2021 ACM Grants: 10 Best, Most exceedingly awful, and Most WTF Minutes

 Mickey Guyton's balance, Carrie Underwood's astounding elegance, and Luke Bryan's large success 

Mickey Guyton and Keith Metropolitan facilitated an ACM Entertainment expo loaded with exciting exhibitions — and a couple of head-scratchers.

Since last year’s delayed but well-executed awards, the ACMs have been in the zone. The 2021 show was a celebration of the (slow) return of live music and country music’s (equally slow but apparent) efforts to add diversity to its ranks. Hosted by Mickey Guyton and Keith Urban, who exuded a playful chemistry, the broadcast hit nearly all the right notes. But there were some decisions and snafus that made our brains hurt. Here’s the good, the bad, and the what-on-earth.

Dierks Bentley put together a stellar band to revisit his rootsy 2010 cover of U2’s “Pride (In the Name of Love”) at Nashville’s bluegrass epicenter the Station Inn. In doing so, he provided the ACMs with arguably its performance of the night, reconnecting country music with its string-instrument past. Sibling duo Larkin Poe played Dobro and mandolin, Punch Brother Paul Kowert bowed an upright bass, and Brittany Haas fiddled. But Bentley’s 

masterstroke was enlisting the War and Treaty to sing harmony. Michael Trotter and Tanya Blount Trotter weren’t background vocalists, however — they were front-and-center stars, infusing U2’s 1984 anthem with an urgency that even Bono couldn’t match. When Michael Trotter belted “They could not take your pride!” at song’s end, he all but leveled Station Inn’s cinderblock walls. Release this performance as a single now. — J.H.

Though not a winner this year, Miranda Lambert was the night’s MVP. She joined Elle King in opening the show with their pop-country track “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home)” at the Opry House. It was a fine, raucous number, but Lambert had much more in store, appearing in two other ACM performances at two different venues. No big surprise here, but Lambert can belt on a wedding-crashing party track just as well as she can sing backup 

vocals on Chris Stapleton’s tender “Maggie’s Song” at the Bluebird Cafe. For good measure, Lambert also threw in a teaser for her upcoming album The Marfa Tapes with Jack Ingram and Jon Randall: The trio performed the simple-but-stunning “In His Arms” at the Ryman Auditorium, a refreshing palate cleanser among the ACM Awards’ wilder moments. — C.S.