The Academy of Country Music Awards showed off its rock edges on Sunday night in a show that was as heavy on performances as it was guitar riffs, from genre-mixing performances with Blake Shelton and Shakira to high-voltage sets by the Band Perry, Florida Georgia Line and Brad Paisley.
The actual awards were the secondary story line of Sunday evening, which, midway through had the genre's guitar god Keith Urban taking the early lead with three, and Miranda Lambert not far behind with two.
Urban won vocal event of the year for his "We Were Us" collaboration where Urban won trophies as producer and performer. Lambert added single record of the year for her hit "Mama's Broken Heart" and Urban won video of the year with Tim McGraw and Taylor Swift for "Highway Don't Care." The two wins Sunday night gave Lambert 17 trophies at the ACM Awards since she first won best new female artist in 2006.
She followed up her single record of the year win with a performance of her song "Automatic."
The show was packed with performances that showcased country's melding with rock. Lady Antebellum and their friend Stevie Nicks teamed up on a medley of their "Golden" and Fleetwood Mac's "Rhiannon." Brad Paisley hosted a rockin' pool party at the satellite ACM Fan Jam site with his new song "River Bank," and Florida Georgia Line played rock cover "Stay" before returning to the stage to accept the vocal duo of the year award.
And Urban played his guitar-heavy hit "Even the Stars Fall for You."
Shelton offered a subdued but powerful version of his song "My Eyes," playing an acoustic guitar while seated with Gwen Sebastian at his side. He returned later flanked by Shakira on their duet "Medicine."
George Strait got a standing ovation after offering a cinematic version of his song "I Got a Car" with impressionistic video images behind him meant to evoke youthful memories of drives on hazy summer days. And Lee Brice, whose song "I Drive Your Truck" won song of the year, also evoked memories on a stripped down version of the emotional song, appearing all in black on a darkened stage with a stark white acoustic guitar.
The Band Perry set the tone when they opened with their hit "Chainsaw, sprinting around the stage and showering the crowd with confetti - so much that it piled up like snow drifts in the hair of stars like Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.
Show co-host Luke Bryan and Shelton were the glue that wove the show together. Each performed - Bryan performed "Play It Again" while standing on a revolving replica of a vinyl album - and they did a masterful job early on in their second appearance as co-hosts, mixing light-hearted jabs and self-deprecating humor while skewering celebrity entitlement.
They zinged Eric Church over the likelihood of finding marijuana in his dressing room, poked fun at Britney Spears (who performs on the Las Vegas strip) and ribbed Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, in the audience, about his team's disappointing playoff record (Shelton and Bryan announced the 50th edition of the ACM Awards will be held at the Dallas Cowboys' AT&T Stadium next year).
At one point they suggested recreating Ellen DeGeneres' selfie moment with top stars from the Academy Awards, which became Twitter's most retweeted photo.
They went down the front row rejecting one star after another. They were afraid to approach Strait altogether, rejected Jason Aldean because he isn't "big enough." McGraw was rejected in unison: "Boring!"
"Honestly," Shelton said, "I think we're the biggest celebrities in the room." The two posed together before Shelton said, "Wait a minute, Sheryl Crow's in the background."
"We've gotta go this way," Bryan said, swinging them to face the opposite way.
Justin Moore won new artist of the year. It's one of two fan-voted awards along with top honor entertainer of the year.