Any fans tuning into the 2019 54th ACM Awards in the first few minutes of Sunday Night, April 7, would be justified in thinking that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Beloved veteran host, Reba McEntire, was right at home in her duties, dishing out the humor in her own direct style. She noted that the recent Las Vegas snow was just cold enough to freeze out females from the Entertainer of the Year category, and saved the best barbs for her fellow Oklahoman, Blake Shelton, who sipped his tall beer straight out of the gate.

There were deserved brags for the honors bestowed on Kacey Musgraves, and Reba McEntire's performance proved that she can still deliver the goods.

Still, for all the outcry from sizable platforms of numerous Country Music stars about inclusion, acceptance, and the further involvement of women in all aspects of country music, the message of these 2019 ACM Awards was mixed at best. Jason Aldean and Florida Georgia Line opened the night with “Can't Hide Red” with splashes of current culture wrapped in a flat-out celebration of redneck heritage and tradition.

A song strung with old themes of “drinking and loving, sung by the duo of today, dang-near ran away with the night.

In between the sweep of the first several minutes and Keith Urban’s well-earned trophy for Entertainer of the Year, however, there were meaningful moments that broke from “Bro-country” (openly disdained lately by McEntire). These moments spoke truth and love in the way that country music can best convey, through voices of all colors and genders.

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Heart and heroes

Dan + Shay could have had their own La-Z-Boy recliners on stage through the first 40 minutes of the proceedings. The pair took Duo of the Year, Song of the Year, and Single of the Year for “Tequila” which thrilled their songwriters as thoroughly as the Dan + Shay, with his habit of hitting impossibly high notes. Despite fitting across multiple formats, the song borrows tried-and-true formulas of booze and broken hearts, set to poppy hooks.

Leave it to Chris Stapleton and George Strait to tell genuine stories with guitar strings. Stapleton and his constant singer and soulmate, his wife Morgane, chose “A Simple Song” to restore a moment of quiet reflection on what matters in life, while Strait proclaimed that the title of “God and Country Music” was the only endowments truly worth saving, sung with the same conviction.

It was nice to see Ashley McBryde soak in the appreciation and her stage for “Girl Goin’ Nowhere” and all that her journey represents.

It was equally satisfying to see her hold her own and more in a standoff duet with Eric Church on “The Snake,” leaving the audience lusting for more.

The most emotional moment of the night came when Little Big Town, the group that has a knack for show-stealing songs, like “Girl Crush” at the 2016 Grammys, took the stage for “The Daughters.” It didn't take long before the cutaways to the audience revealed every genre of superstar wiping tears from their eyes, while others didn't care about how things looked.

The song that echoes of the feminine double standards and demanding cry for “a God for the daughters” definitely was the moment of the night, and the superb ladies in the band never concealed their emotion. A lingering roar and ovation followed.

A call for the future

Keith Urban was so caught off guard by not being the name called after nine years that he could hardly form his words of gratitude in being named 2019 ACM Entertainer of the Year, other than multiple thanks to his wife, Nicole Kidman, and their daughters. The virtuoso guitarist and singer delivered a much stronger message in his chosen performance song, “Burden” which related the struggles shared by all humankind, and especially those with whom many may disagree. The song begs for pause simply to listen, simply to care, simply to “walk a mile in my shoes” before making judgments. Summoning a similar raw pathos as he did in his 2017 CMA performance of “Female,” his emotion was palpable and purely received.

Kane Brown and Khalid presented perfect portrait a personal connection and future potential in country music, performing “Saturday Nights” with evident affection, including hugs and chest bumps to close the performance. It could not have been more relaxed or perfect.

Brandi Carlile and Dierks Bentley brought kindred spirits to their message on “Travelin’ Light.” Not a second was forced, and the hugs were sincere.

This Is Us” star Chrissy Metz was marvelous as she opened the Diane Warren theme song, “I'm Standing with You” from her film, “Breakthrough.” She was soon joined by Lauren Alaina, Mickey Guyton, and Maddie and Tae, who fill stages of their own, and seemed completely comfortable on this ACM Awards worldwide venue. The harmonies were as luminous as the loving touches, and none other than Carrie Underwood came out to close the song, with a warm hug for Chrissy Metz before the group embrace.

This was a truly close embodiment of what this night meant to achieve.

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