NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Dan + Shay, Luke Combs, Rascal Flatts and more country artists were celebrated alongside prominent songwriters, producers and industry leaders at the Academy of Country Music Honors awards show.
In front of a limited crowd at the Ryman Auditorium on Wednesday, artists paid tribute to other writers, bands and even a documentarian for their work in the genre of country music.
“Without the songwriters in this town, we would have none of this. We have none of the shows, none of the record sales,” said Dan Smyers of the Grammy-winning duo Dan + Shay, who were given the Jim Reeves International Award.
Combs' rise to stardom in the last few years has been unprecedented. He is the first artist to have his first 11 singles hit No. 1 on Billboard's Country Airplay chart. Country singer Ashley McBryde tore through a rowdy version of his song “She Got the Best of Me,” before presenting him with the Gene Weed Milestone Award.
“There's a whole helluva lot more country music in this boy right here, and I can't wait for you to hear it,” Combs said as he raised the award in the air.
Carly Pearce, Alan Jackson and Lee Ann Womack sang tributes to country icon Loretta Lynn, who received the Poets Award. Lynn, who spoke in an audio message but did not appear, called it greatest award she could get.
PBS filmmaker Ken Burns accepted the Tex Ritter Film Award for his multipart series called “Country Music” that aired in 2019.
“We were proud to bring this story of this uniquely American music to tens of millions of viewers,” Burns said in a video statement. “And we were especially gratified that our film reached so many people who previously thought they didn't like country music, but quickly became fans."
Country group Rascal Flatts were honored with the Cliffie Stone Icon Award. The trio announced their retirement in 2020 after two decades together.
"20 years fly by like that. It's fleeting," said Joe Don Rooney, of Rascal Flatts. “We have been blessed.”
Jay DeMarcus however joked that while the band may have retired, he was still looking for work. “I am unemployed. If you guys need a bass player, Lady A, I've got a specific skill set,” DeMarcus said to laughs from the crowd.
Keith Urban performed in honor of hit producer and songwriter Ross Copperman, who received the Gary Haber Lifting Lives Award along with Lady A. Brittney Spencer performed the classic Martina McBride hit “Independence Day” to honor songwriter Gretchen Peters, who received the Poet's Award. Toby Keith was also given a Poet's Award, and Trace Adkins performed Keith's hit “Love Me If You Can.”