Much has been made of Chris Stapleton’s breakout performance at the 2015 CMA Awards, where the big-voiced songwriter — already a hero to some, but still unknown to many — stole the show with Justin Timberlake. It was a super-sized performance, engineered to shock and awe country fans into finally giving Stapleton the attention he deserved. It worked — so well, in fact, that Stapleton went into last night’s ACM Awards as a genuine star, having sold more than a million copies of his solo debut, Traveller.
Rather than trot out another high-powered duet partner, Stapleton consolidated, performing “Fire Away” with his four-piece road band in front of a small, simple scattering of stage lights. Contrasted with Florida Georgia Line’s “Confession,” which found the Auto-Tuned duo singing over drum loops and canned keyboards minutes before Stapleton took the stage, “Fire Away” was heartfelt country music at its most honest, stripped free of unnecessary gloss and glitz. Bonus: once the song ended, the camera lingered on Stapleton as he kissed his wife Morgane, unplugged his guitar and began cleaning up his band’s mess, proof that the newly-crowned Male Vocalist of the Year isn’t letting country royalty go to his head.