The scene in VegasVille is the 48th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena, and, early in the program, co-hosts Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan are spreading the shtick thick for the CBS audience and the 11,000 or so seated in the arena.
They started with jokes about pants.
“How about giving it up for Sherwin Williams for painting Luke’s jeans on?” Shelton says, referring to Bryan’s snugly fitting denim.
“You know how Blake’s jeans are like a Motel 6?” Bryan countered. “No ball room!”
Someone needs to break it to these guys that Frank Marino has been using that joke for years at “Divas Las Vegas.” Whatever, the opening song was a rap number also tightly tailored for the show -- I think I heard some lyric about not listening to The Beatles, so this song is annoying simply for that reason.
Soon the guys kicked it to Dierks Bentley and Brad Paisley in front of 8,000 wailing fans at The Orleans Arena for “Fan Jam.” Also appearing from The Orleans are Florida Georgia Line, and the toggling of the broadcast between MGM Grand and The Orleans is working out well.
Great hit for The Orleans, especially, on the national TV broadcast.
Eric Church has just given a pleasing and warm account of “She Loves Me Like Jesus Does.” And Lady Antebellum sashays out for “Downtown.” Hillary Scott, expecting a baby girl with drummer Chris Tyrrell, is groovin’ pretty impressively up there while draped beautifully in black.
Award note: Vocal Duo of the Year goes to Thompson Square.
Announcing that award is Colin Kaepernick, who was a highlight of the red carpet walk outside MGM Grand before the show. The 49ers quarterback stopped to chat about the departure of Alex Smith, traded to the Kansas City Chiefs soon after the Niners lost to the Baltimore Ravens in the Super Bowl.
Smith, of course, was replaced by Kaepernick after suffering a concussion against the St. Louis Rams in November and never returned to the starting lineup. I asked Kaepernick if he had spoken with Smith since Smith was dealt to the Chiefs.
“I have. We talked on the phone, and I thanked him,” said a well-shaded and impressively tall Kaepernick, who is a presenter tonight. “He was a great teammate, a great mentor, and he’ll do great in Kansas City.”
It’s not clear if Kaepernick is a country music fan, but no matter. When I asked what we could expect out of the 49ers next year, he smiled and said, “Wins.” That is music to the ears of any 49ers fan.
The most-anticipated moment of the night will be Garth Brooks and George Strait paying tribute to the late Dick Clark. They will sing a Brooks hit, a Strait hit and follow with a duet.
Bryan says most great country artists are from Oklahoma: “You’ve got Garth Brooks, Reba, Toby Keith, Ronnie Dunn, Vince Gill and …” Then he points at Shelton and says, You’re from Oklahoma! Just when I thought I was onto something!”
Not great chemistry between these two, but they are pressing on, and, by the end of the night, they might attain Shelton-Adam Levine status. Bryan then introduces Carrie Underwood, who takes the stage in the back seat of an old Cadillac for “Two Black Cadillacs.”
There is another Cadillac onstage, half-hidden by stage smoke. Gosh, Underwood is pretty. Voice is about peerless, too. She’s wickedly talented, we say obviously.
Award alert: John Fogerty and Miranda Lambert are announcing Album of the Year, and one of them is glowing with a spray tan. The other is in a blue flannel shirt. Watch the show to sort out who is who. The award goes to Church for “Chief,” and we’ll dedicate it to Alex Smith.
Check back shortly, country music fans.
Updated at 7:31 p.m.: More from the buoyant scene:
The Band Perry hardly sounds like a country band -- until that fiddle sears through the mix. “Done” is replete with pyrotechnics and a thunderous, hard-rock beat.
We shift to The Orleans Arena for New Artist of the Year nominee Jana Kramer and “Whiskey,” real quick. Kramer is pushing the exposure restricts leveled by CBS for the family-friendly telecast. A lot a skin is showing. The closest we’ve seen to an obscene wardrobe decision, aside from Bryan’s jeans, of course.
Award alert: Best New Artist goes to Florida Georgia Line, who thanks the Lord and their fans, in that order.
Jason Aldean, who always looks like he wants to kick some serious ass, is up with “1994.” As Shelton jokes, “Back in 1994, Hunter Hayes was still breast feeding!”
Hard to feel nostalgic about that year, but Aldean is selling it well with the refrain, “Joe! Joe! Joe Diffie!” Aldean seems sort of a beefed-up Dwight Yoakam to me.
Award alert: Jake Owen is wearing a vested, silver tux -- maybe for the first time -- in announcing Vocal Group of the Year with “Big Bang Theory” star Kaley Cuoco. Little Big Town wins it. I thought it would be Lady Antebellum because I feel Lady Antebellum should win every award not won my Miranda Lambert or Taylor Swift, including the Lady Antebellum Memorial Award.
“This mornin’, I saw her nekkid!” is how Shelton introduces Lambert, who, for the uninitiated, is his wife. Best line of the night. A big chandelier and a black dress sparkling with sequins are among the effects for Lambert as she unleashes “Mama’s Broken Heart.” She sings, but also screams, this song. She seems rather pissed off, actually. Maybe Blake should have kept his mouth shut.
Kacey Musgraves and Sheryl Crow are out for Song of the Year. Crow looks good, as she has suffered from a form of brain cancer. Very tan. I pick “Springsteen” by Church, which is why “Over You,” by Lambert, who coincidentally is standing offstage next to Shelton, wins. He accepts the award with Lambert as the song’s co-writer and kisses her on the forehead. These two seem happy for so many apparent reasons.
Award alert: Nancy O’Dell and Chris Young (she wearing a neckline cut lower than many of Shelton’s jokes) announce Single Record of the Year. It’s Lambert once more. Somehow O’Dell has handed her two statues. Lambert might actually lose count of the awards she’s won; this is her 13th.
Shelton talks about Tim McGraw’s buff body, and it morphs into Bryan interrupting, “He’s always had one of the best bodies in country music, and her name is Faith Hill!”
And Hill introduces “my ride home” -- husband McGraw, with Taylor Swift and Keith Urban for “Highway Don’t Care.” Swift’s voice is rather thin this evening, and this song is not nearly as great as those performing it. There is a lot of distance between the performers, too, as they stand in a sort of triangle formation with an image that looks like the Luxor standing behind them.
LL Cool J is a guest artist on Paisley’s new album, “Wheelhouse,” we are reminded, and from The Orleans he introduces the Paisley-John Mayer duet on “Beat This Summer.” Mayer is said to be over his vocal problems. LL Cool J said that.
Updated at 8:01 p.m.: The RPMs are rising in the third and final hour.
Trisha Yearwood, clad in a Day-Glo mandarin number, introduces “The real deal, Kelly Clarkson,” who sings a very soulful, even sleepy, “Don’t Rush.” She’s in no rush, that’s for sure. This song has a Motown ballad vibe. A lot of music at the ACMAs is far from traditional country. This one’s a long mosey from home.
Michael Chiklis, star of “Vegas,” evidently on hand in part to help give the fading show a ratings shot, introduces the requisite Las Vegas montage for “Vegas Goes Country.” Highlights include performances at Fremont Street Experience, Saturday’s Darius Rucker golf tournament, the fan expo at The Orleans and Bryan’s archery competition.
That celebratory sweep through Las Vegas is offset by Jewel, who is a great recording artist but not a great live performer. She opened Springs Reserve in 2006, which was either drowsy or hypnotic depending on your view of Jewel. But she does look and sound terrific on the live telecast, singing a mashup of her own “Hands” and Tori Kelly’s “Fill a Heart.”
Award alert: Male Vocalist of the Year is Aldean, which seems something of a surprise as Shelton, Toby Keith, Church and Bryan are in the field. He’s friends with them all, of course. A member of the A&E reality TV series “Duck Dynasty” is up, Willie Robertson’s the name, doing the introduction. You know how you can tell “Duck Dynasty” is a big deal? Hill has mentioned it from the stage at The Venetian.
Reba, who you might remember once headlined at the Las Vegas Hilton and hosted the ACMAs for years, is now out to introduce the first onstage collaboration of Garth Brooks and George Strait. This is to honor Dick Clark, who died last year and helped propel the careers of many country artists (his son Rac Clark is producing this year’s telecast). The song from Brooks is “The Dance,” and images of Clark are shown in the backdrop.
Brooks has been away from the core of the country scene for quite a while as he performed exclusively at Encore Theater, but he remains a formidable figure and commanding stage presence as he warbles the classic ballad.
Brooks finishes to a cascade of cheers and introduces “The King,” Strait, for a duet on “The Cowboy Rides Away.” I thought there was to be a third song from these two superstars, as producers indicated there were plans for a Brooks song, a Strait song and a duet. But “The Cowboys Rides Away” is the duet, so no Strait song (aside from his new single earlier in the show).
Something that is transpiring as dictated by the hype, Stevie Wonder is with Hayes for “Sir Duke.” The crowd is standing for this one. Cameras catch Swift as she dances next to McGraw and Hill in the audience.
Shania is announced by Bryan as “a headliner right here in Las Vegas” who is appearing at the ACM Awards “for the first time in 10 freakin’ years” to announce Entertainer of the Year. I’m thinking Bryan.
And I am right! Wow. This guy is on a hot streak.
“Every time I step onstage, I feel honored to play for fans,” he says tearfully. “Thank you for letting me play, and thank you for letting me host!”
Shelton, also nominated, holds up Bryan from falling over and says, “Congratulations, Luke, for winning Entertainer of the Year in your first, and last, year of hosting this show!”
When you talk of someone being comfortable in his own skin, Shelton is the guy.
This country show closes with Wonder. Somehow it all works. “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours” is the song, with Swift, Hill, Twain and Lambert shown out of their seats and dancing in the audience.
This is a night when everyone really is a little bit country.