The 2021 ACM Awards are this Sunday, April 18th. I know, I know. Try and contain your excitement everyone. Though it feels like award shows might be one of the biggest entertainment casualties in the post-pandemic reality—especially when you look at the ratings of some of the most recent presentations—the ACMs will still transpire whether you choose to pay attention, or (likely) not.
The 2020 ACMs were actually a surprising bright spot of the 2020 awards show season, even with COVID-19 restrictions. They certainly outclassed the CMA Awards last November, which feel like they’re still in damage control after pulling a number of devastating PR boners. And the performance lineup for the 2021 ACMs also has a few bright spots.
Along with Miranda Lambert opening the show with Elle King and later performing with Jon Randall and Jack Ingram, Dierks Bentley has tapped the War & Treaty to perform with, Carrie Underwood will sing with CeCe Winans, and Ashley McBryde will also perform.
But most exciting, and perhaps most explosive, is that none other than Alan Jackson will be in the building ladies and gentlemen, and is being extended the opportunity to take the stage.
Now let’s not get too ahead of ourselves here. At the moment, Alan Jackson is scheduled to perform his song “You’ll Always Be My Baby” from his new upcoming album Where Have You Gone, and a special mashup of “Drive (For Daddy Gene)” from 2002. Very likely, he’ll get up on stage, and that’s all that will transpire.
But if you know anything about Alan Jackson and awards shows, you know he’s the ultimate wild card. He’s got no truck or patience for your pedantics, and dog and pony awards show nonsense.
Alan Jackson’s awards show hijinks are the stuff of legend, and started early in his career at the 1994 ACM Awards. Uncomfortable at the stuffy nature of the presentation, at some point he slunk back to the dressing rooms, and changed out of his tuxedo and into a Hank Williams T-shirt with the sleeves cut off.
Oh, and then the producers thought they would be able to get away with telling Alan Jackson he had to sing his song “Gone Country” to a backing track while his band mimicked the music. To show them up, he commanded his drummer Bruce Rutherford to play with no sticks to tip the audience at home off, and to get ACM producers scrambling as the protest aired on live television.
And then of course there was the time at the 1999 CMA Awards where Alan Jackson stopped in the middle of his own song to launch into “Choices” by George Jones. Just before the 1999 CMA Awards, George Jones was asked to perform an abbreviated version of the song. George, feeling that he wasn’t a “baby act” as he put it, refused, and boycotted the show. And in a super act of class, Alan Jackson, while preforming “Pop A Top,” cut his own song short, and launched into George’s cut.
“We were all so nervous,” Alan Jackson later recalled. “The guitarist had this solo in the middle of ”’Pop a Top,’ and the song sort of modulates up at the end of the solo. I signaled to him that we were going to do it, and he just stopped. I looked over at him and he was sweating. The boy looked like he was going to bite his lip off. Then I hit that C chord to start ‘Choices.'”
Then there was the time at the 2016 CMA Awards when Alan Jackson stood up from the front row of the awards right in the middle of a performance by Beyonce, and walked out of the arena. This was the last time Alan Jackson attended a big country music awards show.
Alan Jackson also performed the protest song “Murder on Music Row” on the 2000 ACM Awards with George Strait, though that was a planned part of the presentation. Jackson’s current single is also a lament about the direction of country music in “Where Have You Gone.” It’s kind of a shame that’s not the song he’s scheduled to perform on the ACMs.
But then again, with Alan Jackson, you never know what you might get. He’s clearly still frustrated about the direction of country music, and is more than willing to speak out about it. Perhaps he will mind his P’s and Q’s, and be a perfect gentlemen come Sunday night. After all, there is no big pop star scheduled to perform at the moment, and since most of the presentation will be socially distanced and commence in separate locations (and some will be pre-recorded), there may not be the opportunity for Alan Jackson to pull some stunt.
But we can always dream.