LAS VEGAS — Morgan Wallen won album of the year at the Academy of Country Music Awards on Monday night for “Dangerous: The Double Album,” a year after he was removed from the ACMs ballot after he was caught on camera using a racial slur.
Wallen made no direct reference to the issue and his absence from recent awards shows as accepted the trophy at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, but may have hinted at it.
“To my son, this award will signify that his daddy was a fighter,” Wallen said, finishing his speech by enthusiastically thanking the fans in attendance.
Miranda Lambert took home the night's top prize, entertainer of the year, for the first time after losing out in five previous years, but was not in Las Vegas to accept it.
“I cannot believe I’m not there to celebrate,” Lambert said in a video message from London, “it’s the first time I’ve missed the ACMs in 17 years. I've been waiting a long time for this”
Carly Pearce won best female artists and Chris Stapleton won best male artist over Wallen, who took no other awards Monday night after being nominated for three.
Jason Aldean and Carrie Underwood won single of the year for their duet “If I Didn't Love You," while Lainey Wilson won song of the year for “Things a Man Oughta Know." The artists later performed the songs live in a show that was heavy on performances.
The show, streamed live on Amazon Prime Video, tried to evoke a party atmosphere while paying tribute to tragedies both global and local.
As Old Dominion took the stage to claim its fifth straight ACM Award for best group, lead singer Matthew Ramsey said he was glad host Dolly Parton had opened the show by dedicating the night to Ukraine amid the Russian invasion.
“I was feeling a little bit strange because we’re in this beautiful bubble," Ramsey said. "Every person here have fought for their dreams, but there are people out there fighting for their lives.”
Aldean, who was performing at a nearby music festival on the Las Vegas Strip in 2017 when a 64-year man opened fire and killed 60 people, said he still couldn't believe the moment happened as he introduced Stapleton.
Stapleton performed his angry song about the shooting, “Watch You Burn.”
“Only a coward would pick up a gun, and shoot up a crowd trying to have fun," Stapleton sang.
Otherwise, the show did its best to be lighthearted fun.
Parton opened the show by taking the stage at he indoor stadium in a jumpsuit that appeared to be covered in sparkling shards of glass.
“A disco ball just fell right on me,” Parton said. “I’m just hoping that nothing punctures me.”
Then came the first of several long blocks of performances — including one 35 minutes long — in a ceremony that seeks to emphasize the music and a concert-like atmosphere.
Parton's co-hosts Jimmie Allen and Gabby Barrett celebrated the show's return to its usual home city after two years in Nashville. They sang Elvis Presley's classic “Viva Las Vegas” and Faith Hill's “Let's Go to Vegas.”
They were followed by medleys from Eric Church and Walker Hayes, who started his performance deep in the stadium stands, dressed as casually as the folks in the cheap seats as he sang his viral hit about a date at Applebee's, “Fancy Like.”
Brothers Osborne broke a three-year winning streak by Dan + Shay to take best duo, the first trophy handed out during the show.
Luke Bryan sang his ballad “Up," then performed his hit duet “Buy Dirt” with Jordan Davis and performance of his ballad “Up.” Other performers included Kane Brown, Maren Morris, Thomas Rhett, Blanco Brown, Brooke Eden, Ashley McBryde and BRELAND.
As the show drew to a close, Kelly Clarkson performed “I Will Always Love You,” first written and recorded by Parton, in tribute to the host.
“I love you Dolly Parton!” Clarkson screamed as Parton stepped out to present the entertainer of the year award.
After reading Lambert's name, Parton said, “I have always loved her.” She also said she thought the late Whitney Houston, who brought the song renewed fame in the 1990s, would approve of Clarkson's soaring rendition.
Brothers Osborne and Brittney Spencer closed the show with a performance of Nancy Sinatra's “These Boots Are Made for Walking.”
Drawn by the ACM’s reputation for having a fun, inviting and inclusive atmosphere, Amazon sought to go beyond the live sporting events it has previously aired to connect that with a large audience of country fans who listen to Amazon Music.
The show attempted to have a sporting look, with three stages, overhead spider cameras, non-stop action and heavy on graphics.
It was touted as commercial-free, but there were breaks to promote Amazon's original movies and television series.
In one moment of promotional synergy, author James Patterson introduced a performance by Parton and Kelsea Ballerini.
Patterson and Parton co-authored a novel, “Run, Rose, Run," that debuted for sale on Amazon on Monday. Parton and Ballerini performed a duet from the companion album, available on Amazon Music, while Ballerini performs the role of the title character in the audiobook on Amazon's Audible.com.