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2021 ACM Awards: How to Watch, Who’s Nominated, Who’s Performing

After successfully staging a safe and entertaining awards show last year, the Academy of Country Music sticks to what works and returns to Nashville for the 56th ACM Awards. Like in 2020, the ceremony scatters its musical performances over three iconic locations in Music City — the Ryman Auditorium, Bluebird Cafe, and Grand Ole Opry House — handing out trophies along the way.

“We’re excited to be back in Nashville. This is a great city that’s had a really rough year, even more of a rough year than other cities have had. Our country music industry has basically been out of work and suffering,” says Damon Whiteside, CEO of the ACM and an executive producer of the awards show. “It started with the tornado [in March 2020] and then the bombing [on Christmas Day]. It’s like, oh my gosh.”

In an effort to show gratitude to the medical community, the show will feature a small audience at both the Opry House and Ryman made up of fully vaccinated healthcare workers from the city’s Vanderbilt University Medical Center. But Whiteside stresses that Covid safety guidelines will remain as strict as they were at last year’s show.

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“Maybe in some ways we could lighten up restrictions, but honestly, it’s not worth the risk to the artists, to the industry and to our crew. So we’re every bit as detailed and meticulous about the safety as we were in September [2020],” Whiteside says. “Testing is the same, masking is the same, social distancing is the same. We’re still being very cautious.”

Here’s all you need to know to watch the 2021 ACMs.

When Are the ACM Awards?

The 56th ACM Awards are Sunday, April 18th. Like last year’s show, the 2021 ACMs will originate from three different venues in Nashville: the Ryman Auditorium, the Bluebird Cafe, and the Grand Ole Opry House. This marks only the second time in the ACMs’ history that the awards were held in Nashville.

How Can I Watch the ACM Awards?

The ACMs air live on CBS beginning at 8 p.m. ET on April 18th. The show airs on tape delay on the West Coast.

Will the ACM Awards Be Available for Streaming?

The ACM Awards will stream on Paramount+, ViacomCBS’s streaming service, both live and on demand. You can use this link to get a 30-day free trial to Paramount+ to watch the ACM Awards online free.

Who’s Hosting the ACM Awards?

Keith Urban returns for his second stint hosting the ACMs and will be joined by co-host Mickey Guyton.

Who’s Nominated at the ACM Awards?

Maren Morris and Chris Stapleton are the top nominees at the 2021 ACM Awards, with six nominations apiece. Other top nominees include Miranda Lambert with five, and Ashley McBryde and Thomas Rhett with four each. First-time nominees include Tenille Arts, Travis Denning, John Legend, Pink, Gwen Stefani, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench, who appears on Chris Stapleton’s album Starting Over.

All nominees will be announced at the Opry House, even if some artists receive their awards remotely at other venues. “To keep it really safe, we’re rotating in the audience,” Whiteside adds. “So basically you’ll have each category come up, and the five nominees will be escorted into the Opry House. They’ll be masked and they’ll be socially distanced, and each artist will get one personal guest with them. Then as the winner’s revealed, that winner would go up onstage and the rest will be escorted safely out of the venue, back on their bus in the parking lot.”

Who Are the Entertainer of the Year nominees?

All dudes. Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Luke Combs, Thomas Rhett, and Chris Stapleton compete for the night’s top prize. Thomas Rhett shared the Entertainer honor last year with Carrie Underwood in a first-time tie. “Selfishly, I liked it in the sense that we actually got to honor two people, but it was a total crazy surprise,” says Whiteside. “It’s never happened in our history and probably will never happen again.”

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Who’s Performing at the ACM Awards?

Miranda Lambert and Elle King open the ACM Awards with the live debut of their party song “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home).” Other collaborations include Dierks Bentley and the War and Treaty performing U2’s “Pride (In the Name of Love)” at the Station Inn, Nashville’s legendary bluegrass club, and Kelsea Ballerini and Kenny Chesney singing “Half of My Hometown.” Carrie Underwood offers a medley from her spirituals album My Savior, Brothers Osborne perform “I’m Not for Everyone,” Dan + Shay harmonize on “Glad You Exist,” and Chris Stapleton performs his tear-jerking “Maggie’s Song” from the Bluebird Cafe. Luke Bryan was scheduled to perform but had to bow out after testing positive for Covid-19; the trio Lady A is taking his place. (Little Big Town have also been affected by the pandemic: The quartet will now perform as a trio after member Phillip Sweet contracted Covid.)

“I spoke with Luke’s team yesterday, and he’s so disappointed. He’s up for Album of the Year and Entertainer, but Album especially means a lot to him, so he’s real disappointed,” Whiteside says. “We’re somewhere in the neighborhood of over 27 performers at this point and we’ve got over 30 songs in the show. It’s going to be probably our most musically jam-packed show we’ve ever done.”

ACM Awards vs. CMA Awards: What’s the Difference?

The ACM Awards are the centerpiece ceremony of the Academy of Country Music, a West Coast-based country music organization established in 1964. The ACMs are traditionally held every spring in Las Vegas, but were previously held in Los Angeles and, for their 50th anniversary, in Arlington, Texas. The pandemic caused the ACM Awards to move to Nashville for 2020 and for this year’s show. The CMA Awards are the flagship of the Country Music Association, a Nashville-based country org founded in 1958. The top prize for both the ACMs and the CMAs is Entertainer of the Year. The CMAs are traditionally held in Nashville in November.

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