Garth Brooks called Dolly Parton the GOAT of country music, Chris Stapleton won his first-ever Entertainer of the Year title, and Lainey Wilson continued her fame at the 2023 Academy of Country Music Awards.
Parton closed the two-hour awards ceremony Thursday with a performance of her rock song “World on Fire,” taken from her upcoming rock debut rock star. The song features lyrics like, “Don’t get me started on politics / How are we supposed to live in a world like this?”
During the performance, fire erupted from the stage, with a full band and 10 dancers.
“The rock star of country music,” co-host Brooks said as he introduced the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and fellow host.
Early into the night, Brooks rattled off names like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, George Jones, Buck Owens, Charley Pride, George Strait, Keith Whitley, and Randy Travis as he attempted to select the country’s greatest all-time music .
“What does the GOAT consist of? Picking, singing, musicianship, awards… then you add the last category: time/length of career. Folks, I’m not so sure the latter doesn’t make the king of country music a woman,” he said. “That’s right, and that woman is in the house tonight, Texas. Give it up for the GOAT, Dolly Parton.
The icon stepped onto the stage with a goat to “9 to 5”. ‘Did I hear you say you were looking for a goat? Well, I’ve got your goat here, Garth,” she said with a laugh.
Parton also joked about the meaning of GOAT. “I saw you online telling all those nice people I’m your aisle pass. Yes. It’s what he said. And that I’m also Trish’s aisle pass. Hey, I just had an idea. I know why you’re doing that GOAT thing: I think that stands for ‘Garth Organized a Threesome.’”
The pair hosted Ford Center’s commercial-free show (without Amazon Prime Video programming ads) at The Star in Frisco, Texas.
Stapleton, who has won eight Grammy Awards, 15 ACMs and 20 Country Music Association Awards, took home the top prize for the first time. Stapleton has never won entertainer of the year at the CMAs despite multiple nominations.
‘Well, I’m really shocked. By any measure imaginable, I don’t deserve this, but thank you,” he said. “I get up and I play music. That’s what I try to do every night. I write songs and I make records… I never imagined myself as someone who would win this award.”
Stapleton then thanked his children and wife, fellow singer Morgane Stapleton, who was shocked when her husband’s name was mentioned.
“My kids sitting at home give up a lot of my time, a lot of my wife’s time so we can do this,” he said. “This is for them.”
Stapleton beat out major acts to take home the award, including last year’s winner Miranda Lambert, Jason Aldean, Luke Combs, Carrie Underwood, Kane Brown and Morgan Wallen, who was named Male Vocalist of the Year but had to withdraw from the awards ceremony due to his vocal cord injury.
“We all know what it takes to win this award, to do all that work. To win it is one thing, to be here not to get it has to kill him, so let’s all celebrate,” Brooks said in honor of Wallen.
Hardy and Wilson were the big winners of the night, taking home four awards each. Together they picked up music event of the year and visual media of the year for the murder ballad ‘wait in the truck’, which tells a story of revenge after domestic violence against a girl.
“Thank you, everyone, for resonating with this song, especially something on this topic,” said Hardy, who was also named artist-songwriter of the year.
“I didn’t want people to identify with this song, but it’s true, a lot of people do, so this one’s for all of you,” added Wilson.
The singer also won singer of the year and album of the year Bell Bottom country.
“For the little girls who see this, this here represents hard work. If you’re going to be a dreamer, you better be a doer,” she said.
The evening was filled with more passionate moments on stage. Old Dominion’s Matthew Ramsey gave an emotional speech to the crowd and viewers as his band won group of the year.
“I also know that there are people who are clearly hurting in the world right now, trying to figure out how to understand divisions and shootings and things like that. And there are people who are really hurting right now and we’re still proud to be in a room full of country music fans and making music for those people but we’re most proud to be able to make music for people who are in pain right now,” said Ramsey, who used a cane after breaking his pelvis in three places in an ATV accident in March.
“So thank you for getting us involved in this party and allowing us to make music for everyone who needs it. We will keep trying and I want to thank my friends here for holding me up when I needed it,” he continued.
Cole Swindell was teary-eyed when he won song of the year for “She Had Me at Heads Carolina,” which he co-wrote with Thomas Rhett and samples Jo Dee Messina’s 1996 hit “Heads Carolina, Tails California.” song – which Swindell performed with Messina – also won single of the year.
“There’s a kid watching this tonight who’s going to be inspired by someone’s song and they’re going to follow it and chase the dream like we all have,” he said.
Genre-bending artist Jelly Roll also shed tears after a moving and heartfelt performance of his song “Save Me,” which he performed with Wilson.
“I love you friend,” she said after the performance.
Making history as the first black duo to be nominated for duo of the year, The War and Treaty also delivered a groundbreaking performance, earning a standing ovation. The married couple performed “Blank Page” seated, facing each other, holding hands and with soulful vocals – as the audience watched in awe, including Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban.
“That’s what you want to do in music here,” Brooks exclaimed after the performance.
“That’s fantastic,” Parton added.
Ed Sheeran joined forces with Luke Combs to perform “Life Goes On,” a song about the death of his best friend Jamal Edwards, which helped the English singer launch his career. Up-and-coming singer Bailey Zimmerman impressed with a performance of his Top 10 pop hit “Rock and a Hard Place”; Hardy rocked so hard his hair stood on end with static to match his performance of “Truck Bed”; and Cody Johnson honored Willie Nelson, who turned 90 last month, with a performance of “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” which the icon and Waylon Jennings released in 1978. duo a Grammy.
Parton even took up singing, singing the traditional gospel hymn “Precious Memories” in memory of the late country superstars Loretta Lynn and Naomi Judd, who both passed away last year.
She also yelled at Nelson, who appeared on screen via video call. He thanked Parton for sending flowers and asked Brooks if his gift was still on its way.
Nelson said, “Dolly did a good job. I like all kinds of flowers, and also plants.”