5 Incredible Moments From the 2019 ACM Honors Ceremony
Each year, the ACM Honors ceremony celebrates the performers, musicians, songwriters and industry players who make important contributions to the country music genre, but whose awards are not given out during the televised portion of the ACM Awards. In 2019, country artists turned out to help honor those who often occupy a more behind-the-scenes role, as well as celebrate the year's special award recipients.
From stunning performances to tear-jerking acceptance speeches, the 2019 ACM Honors delivered no shortage of unforgettable moments during the Wednesday evening (Aug. 21) ceremony. Read on to relive some of the highlights!
Chris Janson Honors One of His "Honky Tonk Heroes":
Texas singer and songwriter Billy Joe Shaver was one of three artists to take home the ACM Poet's Award in 2019, which he received in recognition of his longstanding lyrical prowess and contributions to country music. Longtime fan and heir to much of Shaver's lyrical intricacy Chris Janson was on hand to present the award to Shaver, and also performed two of the singer's most enduring hits, "I'm Just an Old Chunk of Coal" and "Honky Tonk Heroes (Like Me)."
On the red carpet ahead of the ceremony, Janson explained that his relationship with Shaver's music dates back to his childhood, and took on new meaning when he moved to Nashville and began covering the legendary songwriter's hits during his own sets in downtown Nashville honky-tonks and bars.
"I've known his songs, made famous by him and others, ever since I was a kid, even though you maybe don't know the face when you're a kid. When I got old enough to know better, I was like, 'I kinda wanna be this guy!'" Janson explains. "He looks really cool, he sounds really cool, he writes really bada-- songs. When I moved to town, I was starting to play Tootises on Lower Broadway, and I was covering Billy Joe Shaver songs, whether that be in the key of Waylon [Jennings] or whoever it may be."
Trisha Yearwood Delivers an Unscheduled Performance:
Trisha Yearwood's official capacity during the 2019 ACM Honors was as a presenter, delivering the ACM Gary Haber Lifting Lives Award to WME partner and longtime industry member Gayle Holcomb in celebration of her tireless advocacy for the Academy of Country Music's charitable arm, ACM Lifting Lives. However, during her onstage appreciation for Holcomb's work, Yearwood revealed that she had a little surprise up her sleeve.
"I wasn't even sure I was gonna be able to be here tonight, and when I found out this [award] was going to Gayle, I couldn't miss it for the world. I'm not scheduled to perform, but I'm going to," the singer said, as the audience broke out in uproarious applause.
Yearwood went on to explain why celebrating Holcomb specifically meant so much to her, and why she selected the song that she did -- "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)," off her recent Frank Sinatra tribute album, Let's Be Frank -- to perform at the ceremony.
"[Gayle] was one of my biggest encouragers last year [when I put out] Let's Be Frank. She has been one of my biggest cheerleaders for this project," she recalled, and then turned directly to Holcomb. "So I'm gonna do a song from that record and dedicate it to you, and I'm just so proud to know you."
Lauren Alaina and Caylee Hammack Honor -- and Fangirl Over -- Martina McBride:
Before presenting Martina McBride with the Cliffie Stone Icon Award -- which celebrates those who "throughout their career have advanced the popularity of the genre through their contributions in multiple facets of the industry" -- Lauren Alaina didn't hide her admiration for the legendary honoree, or her nerves at having to perform one of McBride's own songs in front of her. "Oh my goodness, this makes me wanna cry, really! You are my hero," Alaina told McBride from the stage.
"Little girls like me, you literally taught me how to sing. I would sit in my bedroom and play your CD over and over again, and try to hit the high note," she went on to say. "And bless my little heart, I couldn't do it for a really long time! I remember the first time I hit the big note in "Broken Wing," my parents ran upstairs. It was like, the most joyous day of my life."
It was actually Alaina's fellow rising artist -- and longtime McBride superfan -- Caylee Hammack who performed "Broken Wing" that evening, while Alaina delivered a powerful rendition of another classic, "Independence Day."
Shane McAnally Makes the Crowd Weepy With Emotional Acceptance Speech:
After a characteristically goofy appreciation from presenters Midland -- "You know, there are two types of men in this world, and Shane McAnally is none of them," the group's Cameron Duddy quipped before handing off the microphone to a bandmate without comment -- McAnally took the stage to accept his award for Songwriter of the Year.
McAnally began his speech by addressing Poet's Award honoree Kye Fleming, the prolific and legendary songwriter behind artists such as Barbara Mandrell, who also attended the 2019 ACM Honors and presented Fleming with her trophy.
"I grew up in a little town called Mineral Wells, Texas. I would watch the ACMs, and I loved Barbara Mandrell," McAnally recalled from the stage, explaining to Fleming that at the time, he didn't realize that songwriters like her were behind many of the songs he grew up loving. He moved to Nashville thinking you had to sing the songs you wrote, he went on to say, and was overjoyed to learn that songwriting itself existed as a career.
"I'm just still really in awe of the fact of this wildest dream, that I get to write songs that people I love and look up to sing, and put on the radio," he went on to say, adding that there was one additional factor that made his "wildest dream" even wilder.
"I didn't know that you could write songs for people. Didn't know that was a job. I really didn't know you could be in country music and be gay," McAnally continued, his voice filled with emotion. "When I came out to my mom, she was so scared that I wouldn't get this dream, that this wouldn't happen for me. And this town has never for a minute made me feel anything but loved and accepted."
Miranda Lambert Duets With Keith Urban for "The House That Built Me":
Miranda Lambert, who also happens to be the most-awarded artist in ACM history, took home the Gene Weed Milestone Award during Wednesday evening's ceremony. Before accepting her award, Lambert joined another iconic singer, Keith Urban, for a duet performance of her 2009 heartstring-tugging hit "The House That Built Me."
Speaking from the stage, Urban explained that he'd known Lambert was a "kindred spirit" ever since the early days of her career, when she opened for his shows and he noticed her watching his sets intently, studying his performance in order to learn for her own. "I remember thinking, 'I know that person really well,'" Urban went on to say.
The Gene Weed Milestone Award is Lambert's 33rd total ACM Award. Each year, it recognizes an artist whose achievements over the course of the preceding year have been particularly outstanding. The pair's performance, and Lambert's emotional, humbled acceptance speech, closed out the Wednesday evening ceremony.
LOOK: On the Red Carpet + Inside the 2019 ACM Honors