Who’s ready for an encore spin of the ACM Awards in Nashville? For the second time in seven months, the annual show airs from three landmark Music City halls: The Ryman Auditorium, Grand Ole Opry House and Bluebird Café. More than two dozen artists plan to perform, with anticipated collaborations from Miranda Lambert and Elle King, Dierks Bentley with the War and Treaty, Kelsea Ballerini with Kenny Chesney, Chris Young and Kane Brown. The Tennessean, part of the USA TODAY Network, spoke with Damon Whiteside, Academy of Country Music CEO, about some of what viewers may see during the second ACM Awards impacted by COVID-19 restrictions. Read interview highlights below.
Viewers can expect a real-life congregation (not to be confused with cardboard cut-outs that populated most major sports stadiums in the last year) filling pews inside the Ryman and Opry House during Sunday’s show. ACMs producers opened doors this year for vaccinated Vanderbilt medical workers to attend live portions of the show, Whiteside said. Each venue plans to host around 100 to 150 masked and socially-distanced onlookers. “They’ll be up on the balconies in both venues, so they won’t be anywhere near our crew or artists,” Whiteside said. “It’ll be separate entrances from talent and crew. That’ll keep it very, very safe.”
The show returns to hosting nominees on-site this year, but don’t expect to see more than a handful of famous faces on-camera at one time. Producers plan to filter artists to venue seating for nominated categories — such as Song, Album and Entertainer of the Year. After the winner’s speech, nominated artists leave the room and a new group enters.Artists can bring one guest and must follow a backstage traffic flow protocol to minimize interaction with workers. Workers with backstage access go through “rigorous” COVID-19 testing and daily wellness checks, Whiteside said. “All of our awards will be read from the Opry House,” Whiteside said. “That’s our central awards area. But then if there are artists performing in other locations, we’ll allow them to accept from (there).”