The ACM Awards always have their share of memorable moments. From emotional acceptance speeches to surprise winners, top-notch performances to unexpected duets, fans are buzzing for days after the yearly awards show.
While there are certainly plenty of notable moments throughout the 55-plus-year history of the ACMs, The Boot has selected the best of the best -- the most memorable of the memorable -- and created a Top 10 list that includes superstars such as Blake Shelton, Reba McEntire, Rascal Flatts, Kenny Chesney and Loretta Lynn. The following moments are certainly ones that won't easily be forgotten.
Rascal Flatts and Steve Martin Pay Tribute to Earl Scruggs
2012 ACM Awards
Banjo player Earl Scruggsdied on March 28, 2012, just days before the 2012 ACM Awards. It was certainly a sad time in country music, but the ceremony's musical tribute to the bluegrass legend by Rascal Flatts and Steve Martin was a bright spot in the evening.
Even before Scruggs' death, the trio and Martin were one of the most-anticipated performances lined up for the awards show, and boy, did they deliver: They performed the Flatts' lead single at the time, "Banjo," which was a perfect pick to commemorate and celebrate Scruggs. After all, he popularized the "Scruggs style," a three-finger banjo-picking style that helps define today's bluegrass music.
Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert Win Twice With "Over You"
2013 ACM Awards
When Blake Shelton and his then-wife Miranda Lambert accepted two ACMs for the song they penned together, "Over You," emotions were flying high. The tune was inspired by a tragic, life-changing event in Shelton's life: He was 14 years old when his 24-year-old brother Richie died. Lambert included the song on her Four the Record album, and it ended up winning both Song of the Year and Single of the Year at the 2013 ACM Awards.
"I’ll tell you something, I’ve learned so much from this human being standing next to me, a lot of things about myself. She blows me away," Shelton said in their acceptance speech for Song of the Year. "I used to think I was a decent songwriter until I started hanging out with her, and she really taught me how to write a good song, and this is proof of it. Thank you so much baby, I love you.”
George Strait Nabs Entertainer of the Year
2014 ACM Awards
In 2014, George Strait performed the final concert of his touring career -- and proved his longevity, talent and pull as a country superstar by winning the highly coveted Entertainer of the Year Award, which he last won in 1989.
“Wow,” he said. “I’ve always said I had the best fans in the world, and I heard this was a fan-voted thing, so I rest my case.”
There's no better way to go out with a bang than by winning one of the biggest awards in country music -- and the cowboy rode away with another gleaming trophy to add to his case.
Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan Take on Hosting Duties
2013 ACM Awards
Two of country's biggest stars, Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton, fully took over Reba McEntire's ACM Awards hosting duties in 2013. And as fans know, when you put the funnymen together, they're going entertain you. While Bryan was initially hesitant about filling McEntire's high-heeled shoes, when he found out that Shelton would be his partner in crime, he agreed.
"When I heard it was me and Blake, I was like, ‘Oh God,'" Bryan recalls thinking. "This is something the fans have got to see, even though I know I’ll be the brunt of a lot of jokes and a lot of ridicule from Blake.”
It proved to be a smashing success.
ACM Awards Move to Sin City
2003 ACM Awards
Since their inception in 1966, the ACM Awards were held in California, primarily in Los Angeles. But in 2003, the ceremony headed to Las Vegas, and every year since, country music has infiltrated Sin City each spring, and the ACMs have become synonymous with the vibrant city -- cowboy hats and all. Although the 2015 ACM Awards were held in Arlington, Texas -- a move to celebrate the show's 50th anniversary -- the show headed back to Vegas in 2016.
Kenny Chesney Wins First Fan-Voted Entertainer of the Year Award
2008 ACM Awards
When the Entertainer of the Year winner is being announced, all of the nominees wait with bated breath. It is, after all, the night's most prestigious recognition, and from 2008 through 2015, it was partially dependent on fans' votes. The first year the award switched to fan voting to determine the winner, Kenny Chesney emerged on top, beating out Brad Paisley, Keith Urban, George Strait and Rascal Flatts. In recognition of this honor, Chesney received a 50th Anniversary Milestone Award from the ACMs in 2015.
During her time as host in 2011 and 2012, McEntire co-hosted with Blake Shelton, then decided to pass the torch fully over to her fellow country star ... that is, until 2018. The seasoned host returned to emcee the ACMs that year and in 2019. In 2020, Keith Urban took over from McEntire.
Going into the 2018 ACM Awards, Lambert was tied with Brooks & Dunns with 29 career ACM Awards wins. Her Song of the Year victory that night, for her song "Tin Man," gave her two more trophies -- as both artist and a writer of the song -- bringing her total to 31. She then re-set the record at 32 after winning Female Vocalist of the Year for the ninth year in a row.
Lambert increased that record to 34 in 2019. That year, she received two special ACM honors: The Gene Weed Milestone Award and the Song of the Decade Award.
Loretta Lynn Becomes the First Female Entertainer of the Year
1976 ACM Awards
Loretta Lynn was a massive force in paving a path for women in country -- and her efforts accumulated into an ACM Entertainer of the Year Award in 1976, the first time a female had ever won. Glen Campbell, Roy Clark, John Denver, Mickey Gilly and Lynn were all vying for the trophy, and when Lynn's name was announced, the audience went wild, with a standing ovation and deafening cheering.
"I'd like to say that I sure am proud. And I want to thank all of you," she said with a broad grin during her acceptance speech.
Alan Jackson's ACM Awards Protest
1994 ACM Awards
When Alan Jackson's mad, you'd better watch out. The singer protested the ACM Awards in 1994 in his own unique (and rather hilarious) way, both on the red carpet and onstage. While his peers were dressed to the nines, Jackson showed up on the red carpet in what can only be described as a muscle shirt.
Then, when he took the stage to play "Gone Country" (still wearing the shirt), he began singing, and his band began playing -- sort of. It soon became clear that Jackson's drummer, Bruce Rutherford, was playing without drumsticks, and the whole band was actually playing to a track. The producers of the show had told Jackson that he needed to perform with a track, and he was not a happy camper ... so he stuck it to the man and showed them what happens when you tick Alan Jackson off!
What's Your Favorite ACM Awards Moment?
With 55-plus years of history behind them, the ACM Awards have given us plenty of joyful, tearful and hilarious moments. Share your favorite memorable moment from the ACMs with us in the comments section!
After relocating from Las Vegas, Nev., to Nashville in 2020 out of necessity during the COVID-19 pandemic, the ACM Awards are back in Nashville in 2021. As showrunners did last year, they're spreading this year's event out across three iconic Music City venues: the Grand Ole Opry House, the Ryman Auditorium and the Bluebird Cafe. They'll be following national, state and local guidelines related to the pandemic, as well as additional, self-imposed safety measures.