there on the mantle with the rest of them and count our blessings. It feels great.”

— Even though Kelsea Ballerini found out she’d won the New Female Vocalist award some time ago, she still wasn’t quite prepared when presented the award during her performance Friday night at the ACM Party for a Cause.  “It’s crazy. They told me a couple weeks ago, but actually getting it onstage was super real. And that’s why I got super emotional, I think. Cause I got to hold it. I was like, ‘What is happening? This is mine!’ But then it wasn’t mine. It was a prop. They took it!” she laughed.

Kelsea went on to reveal how she’s dealing with the fact she got to perform Nick Jonas.

“It’s super weird. No, it really is. It’s so weird, you guys. I go into game mode where I don’t think about things, and then later tonight, I’ll probably just look at pictures and cry. Like when I got to sing with Taylor [Swift], I went into game mode and then literally I got home and I looked at the picture and I bawled my face off. ‘Cause I’m like, ‘That’s not even me!’ But it was. So that’s what I’ll do.”

— After their breakout success with “Break Up with Him,” the guys in Old Dominion reflected on their transition from a group of hit songwriters to New Vocal Group of the Year.

“It means the world to us, because we work with these people and we’ve been part of the Nashville community for a long time and have been sort of behind the scenes for a long time and writing songs for some of these artists and there’s one playing right now I wrote, by the way,” lead singer Matthew Ramsey remarked, as Sam Hunt played “Make You Miss Me.” “Yeah, so it’s been amazing for us to be a band and be accepted as a group and not just as songwriters. It’s a feeling that’s indescribable.”

— Dolly Parton not only received the Tex Ritter Award, she also delivered one of the night’s most-talked-about performances with Katy Perry.

“I knew she’d liked my music and I was real touched by that. Plus, she’s great. My nieces and nephews, my younger ones, they just think she hung the moon. So when we met, we just squealed like little girls do. It was fun. So we had a good time this week.”

The legend from East Tennessee went on to explain the bit of booty-shaking choreography the two added at the end of “9 to 5.”

“I think everybody thought we was gonna get naked or do some twerkin’ or something, I don’t know. Or whatever they call it,” she joked. “I mean everybody kept thinking, ‘It’s Dolly and Katy,’ and I thought ‘Well, what can we do?’ You know, she just wanted to sing some of my songs, and she picked the ones she wanted to sing and that’s great. When we were just rehearsing, you know, we just did that and we turned around. We just thought it would be funny and that was just in rehearsal. And so tonight, it just came back to us. You know I looked at her and she looked at me and we knew what that meant, it’s like ‘Shall we?’ So that was cute.”

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