Country Music Awards Shows Are in a Texas State of Mind

The Lone Stars are aligned for two Nashville-based country awards shows.

After testing the Brazos waters in 2023, both CMT and the Academy of Country Music are bringing their annual awards shows back to Texas this year. The CMT Music Awards air April 7 on CBS from the Moody Center in Austin. The ACM, meanwhile, announces finalists for its awards on April 9, with the trophy ceremony streaming May 16 on Amazon Prime from the Ford Center at The Star in Frisco.

Texas has not traditionally been a big awards market, and for the country industry — centered primarily in Nashville — it means a few extra nights away from home for the show and lead-in activities. In exchange, awards producers showcase the genre’s talent in one of country’s primary markets, where the fan base hasn’t gotten jaded — as it might in Nashville or Los Angeles — from regular proximity to multi-artist events.


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“It’s packed to the ceiling, and the fans were wild and crazy and danced the whole time,” ACM CEO Damon Whiteside recalls of last year’s show, which featured co-hosts Garth Brooks and Dolly Parton. “It was probably more cowboy boots and cowboy hats than we’d ever seen in our venues before, which was fun, too. All I can say is the energy and the passion in the room was kind of off the charts.”

The ACM and CMT arrived in Texas via different roads. The ACM took a risk in 2015 by presenting its awards at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, marking the first time that a major awards show had aired from a stadium. From the moment Whiteside arrived at the ACM in 2020, following a stint with the Country Music Association, Texas talk was on the table.

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The Dallas Cowboys, he says, “were very excited at the thought of having our show come back.”

CMT, however, transferred to Texas somewhat unexpectedly. The awards had been held on the eve of Nashville’s CMA Fest in June since 2002, but when CBS’ contract with the ACM Awards expired, the network rescheduled subsidiary CMT’s ceremony as a spring event. That created conflicts with the host venue — producers needed access to Bridgestone Arena for at least 10 days, but the NHL’s Nashville Predators had priority. Austin had courted CMT for years, and that groundwork paid off.

“Austin is the live-music capital of the world — that definitely played into it,” CMT executive producer Margaret Comeaux says. “If we were going to go anywhere outside of Music City, we wanted to make sure that we were going to a place that appreciated music as much as Nashville and CMT.”

Texas is fertile ground for country music. Both shows indicate that current Texas-bred hit-makers Cody Johnson and Parker McCollum will likely have a role in their shows. The two artists will perform at the CMT Awards, which also has appearances by native son Lukas Nelson and former Houston Astros pitcher Roger Clemens. McCollum will also host a golf tournament for the ACMs, which will make performance decisions after nominees are announced. Last year, the ACMs employed Frisco-based Corey Kent for the week’s ribbon-cutting ceremonies.

Johnson and McCollum are graduates of Texas’ red-dirt music scene, which has its own thriving concert scene, providing careers for such acts as Aaron Watson, Casey Donahew, Wade Bowen, The Randy Rogers Band and Bri Bagwell. The subgenre likewise has its own awards show: the Texas Regional Radio Report (T3R) Awards, named after the publication that produces them. Its charts appear weekly in the Billboard Country Update (see page 4).

The mainstream country community “still [doesn’t] recognize this fully,” says T3R event coordinator Tami Millspaugh, who also markets to red-dirt programmers through her Fort Worth-based company, Texas Record Chick Promotions. “They are starting to, in Nashville, more and more, because they are obviously cherry-picking some of the talent from here.”

The T3R Awards, presented for the 14th time on March 25, have been held in smaller venues — the 700-seat Arlington Music Hall and the event multiplex Texas Live! — but the show, much like Texas music, is in expansion mode. The most recent ceremony was filmed for the first time and could end up on a cable station or a streaming platform such as Netflix.

“We will have a show here within the next few weeks that we are going to be pitching to various networks,” Millspaugh says, “and just show off what we’ve done.”

The Texas Music Office is apparently keen to pull in more trophy presentations. Both the ACM and CMT received incentives from the state for bringing their events to town.

Austin has another event heading its way, too. The city is in the path of totality for the solar eclipse on April 8. More than 1 million tourists are expected to descend on the Texas capital to watch, according to KVUE-TV Austin.

“Lots of people are worried that their flights are going to get canceled, so they’re trying to get out early,” Comeaux says. “I am not one of those. There’s a few of us that might be standing out at the arrivals gate at the airport, watching it and then going inside to get on my flight.”

The ACMs, meanwhile, are connected to an ongoing Texas attraction. The Star is a 91-acre campus that houses the business center for the Cowboys’ NFL team. The built-in amenities — shops, restaurants, hotels, a golf course — make for a comfortable getaway for industry attendees, many of whom go home after a Nashville awards show.

“You’ve got industry everywhere you go and you’re bumping into people,” Whiteside says of the Frisco layout. “There’s a lot of meeting up for drinks at the Omni Hotel bar, which is where our board stays and it’s attached to the venue.”

The ACMs, which were originally centered in Los Angeles, spent roughly 20 years in Las Vegas, creating a similar temporary community on the Strip. It’s possible that CMT and/or the ACM are at the start of another 20-year out-of-town run in the Lone Star State. But no one knows yet if these moves are permanent.

“There’s a lot of excitement about the Texas market for the future,” Whiteside says, “but we haven’t made a final decision yet.”