What To Expect from the 2020 ACM Awards

Remember, it’s just the ACM Awards. Less prestigious than the CMAs, and more susceptible to bloc voting and other dubious practices than most any other awards apparatus in country music and beyond, think of it more as a performative infomercial for the mainstream of country music as opposed to the rightful awarding of talent and accomplishment.

But the winners and nominees, and what transpires for three hours on CBS Wednesday night (9/16) hosted by Keith Urban will be etched down in the country music history books. So fair or not, it does hold some importance. Saving Country Music will be offering its observations and spirited dissent throughout the presentation in a LIVE BLOG during the presentation if you choose to tune in. And in the meantime, here is some of what you can expect.

These awards were supposed to be handed out in April. Since there’s a 5-month lag and the winners were voted on half a year ago, you have to calibrate your perspective a little bit to the prospects of the nominees. For example, the New Male Artist of the Year ended up being Riley Green (it was already handed out out August 20th). But if the awards had been voted on last month, you would have likely seen Morgan Wallen win with the run he’s been on over the last few months.

The awards will take place in three separate venues. Instead of being in Las Vegas per normal, the ACMs are in Nashville, and performances will be split between the Grand Ole Opry House, the Ryman Auditorium, and The Bluebird Cafe (see all performances below). There will presumably be little or no audience at these locations, and you can expect more intimate performances than normal.

Taylor Swift will be performing her song “Betty.” Look, every year the ACMs bring in an artist outside of country music to try and entice viewers from beyond the country fold to tune in. This time it’s a performer that is distinctly pop, but with a long history in country and with the ACMs (Taylor’s a 2-time Entertainer of the Year). Sure, her performance slot should still go to someone who has shown loyalty to country music, but Taylor Swift left on good terms, and “Betty” might be one of the most country songs to be performed on the night. It’s currently doing well on country radio where it’s being promoted (#35). Instead of Swift, it could have been Justin Bieber performing with Dan + Shay, or Nelly with Kane Brown, or a host of other worse options. Considering the circumstances, it could be worse.

Entertainer of the Year will be a big focus. Nominees Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Luke Combs, Thomas Rhett, and Carrie Underwood will all open the show with medleys of their hits, but it’s how the show will end, and who will win the evening’s biggest trophy that will be the talk afterwards. Will the ACMs try to make right what happened at the CMAs, when most were expecting Carrie Underwood to win, and it ended up going to Garth Brooks? Will Eric Church finally be awarded an Entertainer trophy after assembling one of the biggest, and most loyal fans bases in the genre? Or will Luke Combs step up to take the spot of the top artist in country music at the moment, which sales and streams would seem to indicate he already is? Or will once again country music get in its own way, and someone like Thomas Rhett walk away with it? Whatever happens, expect the think pieces the next day to be fixated first and foremost on this specific award, regardless of what else happens.

Some awards have already been handed out. (See all nominees and early winners below). Songwriter of the Year went to Hillary Lindsey, New Male Artist of the Year went to Riley Green, Tenille Townes won New Female Artist of the Year, Thomas Rhett won Video of the Year for “Remember You Young,” and Miranda Lambert and her touring troupe of Maren Morris, Ashley McBryde, Tenille Townes, Caylee Hammack & Elle King all won for Musical Event of the Year for their rendition of “Fooled Around and Fell In Love.” Awarding six women is not only a way the ACMs can help stave off criticism of not highlighting women. It also may be a sign that women may have a good night as voters look to remove some of the stigma surrounding country for not supporting women enough.

There won’t be any legacy performers this time. You usually have at least one or two true legends to look forward to at one of these things. Not so much for the 2020 ACM Awards. As you can see from the performers below, it’s all today’s country aside from Trisha Yearwood, and Clint Black and his wife Lisa Hartman presenting an award. Clint Black may be the only cowboy hat you see all night. However Carrie Underwood is performing a “classic country medley,” and Trisha will be singing during an In Memoriam segment, so perhaps these will be bright spots.

Some, if not many of the performances will be pre-recorded. We know this since initially when the ACMs announced the Ryman Auditorium would be one of the venues, it was the same night the Americana Music Awards were planning to have their annual presentation. The Americana Awards has since been postponed. But the ACMs said at the time of the scheduling conflict that they would be taping the Ryman performances days in advance.


— Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani – “Happy Anywhere”
— Carrie Underwood from the Grand Ole Opry House – Classic Country Medley
— Carrie Underwood, Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Luke Combs and Thomas Rhett – Medleys
— Dan + Shay from the Grand Ole Opry House – “I Should Probably Go to Bed”
— Eric Church from the Grand Ole Opry House – “Stick That in Your Country Song”
— Florida Georgia Line from the Grand Ole Opry House – “I Love My Country”
— Gabby Barrett from the Ryman Auditorium – “I Hope”
— Jimmie Allen from the Bluebird Cafe – “Make Me Want To”
— Kane Brown from the Grand Ole Opry House – “Worldwide Beautiful”
— Keith Urban and P!nk from the Grand Ole Opry House – “One Too Many”
— Kelsea Ballerini from the Ryman Auditorium – “Hole in the Bottle”
— Luke Bryan from the Grand Ole Opry House – “One Margarita”
— Luke Combs from the Bluebird Cafe – “Better Together”
— Maren Morris from the Ryman Auditorium – “To Hell & Back”
— Mickey Guyton from the Grand Ole Opry House – “What Are You Gonna Tell Her?”
— Miranda Lambert feat. Natalie Hemby and Luke Dick from the Bluebird Cafe – “Bluebird”
— Morgan Wallen from the Grand Ole Opry House – “Whiskey Glasses”
— Old Dominion from the Ryman Auditorium – Medley
— Riley Green from the Ryman Auditorium – “I Wish Grandpas Never Died”
— Taylor Swift from the Grand Ole Opry House – “Betty”
— Tenille Townes from the Ryman Auditorium
— Thomas Rhett feat. Jon Pardi from the Ryman Auditorium – “Beer Can’t Fix”
— Tim McGraw from the Bluebird Cafe – “I Called Mama”
— Trisha Yearwood – “I’ll Carry You Home” – In Memoriam Tribute


Bobby Bones
CeCe Winans
Clint Black and Lisa Hartman Black
Darius Rucker
Lauren Alaina
Lily Aldridge
Runaway June



Luke Bryan
Eric Church
Luke Combs
Thomas Rhett
Carrie Underwood


Kelsea Ballerini
Miranda Lambert
Maren Morris
Kacey Musgraves
Carrie Underwood


Dierks Bentley
Luke Combs
Thomas Rhett
Chris Stapleton
Keith Urban


Brooks & Dunn
Brothers Osborne
Dan + Shay
Florida Georgia Line
Maddie & Tae


Lady Antebellum
Little Big Town
Old Dominion
The Highwomen


Ingrid Andress
Gabby Barrett
Lindsay Ell
Caylee Hammack
Tenille Townes – Winner


Jordan Davis
Russell Dickerson
Riley Green – Winner
Cody Johnson
Morgan Wallen


Center Point Road – Thomas Rhett
GIRL – Maren Morris
Heartache Medication – Jon Pardi
What You See Is What You Get – Luke Combs
Wildcard – Miranda Lambert


“God’s Country” – Blake Shelton
“One Man Band” – Old Dominion
“Rainbow” – Kacey Musgraves
“Rumor” – Lee Brice
“What If I Never Get Over You” – Lady Antebellum


“10,000 Hours” – Dan + Shay feat. Justin Bieber
“Girl Goin’ Nowhere” – Ashley McBryde
“God’s Country” – Blake Shelton
“One Man Band” – Old Dominion
“Some of It” – Eric Church


“10,000 Hours” – Dan + Shay feat. Justin Bieber
“God’s Country” – Blake Shelton
“One Man Band” – Old Dominion
“Remember You Young” – Thomas Rhett – Winner
“Sugar Coat” – Little Big Town


“10,000 Hours” – Dan + Shay feat. Justin Bieber
“Dive Bar” – Garth Brooks feat. Blake Shelton
“Fooled Around and Fell in Love” – Miranda Lambert feat. Maren Morris, Ashley McBryde, Tenille Townes, Caylee Hammack & Elle King – Winner
“Old Town Road” – Lil Nas X feat. Billy Ray Cyrus
“What Happens in a Small Town” – Brantley Gilbert feat. Lindsay Ell


Ashley Gorley
Michael Hardy
Hillary Lindsey – Winner
Shane McAnally
Josh Osborne

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