Country Music Immersion
Vegas-style CMA celebration is three days of music and star gazing
Imagine Country Jam with all the glitz and glitter of Las Vegas. The annual Academy of Country Music Awards, and all that accompanies it, Vegas-style of course, is not to be missed.
In just over an hour, a Thursday afternoon Allegiant flight will get you to Vegas in time to hit the pool and do a little gambling.
Never wanting to leave an opportunity unmaximized, Vegas pulls on its boots and hosts The Week Vegas Goes Country every year in conjunction with the ACM Awards. New this year was the three-day ACM Experience at Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino. The ACM Experience allowed country music lovers to immerse themselves in the excitement of the weekend.
My fellow celebrity stalker (as some were referring to us prior to our trip) had one mission in mind: Meet Chris Young. After standing in line for one of the 45 available “meet and greet” passes, she returned the following day to, well, meet and greet Chris Young. Young was polite to every fan that had waited to meet him and patient enough with one fan to retake her photo with him four different times when she, “didn’t like that one” (or that one or that one!)
The Academy itself had several booths at the Expo, one of which allowed photos with the actual ACM trophies. My friends and I pretended to shield ourselves from the glare of the paparazzi’s lenses as we held the trophies. Even though we think we sound as good as Lady Antebellum when we’re singing in the shower, that’s as close as we’re ever going to get to those beautiful awards.
Need the most exquisitely jeweled bridle for your horse? How about western themed furniture for your multi-million dollar second (or third) home in the Colorado mountains? Maybe a little something more down to earth like “blinged” belts, shoes and apparel? The ACM Expo featured more than 150 vendors. Shop ‘till you drop.
Having left my husband at home for my girls weekend, the Coaches’ Trophy, which will be presented to the BCS college national football champion on January 7, 2013, provided me with a photo opportunity to let him know he was not forgotten. “Geaux Tigers!”
The ACM Experience featured an outdoor stage where the music of the weekend began. As we listened to Thomas Rhett perform “Something to do With My Hands” and the harmony of Edens Edge, we hydrated at the nearby Jack Daniels Experience. The ACM BBQ Throwdown had some of the best grillers from the competitive barbeque circuit grilling it out, while gorgeous, new Ram trucks on the Ram Ride and Drive test track were available for test rides.
The party definitely picked up a notch or two when Fremont Street hosted free concerts Friday and Saturday nights showcasing the hottest new and established artists on two separate stages. Brantley Gilbert, Hunter Hayes and Scotty McCreery demonstrated why they were this year’s nominees for ACM’s New Artist of the Year award. Love and Theft displayed the soulful side of country music while the Eli Young Band filled Fremont Street with “Crazy Girl,” which won ACM’s Song of the Year the following night.
The headliners each night on Fremont Street did not disappoint. Luke Bryan played an hour-long set ending with the crowd favorite, “Country Girl (Shake it for Me.)” Between the libations and the popularity of those lyrics, everyone for blocks around was loudly singing along.
On Saturday night, Eric Church closed out his performance with his current hit, “Springsteen.” The crowd went wild. As the hours passed toward the headline acts, the sheer crush of people in the street made for a lot of new friends. Photos will forever remind us of the craziness of those two nights.
Finally, the big day arrived. Predictably, as a female, I started to question my attire choice for the awards show. Is the classic LBD (little black dress) formal enough for the occasion? What I soon discovered is everything from blue jeans to floor length ball gowns is appropriate for the ACM Awards.
We received “inside information” to where we could watch the red carpet arrivals before taking our seats at the big show. With “Keep moving! Keep moving!” as the accompaniment to the moment, we made trip after trip, back and forth, on the walking escalator between the MGM Grand and its sister property, The Signature at MGM Grand. We weren’t on the street mere feet away from the stars, but we had a great view of all the limousines and black Escalades dropping off country music’s royalty for the evening festivities.
Traveling as I was with a country music zealot, we had planned and strategized for weeks to secure the very best seats available for the award’s show. In spite of her prestigious inclusion on the “A List,” and the speed with which we acquired tickets moments after they were put on sale, we were three rows from the top of the arena – what we described as, “really expensive bad seats.”
Undaunted, and with rented binoculars, we watched as all the artists emerged from the back of the stage minutes before the show began and how they mingled during the network commercials. The announcer gave the artists and the audience direction as to who and what was coming next and counted us down for exuberant applause as we returned to live coverage after the station breaks.
After the awards, we moved on to The ACM All-Star Jam. The Jam took place in MGM’s Grand Marquee Ballroom and this is where the REAL performances happened! Artist after artist took the stage and performed several songs before being quickly replaced by the next.
Dierks Bentley kicked off the show. I stopped counting after two dozen additional acts performed, including Keith Urban and Clay Walker. Three ACM 2012 award winners, Scotty McCreery, the Eli Young Band and Thompson Square, took the stage. While no one disappointed, my favorites were Hunter Hayes’ performance of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” (off the charts!), The Band Perry and the ever-entertaining Big and Rich.
With the awards show and ACM All-Star Jam being held into the early hours of Monday morning, an Allegiant flight back to Grand Junction on Sunday morning was not an option. After taking full advantage of everything ACM and the nightlife of Vegas, we were thankful for naps on our flight from Vegas to Phoenix and Phoenix to Junction.
While the actual awards program was something to experience, it’s possible to immerse yourself in the excitement of this annual celebration without spending a fortune. If you stay on Fremont Street, it’s mere steps to the free weekend concerts. Alternatively, basing on the strip provides easy access to Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill in Harrah’s Casino and the ACM Expo, which, I assume, based on its popularity, will become an annual event.
Western Colorado has a great opportunity to enjoy country music every June during Country Jam. Partner it with a spring trip to the neon lights of Vegas and experience award-winning music in two perfect venues.