This year's ACM Awards have a near-monumental task at hand. Marking the first community-wide gathering of country stars in Las Vegas since the October 1st mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest festival, those on hand will seek to thread a needle of respectful remembrance for the victims, while also finding a way to show viewers at home a good time.
Tributes and calls to carry on with courage and compassion will no doubt permeate the evening, but the event is still a celebration of the year's biggest hits and artists, with performances by Carrie Underwood, Jason Aldean, Miranda Lambert, Thomas Rhett, Keith Urban and Alan Jackson – plus the return of a beloved host – all set to highlight the telecast.
Here's everything you need to know before the 53rd annual ACM Awards kick off Sunday night.
How to watch: The 2018 Academy of Country Music Awards ceremony will air April 15th at 8:00 p.m. ET on CBS, and although lips have been sealed about the night's opening number, you can bet it will be the show's first must-see moment. Red carpet arrivals and interviews will take place in the hours leading up to the event, with various digital outlets covering arrivals.
Who's hosting? Country Music Hall of Fame member Reba McEntire returns as the host of this year's ACM Awards for what seems like the umpteenth time – and that's a good thing. It's actually her 15th year as the night's emcee, having led the program solo and with co-hosts like Blake Shelton, Hank Williams Jr. and more dating back to 1986. She replaces Luke Bryan and Dierks Bentley this time, who guided proceedings for the past two years.
Who's up for awards? Chris Stapleton leads the pack with eight nominations in five categories, including his first ACM nod for Entertainer of the Year. Thomas Rhett follows with six nods stemming from his third album, Life Changes, Keith Urban is up for five trophies, and Maren Morris and Miranda Lambert will vie for four each. If Lambert wins at least one, she'll become the winningest artist in ACM Awards history.
Who will take the stage? Carrie Underwood will deliver the live debut of her new song "Cry Pretty" – her first TV appearance since suffering a fall that required surgery in November. Other performers include perennials Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean and Miranda Lambert, along with rising stars Maren Morris, Thomas Rhett and country trio Midland. Longtime country favorites Little Big Town and Kenny Chesney are on tap, as are pop stars like Bebe Rexha – who will join Florida Georgia Line for their crossover hit "Meant to Be." There are also a number of notable country collaborations, including Blake Shelton and Toby Keith singing "Should've Been a Cowboy" and Kelly Clarkson and Reba singing "Does He Love You."
Who are the new artists to know? Brett Young, Midland and Lauren Alaina have already been announced as winners in the New Artist categories. All three will take the stage this year, along with last year's New Male Vocalist Jon Pardi. "Greatest Love Story" hitmakers Lanco are up for their first trophy – Vocal Group of the Year – and two names you might be familiar with are making their first appearance in a new category: Tim McGraw and Faith Hill are up for Vocal Duo of the Year.