At the ACM Honors awards presentation on Wednesday night in Nashville, Shania Twain and Miranda Lambert didn’t have to sing a song, but their enormous impact nonetheless dominated the evening with four electrifying tribute performances.

Kelsea Ballerini stunned the audience at Ryman Auditorium by channeling Shania on “Man, I Feel Like a Woman,” and later, pop-punker Avril Lavigne startled everyone with her brilliant mastery of Shania Twain’s “No One Needs to Know.”

Little Big Town’s heavenly harmonies propelled the song “The House That Built Me” to new heights for Miranda Lambert, while the Hall of Famers Brooks & Dunn quadrupled the accelerant on “Kerosene,” which is Lambert’s angry cry for spurned women.

The lovefests that took place between the two superstars were not, however, the only highlights of an evening that teemed with stars, thrills, and surprises. Television cameras were present to record the entire evening so that it can be broadcast on September 13 as part of a two-hour special on the Fox network.

Fans all over the world will once again have the opportunity to experience an event that truly celebrates the heart and soul of country music, including the songwriting, musicianship, artistry, and behind-the-scenes players who have devoted their lives to the genre. This will be the first time in five years that the annual awards show has been broadcast nationally.

Even if only for that reason, “the country music industry’s favorite night” is tonight, the host Carly Pearce, who is also the current female artist of the year at the ACM awards, remarked in her opening remarks.

The participants will, however, be relieved to know that the evening provides something else as well: reprieve from the fear of having envelopes opened. Since the winners are known months in advance, the only competition that remains consists of performers striving to one-up themselves in order to properly pay tribute to the individuals being honored.

Twain, who is 56 years old, was one of two people to get the ACM Poet’s Award, which is a tribute to songwriting. It was obvious that she was enjoying the opportunity to pay homage to a gift that she has sometimes neglected in favor of her flashy performances.

Twain said to PEOPLE before the performance that the songwriting is what she considers to be “the most significant.” She went on to say, “I’m a performer.” “It should come as no surprise that I am a recording artist. But the music is presented through each and every one of those elements. Without this acknowledgment, the whole thing simply doesn’t seem finished to me.”

Still, Ballerini made sure no one could forget Twain’s elegance by recreating the iconic “Man, I Feel Like a Woman” video with her own top hat, tie, beautiful trench coat, and form-fitting dress. This ensured that no one could forget Twain’s glitz. Her black boots may have only reached her calves instead of her thighs, but the singer of “Heartfirst” nevertheless managed to reproduce the enchantment with the assistance of six shirtless male dancers who were recruited from Twain’s Vegas performance.

As a final gesture of respect, Ballerini appeared on the red carpet wearing the glistening white gown that Twain famously wore to the Grammy Awards in 1999. The dress was on loan from the Grammy Museum.

“Twain stated, “She asked if she could wear it tonight, and I was like, yeah, please bring it back to life! It was very breathtaking, and the addition of this detail not only makes it more spectacular but also brings back a flood of happy memories.”

Lavigne might not be the first artist that comes to mind when you think of someone to honor Shania Twain, but the two artists both hail from Canada and have been connected for a very long time. When Lavigne was only 14 years old, she won a radio contest that put her onstage singing with Twain in an arena in Ottawa.

Lavigne, who is 37 years old, told PEOPLE on the red carpet that she had learned the lyrics to both of Twain’s first two multi-platinum albums by heart. She called herself a “big fan” of Twain. As Avril Lavigne said, “She was so gorgeous and so polite and it was a very amazing experience for me just stepping up on stage,” and she added, “and I was like, gosh, I really hope I get to do this one day, and then two or three years later, I sold out the same venue on my first album.”

Lavigne recalls recently singing along side-stage while Twain played at a Canadian music festival, and at the awards event, she made “No One Needs to Know” sound like a perfect fit for her vocal style. Since then, the two ladies have reunited throughout the years.

Twain was definitely taken aback by the news. She began her acceptance speech with the words, “Avril, you’re just plain ol’ kick-ass!” This was at the beginning of a 13-minute long speech that included reflections on the difficulties of songwriting, tributes to her songwriting heroes (Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, and Kris Kristofferson), advice to new songwriters, reminiscences of her childhood songwriting, and her first Ryman appearance as a relative unknown in 1993, and even (We wish the editors at the television network the best of luck with this one.)

Twain exclaimed, “Tonight seems a lot like a miracle, to be honest,” before adding, “… and I do realize I speak too much,” demonstrating that he was well aware of his own shortcomings.

The prestigious Triple Crown Award was bestowed to Lambert, who is 38 years old. This honor is reserved for the select few who have won the ACM’s new artist of the year, male or female artist of the year, and entertainer of the year accolades. Even though she already had a grand total of 37 ACM trophies on her mantel, Lambert was absolutely basking in the glory of the occasion.

On the red carpet, she gave an interview to People magazine and said, “Honestly, it means everything.” “I attended to the ACMs for the first time in 2005, and I got the award for new female artist in 2007. Fast forward to 2022, and I just received the award for entertainer [in March]. Simply said, it’s been such an incredible journey over such a long period of time, and that’s all I’ve ever wanted… Simply put, this is confirmation that I am still heading in the correct direction. And I’m like, here we go. What can we expect from the next twenty years?”

“It makes me want to put in even more effort, ” she said, before correcting herself and saying, “Smarter, not harder!” I don’t need to put forth any more effort. I wish to improve my efficiency!”

Little Big Town, fresh off their second Bandwagon tour with Adam Lambert, seemed like an obvious choice to honor their friend and former bandmate by doing a tribute concert. After reviewing all of Lambert’s previous work, the foursome decided to take on the difficult task of performing “House,” which is without a doubt her most enduring and iconic composition.

“Karen Fairchild, who is 52 years old, told PEOPLE before the program that “we could have selected a million other things,” but in the end, they went with that song, which went on to win the ACM song of the decade award. But as we were getting ready for this, we went back and listened to the recording, and it’s not just the magic of the way the song was written — which is literally magic — it’s also her delivery and storytelling that’s so beautiful and direct. We’ve heard her sing it on the road a lot, but as we were getting ready for this, we listened to the recording.”

Fairchild described the process of adapting it to the Little Big Town universe as “fun work.”

After Brooks & Dunn pulled Miranda Lambert out of the crowd at their Nashville concert in June to sing two songs with them, Lambert returned the favor by performing “Kerosene” with Brooks & Dunn on Wednesday night. The performance was electric. Kix Brooks himself was responsible for playing the harmonica during the signature solo.

During their introduction, the multi-award winning team made a joke about Miranda Lambert’s lofty position inside the ACM.

Brooks said dryly, “It did kind of hurt our emotions when you jumped us back in 2018 by being the most awarded act in ACM history,” but the sentiment was genuine. “It did kind of hurt our feelings.”

A further comment was made by Ronnie Dunn, who said, “The only thing we’ve got to fall back on is the fact that we’ve got the pair thing tied up.”

Miranda Lambert performing with Ronnie Dunn and Kix Brooks. Photograph by John Shearer/Getty
As the night progressed, there were other performances that stood out as particularly noteworthy.

Vince Gill, in paying tribute to his friend Chris Stapleton, who was presented with the ACM Spirit Award, offered perhaps the rarest treat of the evening: the first song the two men wrote together, a bittersweet ballad titled “You Don’t Want to Love a Man Like Me,” which still sits on a shelf. Gill performed the song as part of the evening’s festivities. Chris Stapleton was honored with the ACM Spirit Award.

Gill, who is 65 years old, joked about the song in his introduction by saying, “You’ve never heard it, and the fact is, neither one of us knows it very well,” so “no matter what I do, we’re fine.”

Stapleton, a maestro of country blues who is 44 years old, paid homage to his buddy who is noted for having a very high-pitched voice during his acceptance comments “When I first arrived in town, one of my goals was to pose as Vince. Therefore, I attempted to sing in his style, but I was not successful. After some time, it became out that I was the thing that emerged.”

A medley of Morgan Wallen’s songs, including “Sand in My Boots,” “Wasted on You,” and “More Than My Hometown,” was performed by Hardy and Ernest in tribute of their buddy Morgan Wallen. This was done before Eric Church made an appearance as a surprise presenter for Wallen’s ACM Milestone Award.

After a string of episodes in 2020 and 2021 that were publicized and jeopardized Wallen’s career, Church seems determined to use his platform to advocate for his friend’s rehabilitation.

Church, who is 45 years old, said that getting to know Morgan over the last couple of years has been “one of the greatest privileges of my life [and] my profession.” “I’ve watched him struggle with a few different things. As an artist, I’ve seen his growth throughout the years. I’ve watched him develop into a man throughout the years. And I can tell you this much: we in the country music industry are incredibly fortunate to have him.”

Church also said that the organizers of the awards presentation had requested him “to tell a few anecdotes” about Wallen. He added, much to the amusement of the audience, that “I spent the past three weeks, and I couldn’t [come up with] one thing that I can truly give you.”

In his acceptance comments, Wallen, who is 29 years old, made light of his previous deviant behavior while also expressing thankfulness to God.

He remarked, “Me and God, we’ve had some fascinating do-si-dos.” “I suppose you could say that’s the best way to put it.”

The response from the crowd was chuckles of understanding.

Wallen intervened, “That most certainly was not in my speech when it was first delivered,” and continued, “but I genuinely am appreciative for the chances that have been offered to me.”

Morgan Wallen, Ernest and HARDY. Wallen exchanged responsibilities to commemorate his buddy HARDY as ACM songwriter of the year, providing a quiet and mesmerising rendition of the title cut from HARDY’s upcoming debut album A Rock. John Shearer/Getty Wallen traded duties to honor HARDY as ACM songwriter of the year.

During the acceptance speech for his prize, HARDY, who is 31 years old, said, “If you are an aspiring composer, I want to tell you, never stop.” He then proceeded to tell the story of how, back when he was a struggling singer-songwriter living off of tips, he once took a napkin out of his tip bucket. Someone had scribbled the word “quit” on it at some point.

He couldn’t contain his excitement as he said, “And tonight that ‘quit’ napkin will be sitting just alongside this prize.”

Wynonna Judd paid tribute to the renowned composer Sonny Throckmorton by performing “Why Not Me,” which was The Judds’ second number one hit and one of Throckmorton’s songs. In doing so, she showed the audience how modern a classic song can still sound.

Throckmorton was also honored with a Poet’s Award, although in contrast to Twain, his speech did not exceed one minute.

The 81-year-old composer, who was visibly overcome with emotion, said, “Wow.” “I think of myself as a poet with nothing to say,” the speaker said.

The powerful baritone that Trace Adkins possesses breathed fresh life into the protest song “A Country Boy Can Survive” written by Hank Williams Jr. A fan favorite, Adkins has also embarked on a new position as a main actor in Monarch, the forthcoming blockbuster series on Fox. In her introduction, presenter Pearce, 32, branded Monarch as “Empire Meets Nashville.” Adkins is one of the actors who will be appearing in the series.

Additionally, contemporary music was front and center for the whole of the evening. Among them was Dierks Bentley, who gave a performance of his new song “Gold” as a memorial to the late Connie Bradley, an executive at ASCAP who was honored with the ACM Icon Award. With their smash song “Glad You Exist,” Dan + Shay paid tribute to Duane Clark, a former chairman of the board of the Academy of Country Music who was given the ACM Service Award. Lainey Wilson, the reigning ACM new female artist, brought attention to the successful Paramount series Yellowstone, which was honored with the ACM Film Award. Wilson, who was only recently joined as a cast member, sang “Working Overtime,” a song from the series.

A number of other honors were presented to prominent studio musicians, other industry experts, and performance venues just before to the on-camera presentation of the awards.

By Elen

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