ACM photos: At Nellis for clay shooting, show; at The Bank with Sara Evans

Montgomery Gentry at the ACM/USO concert at Nellis Air Force Base on April 2, 2011.
Nikki Villoria

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2011 ACM Awards Weekend: USO Concert at Nellis AFB

2011 ACM Awards Weekend: Celebrity Shootout

2011 ACM Awards Weekend: The Bank

Brett Eldredge at Fremont Street on April 1, 2011.

Brett Eldredge at Fremont Street on April 1, 2011.

Sara Evans at Fremont Street on April 1, 2011.

Sara Evans at Fremont Street on April 1, 2011.

Casey James at Fremont Street on April 1, 2011.

Casey James at Fremont Street on April 1, 2011.

Las Vegas turned Nashville with a red carpet weekend that proved one thing: The Academy of Country Music Awards was in town. The ACMs at MGM Grand Garden Arena on Sunday wasn’t the only burst of country twang that got people on their feet. From free concerts to stars, fans had a weekend of nonstop entertainment.

Fremont Street Experience

To kick off the weekend and keep partygoers in the spirit, Fremont Street Experience hosted free concerts at the First and Third Street stages last Friday and Saturday evenings. The lineup included a dozen acts, among them Sara Evans, Ronnie Dunn, Brett Eldredge, Lee Brice, The JaneDear Girls and Easton Corbin.

“This weekend is going incredible. Fremont was an awesome time, everybody was ready to kick off their weekend, everybody was throwing their hands up in the air, just having fun, singing along, and that’s what it’s all about for me, so Fremont was just a blast,” Eldredge said.

The concerts packed in the crowds, as Fremont Street transformed from a tourist jaunt into a standing room only concert. With people crowding around the stages, snapping photos with cellphones and singing along to songs, the acts gave it their all.

Nellis AFB

Fremont Street wasn’t the only host to the country icons. On Saturday, a celebrity lineup gathered at Nellis Air Force Base for a clay shooting contest and a private and free concert for troops and their families.

The day began with the NRA Country/ACM Celebrity Shoot hosted by Blake Shelton. Celebrities led more than 15 teams of five shooters in a 13-station, 50-target sporting clay competition. Participating artists included Brice, Luke Bryan, Craig Campbell, Edens Edge, Eldredge, Sarah Darling, Due West, Montgomery Gentry, Andy Griggs, Gary LeVox of Rascal Flatts, Justin Moore, Craig Morgan, Sunny Sweeney, Josh Thompson, Chuck Wicks and Storme Warren.

“Today we got to do the ACM sporting clay shoot, and that was awesome. I didn’t hit a lot of targets, but I hit some. I showed up thinking as long as I hit one, I can say I didn’t come out a loser. And I got to hang out with a lot of the troops, and that was cool because those people are my heroes,” Eldredge said.

After the Celebrity Shoot, stars headed over to the field stage, where hundreds of military families gathered for a concert to support the troops.

“It’s very rare that you get to sing the song to the person and to the people you wrote it for. This is the first time we’ve ever had an opportunity to sing a song about the people who wait for those deployed. We’re very excited, we’re very humbled, and we’re very grateful to be here,” said Miss Willie Brown’s Amanda Watkins. This was the second year of the event at Nellis.

“The troops, they’re the reason we’re so blessed to be free and blessed to be out here in a beautiful park playing music. It’s the least I can do for them, allowing me to live safely every night. So any time I get a chance to perform, I’m here,” Bryan said.

Warren, host of GAC’s Headline Country, hosted the concert and pumped up the crowd with an announcement of ACM’s $10,000 donation to Nellis Youth Program in the 99th Support Squadron. The crowd cheered as the oversized check was accepted, and then Warren wasted no time and headed right into introductions for the day’s performers.

“These are the most important people in our country. Only about six or seven percent of the people in this nation serve our country, that’s the cream of the crop,” Morgan said. “Any time we get the opportunity to tell them how much we appreciate the scarifies that they make, as entertainers I think it’s our obligation to do that, and let them know that the civilian populace in this country support them and what it is that they’re doing.”

The concert was about two hours and included Bryan, Eldredge, Little Big Town, Miss Willie Brown, Shelton, Sweeney and USO Tour veterans Montgomery Gentry and Morgan.

“What’s so special about this is that people that serve our country so diligently and well are here to let loose and celebrate being together like this. It’s so beautiful to see, it’s really wonderful to see all these families together like this. It’s really what it’s all about,” said Phillip Sweet of Little Big Town.

From Nellis to Fremont Street, it was more than eight hours of country fun, but the day wasn’t over. Saturday night, The Bank at the Bellagio and Sara Evans hosted a red carpet featuring all the stars from throughout the day for a private party that gave them a chance to hang out and get down to some Las Vegas beats.

Chris Young, Eldredge, Carter’s Chord, Eric Church, The Dirt Drifters, Josh Kelley, Darling, Casey James, Steel Magnolia, Troy Olsen, The Band Perry and Rascal Flatts members Joe Don Rooney and Jay DeMarcus walked the red carpet.

“What makes the awards so big to me is seeing a lot of the artists. We get to catch up a bit ’cause mostly on the road, you’re passing by at night, and you don’t really get to see each other. So when you get there, you get to tell them stories about what happened on the road and get to catch up with them a little bit and actually try to put a pen down and maybe try to write something,” said Eddie Montgomery of Montgomery Gentry.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

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