One of country music's best-selling, hit-making singers Luke Bryan stepped into the limelight at the Academy Of Country Music Awards in 2013, replacing Reba McEntire's long run at the gig. Possessing his goofy charm and good looks, he joined forces with Blake Shelton. It was his first job as a co-host on live network TV, and the ratings that year were so good, they returned in early 2014 to steal America's hearts all over again (with 15 million viewers tuning in). With such blockbuster hits as "Crash My Party," "That's My Kind Of Night" and the more emotional "Drink A Beer" (an ode to his late brother), Bryan's rise to fame isn't a surprising one, but more surprising is the transformation the format has witnessed over the course of the past 50 years.
The Academy Of Country Music—founded in 1964 by Eddie Miller and Tommy Wiggins (then as the Country & Western Music Academy)—is about to celebrate its landmark 50th anniversary for the highly-rated awards show, which launched nearly two years later in 1966. That night’s winners included Kay Adams, Merle Haggard, Bonnie Owens and Buck Owens. As Popdust reported on Tues. (Sept. 23), the organization is opening its iconic vaults for the first-time ever to share some of country music’s most memorable moments. In a book titled This Is Country: A Backstage Pass to the Academy of Country Music Awards, written by Lisa Lee, the genre’s rich history is on full display, with performance photographs, behind-the-scenes stories and contributions by McEntire (a heartfelt foreword), Taylor Swift, Garth Brooks and Shelton, among others.
Popdust is honored to debut another exclusive excerpt lifted straight from the book (which hit retail Sept. 23). In "A Word From Our Hosts" passage, Bryan, who broke records with his 2013-released project Crash My Party by moving more than 500,000 copies first-week, opens up about what hosting the show means to him, his first surreal awards win and what the history of the format really means.
Fans can grab a copy of the book right here.
Excerpted from This Is Country: A Backstage Pass to the Academy of Country Music Awards, published by Insight Editions. © 2014 by The Academy of Country Music Awards
A Word from Our Hosts
The overall vibe of the ACM Awards backstage can be summed up in two words: Vegas and fun. It’s just a real positive feeling. Backstage, everybody is having the time of their lives, getting ready to perform. People are moving the set pieces in and out. It’s a fun place to be. Hosting the ACM Awards was a huge dream come true for me. I’ve been a fan of country music for as long as I can remember, and finding myself onstage hosting such an important awards show and being a part of that role was very overwhelming for me. Being up there with Blake—knowing that people were going to be laughing with us and knowing that it was just going to be a fun night for country music—I was so proud to be a part of that night, and I was so thankful to be asked to be a host. Blake is such a cut-up, but when it was time to be serious, it was amazing to watch him. It’s cool when you see somebody as a true professional and it inspires you to be the same and that’s obviously what Blake Shelton is.
I was named ACM Top New Artist of the Year for 2009, and it was my first major award. I remember thinking this was all I ever could have dreamed of at that moment, and I will be forever proud to say that for that year, I was the best new artist. It’s something that still brings a smile to my face when I think about those moments. But my most vivid memory of the ACM Awards definitely was winning Entertainer of the Year in 2013. When Shania announced the winner, I was backstage with Blake, and I remember him picking me up and doing the whole bear hug thing and squeezing the breath out of me. The overall emotion that I shared being in that room and being onstage and being a part of that moment is still something that I think about every day and I can’t believe that it happened to me. Right afterward Jason Aldean ran up on the stage and gave me a big hug and a high five, and my buddy Dallas Davidson did, too. And then I got to see my family right after that happened—my wife, Caroline, and my parents—and it was a truly life-changing experience. I don’t talk about it a lot, but I’ve lost both my brother and my sister. Our family has dealt with a lot of tragedy, so that night was just a positive moment that we could share together. You know they’re in Heaven smiling down on moments like this.
When I think of all the artists at the ACM Awards, I realize that I’ve really seen everybody there over the years. I’ve seen the legends, the heroes, the Garths, the Alans, the Georges of the world, and the Alabamas. And they’ve brought in amazing guests through the years. I’ve watched artists like Miranda and Blake blossom into superstars on that stage. I’ve always really enjoyed watching Miranda win awards because she’s so heartfelt and truly appreciative. When I think about the ACMs being fifty years old, I think about the show being a staple on my TV as a kid and watching my heroes—Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers and Ronnie Milsap—perform on that stage and me sitting in the living room. It was one of the nights of the year when we got to eat supper in the den and watch the ACM Awards and see how they’ve evolved with country music through the years. They’ve helped artists grow their career and given artists the chance to win awards and be onstage and become bigger, more important country artists and even mainstream artists. So, it’s been an amazing fifty years and I’m certainly proud to say that I have left my own small mark on that fifty years and hopefully I’ll be around when the next fifty rolls by.
[PHOTO CREDIT: Getty/Insight Editions]