Wilson performed twice Thursday –- back-to-back –- and delivered heartfelt speeches after her wins, which put her next to fellow winners and country music legends.
She won album of the year for “Bell Bottom Country,” accepting the honor slightly breathless after performing her song “Grease.”
Wilson called the album a “labor of love” and said she wrote 300 songs during the pandemic. She said people often tell her how much the album means to their lives, and she said writing them “saved mine.”
When she won female artist of the year, co-host Dolly Parton handed her the trophy. “I can’t believe I just met Dolly Parton, first of all,” Wilson said.
She gave credit to the female artists who preceded her and the sacrifices she knew they had all made: “I’m up here because of y’all. Because of people like Dolly Parton, paving the way.”
“For the little girls watching this, this stands for hard work,” Wilson said, referencing her trophy. “If you’re going to be a dreamer, you better be a do-er.”
Stapleton owned the stage at the end of the night, winning the ACMs’ top honor.
“I am shocked, truly,” Stapleton said. “By any imaginable metric, I don’t deserve this. … I’ve never thought of myself as somebody who would win this award.”
He dedicated the award to his children at home, saying they sacrifice a lot of time with him and his wife because of his career.
Breathless moments weren’t uncommon during the performance-heavy show. Cole Swindell won the night’s first award, song of the year, for “She Had Me at Heads Carolina.” He had just performed the song with Jo Dee Messina.
Swindell later won single of the year for the same song. “Thank you country music fans, that’s all I’ve ever been,” he said. “I don’t know what I ever did to get this fortunate.”
Singer-songwriter HARDY entered the show as the leading nominee and collected four awards. “Wait in the Truck,” his duet with Wilson, who was the second-leading nominee, won the music event award.
“Thank you Lainey, you absolutely killed it,” HARDY said. He credited her with making people believe in the song, which references domestic violence and seeking revenge.
“This was a song about real life,” Wilson said. “I didn’t want people to relate to this song, but a lot of them do.”
Old Dominion frontman Matthew Ramsey used the band’s win for group of the year to address recent divisiveness and gun violence. He referenced the party atmosphere of the show but said he also recognized that “there are people obviously hurting in the world right now trying to figure out how to make sense of the divisiveness and shootings and things like that.”
Ramsey continued: “We are most proud to be able to make music for people that are hurting right now. So thank you for including us in the party and allowing us to make music for whoever needs it.”
Garth Brooks and Parton hosted the two-hour awards show, streamed live on Amazon Prime from the Ford Center at the Star in Frisco.
The easy banter between Brooks, in his first hosting gig, and Parton carried the show’s early moments. Parton closed out the show with a performance of a song from her upcoming rock album.
A later routine involved the pair video conferencing with Willie Nelson to wish him happy birthday. The country legend recently turned 90, and the ACMs honored him with a performance of Nelson’s hit with Waylon Jennings, “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys” by Cody Johnson.
The show opened with Keith Urban performing, fittingly given the location of the show, his song “Texas Time.”
Texas references and celebrities ran throughout the show. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith presented the first award.
HARDY was also a nominee as a songwriter for Morgan Wallen’s “Sand in my Boots.” The country superstar didn’t perform as planned due to a vocal cord injury that’s halted his tour and was not in attendance when he won best male artist. Brooks took off his hat to honor Wallen, saying missing out on the show “must be killing him.”
Hailey Whitters and Zach Bryan have won best new artist honors.