When Luke Bryan first won the ACM’s Entertainer of the Year award in 2013, he wept tears of joy. “What I always wanted to be was just a country singer that got to ride on a tour bus and show up at a new stage and play music every night,” he said, while accepting the award in a state of shock. The now “bona fide country music superstar” — as last night’s ACM Honors host Jake Owen dubbed him — was in a more contemplative mood Tuesday evening when he accepted the Gene Weed Special Achievement Award at the ninth annual ceremonies in Nashville.
The event honors the industry suits behind the scenes, songwriters behind the songs, the musicians behind the tracks and the artists themselves in a living-room-loose show where the stars pay tribute to their peers with once-in-a-lifetime performances. Like Jason Aldean and his shit-hot backing band rocking out a stomping medley of “Love in the First Degree,” “Tennessee River” and “The Closer You Get” to salute Alabama, the recipients of the ACM Career Achievement Award. (Watch the performance above.) Introducing them as “the best band there’s ever been,” Aldean paid homage to his key influence.
Alabama’s founding members — Randy Owen, Jeff Cook and Teddy Gentry — were moved by the honor, to tears in Owen and Gentry’s cases. Owen thanked the songwriters in the house, jokingly noting how many hits the band foolishly turned down over the years, before choking up while thanking his father. “He taught me how to play the guitar,” the frontman recalled. He then thanked late Academy of Country Music executive director Bill Boyd and late ACM Awards producers Gene Weed and Dick Clark. “We would not be here, and we would not have [had] the career that we had had if it had not been for those three people.”
“They told me to keep it short but I’m not going to do that right now,” said Bryan, accepting his award named after Weed, the longtime producer and director of the ACMs. The “Strip It Down” singer spent minutes praising the people who make up the backbone of Music Row, from bus drivers to songwriters. “When you win an award on TV,” he said, “you don’t get a chance to thank the truck drivers, bus drivers and everybody behind the scenes.”