Francis Specker/CBS“King” George Strait took another victory lap Sunday night at the 49th annual ACM Awards, held Sunday night in Las Vegas.  After picking up his third Entertainer of the Year trophy at the CMAs this past November, the retiring country legend won the same award from the Academy of Country Music. “I’ve always said I had the best fans in the world,” George said at the podium. “I hear this was a fan-voted thing, so…I rest my case!”

The night’s big winner, however, was Miranda Lambert, who took home three trophies, including her history-making fifth consecutive Female Vocalist of the Year trophy.  She and Reba McEntire had previously been tied with four straight wins each; now Miranda holds the record.  “I can’t believe this; I really didn’t expect it, y’all,” she told the crowd. “I’m so grateful and thankful and humbled….I love my job!”  She dedicated that award to a friend who she said was “going through a hard time.”  Miranda also won Vocal Event of the Year for her duet with Keith Urban, “We Were Us,” and Single of the Year for “Mama’s Broken Heart.”

Speaking of “Mama’s Broken Heart,” the woman who co-wrote it, Kacey Musgraves, won the Album of the Year award for Same Trailer, Different Park.  “I just wanna say that I’m really proud to be a woman representing country music,” said the singer, who was the lone female nominated in that category, and who beat out Blake Shelton, Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line and Tim McGraw to take home the prize.

A female-fronted band — The Band Perry — took home the trophy for Vocal Group of the Year; it was their first win in that category.  Onstage, Kimberly Perry said, “This is a mountaintop moment in the life of The Band Perry, because we started at the bottom of the mountain.”  Recalling their early days playing in venues where the band members outnumbered the audience members, Kimberly said their grandfather always told them, “Kids, this ain’t no hill for a climber,” and then added, “We accept this for the climbers tonight!”

As for the men, Jason Aldean won his second consecutive Male Vocalist of the Year Award.  “It’s been one helluva ride,” he said at the podium. “I hope it doesn’t end any time soon.”  Florida Georgia Line won Duo of the Year, while Justin Moore picked up the trophy for New Artist of the Year.  Song of the Year went to “I Drive Your Truck,” recorded by Lee Brice.  The trio who wrote the song took the stage to accept, and one of the writers, Connie Harrington, said in her emotional acceptance speech, “To every person in America who knows what it’s like to live the words of the song day in and day out: God bless you!”

Garth Brooks led a tribute to country legend Merle Haggard, whose 77th birthday happen to fall on Sunday night.  He received the Crystal Milestone Award, and the entire audience serenaded him with “Happy Birthday.”  George Strait and Miranda Lambert also paid tribute to Hag by performing “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive” and “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down,” respectively.

Taylor Swift was front row during the telecast, and presented the Vocal Group of the Year award, but only took home one trophy: Video of the Year, for “Highway Don’t Care,” her collaboration with Tim McGraw and Keith Urban.

Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan returned to host the awards, and provided a steady stream of jokes and insults throughout the night.  When Luke told the audience they were in for a great night of live music, Blake cracked, “And if you don’t like live music, you need to go down the block and see Britney Spears.”   There were also the now-standard jokes about Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber, as well as jokes about a couple of hot topics: same sex marriage and the legalization of marijuana. Blake joked,  “I thought same-sex marriage meant after you got married, you had the same sex, over and over again.”  Blake said that to buy marijuana in the past, you used to have to go to an official marijuana dispensary.  “We call it Eric Church‘s dressing room,” Luke joked.

The two also called attention to the presence of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones in the audience, and announced that next year’s 50th anniversary installment of the ACM Awards will take place in Dallas, Texas, at Cowboy Stadium.  When Blake said, “That’s great, you never see an awards show at Cowboy Stadium!” Luke snarked gleefully, “You never see a playoff game there, either!”

When Luke asked Blake about competing against his wife Miranda Lambert for Entertainer of the Year, Blake said, “As far as Miranda’s concerned, I’m already Entertainer of the Year.”  To which Luke responded, “More like Entertainer of the Minute, and I’m spotting you 30 seconds!”

The one thing some viewers found disappointing about the telecast is that it literally took an hour for the first award — Vocal Duo of the Year — to be handed out.  Some 90 minutes into the three-hour show, just two awards had been presented.  As usual, the show was all about the music, showcasing an unbelievable 24 performances in those three hours.  In addition to songs from most of today’s biggest country stars and promising newcomers, fans also got to see unexpected pairings like Lady Antebellum and Stevie Nicks, and Blake Shelton with Shakira.

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