ACM Awards brings live performances back to TV amid pandemic

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This combination photo shows country singers, from left, Luke Bryan, Kane Brown and Mickey Guyton who will perform at this year's ACM Awards in Nashville. (AP Photo)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – At the Academy of Country Music Awards on Wednesday, there won’t be fake fans, canned applause or pre-taped acceptance speeches. After a five-month delay due to the coronavirus pandemic, the awards show wants to bring the live television experience back again.

The 55th annual ACM Awards, normally held in April in Las Vegas, were delayed this year and moved to Nashville, Tennessee, for the first time. But while other music award shows have tried a hybrid of virtual stages, music video-style performances or at-home shows, the ACMs will be broadcast on CBS from three indoor stages in Nashville, Tennessee.

“We’ve tried to maintain, for lack of a better word, the normalcy of what we do at the ACM Awards, which is presentations of lot of live performances on stages,” said R.A. Clark, who is in his 21st year as executive producer of the show.

The performances, some of which are pre-taped, span three historically important stages in country music history, but none will be open for fans. The smallest, the Bluebird Cafe, accommodated only about 90 people pre-pandemic and the venue helped to start the careers of Garth Brooks and Taylor Swift, among many others. Miranda Lambert will sing the aptly titled “Bluebird” from the small stage, with other performances from Tim McGraw, Jimmie Allen and Luke Combs. The Ryman Auditorium, an early landmark for gospel and bluegrass as well as country, will feature performances by Maren Morris, Thomas Rhett with Jon Pardi and Kelsea Ballerini.

Even Taylor Swift is making her return to the ACMs after seven years with a performance from her new album “Folklore," which has spent six weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart. Swift will perform at the Grand Ole Opry House, the center of operations for the live broadcast where host Keith Urban and presenters will give out the awards. Clark said that’s what is setting this pandemic awards show apart from others.

“Hearing the winners and having live acceptance speeches is essential,” said Clark.

A whole new department focusing on COVID-19 precautions and regulations has been added by dick clark productions. Whether they're a guitar tech, a grip, an artist or a producer, everyone who enters any of their venues has to take a COVID-19 test, wear a mask and get their temperature checked, said Clark.

But going from a large arena in Las Vegas to three smaller stages has actually given them more flexibility in the pandemic.