The ACM Party for a Cause benefiting ACM Lifting Lives returned to Nashville for a second year, welcoming a stellar performer lineup of reigning ACM duo of the year Brothers Osborne, McCreery, Blanco Brown, Travis Denning, Sara Evans, Caylee Hammack, Darius Rucker, Ingrid Andress, Hailey Whitters and Brad Paisley to downtown Nashville’s Ascend Amphitheater.
More from Billboard
The balmy summer evening served as a perfect backdrop for a night of music to raise money for ACM Lifting Lives, the philanthropic arm of the Academy of Country Music. The organization offers aid to those in need, with a particular focus on supporting health-related initiatives. ACM Lifting Lives has also funded national music therapy programs that serve several mental and physical health organizations. The ACM Lifting Lives COVID-19 Relief Fund has also raised approximately $4 million to serve those in the country music industry impacted by the pandemic, including touring personnel, musicians, aspiring artists and songwriters.
“Already, hundreds of thousands of dollars have gone to support groups for our musicians friends,” the evening’s emcee, SiriusXM’s Storme Warren, said. “We’re talking the backstage crews, the bus drivers, the musicians, not just the artists, but the people who make their living check by check and they were off the road for a long time. Right now, our priority is getting our musicians and those who support our musicians back on the road, back healthy — financially, physically and mentally. Can I get an amen?!”
The evening featured its fair share of guitar slingers, from left-handed guitar virtuoso and “After a Few” singer Denning, to the bluesy riffs from Brothers Osborne’s John Osborne, and the fiery axe mastery of Paisley. Throughout the evening, much-beloved Nashville band Sixwire served as the house band for all of the performers.
Warren also upped the ante for attendees, spontaneously auctioning off seats onstage to the highest bidders to watch performances from Evans, Rucker and Paisley.
Here’s a look at few of the top moments from the evening:
Paisley led the evening with his wit and easygoing charm, opening his brief set with the 2005 hit “Mud on the Tires.” He was joined by Hammack on “Whiskey Lullaby,” with Hammack deftly handling the portions originally recorded by Alison Krauss with honeyed, haunting vocal tones.
Paisley wrapped with the quirky “Alcohol,” and gave the cluster of fans seated onstage a special treat, walking up behind them as they were taking selfies onstage and letting go with a blazing guitar riff. Given that the fans had pledged thousands of dollars for the privilege of sitting on stage, Paisley quipped, “This feels like a rich people’s party.”
Three-time Grammy winner Rucker opened his performance with “Alright” before delving into his Hootie and the Blowfish catalog for a performance of the band’s 1994 classic “Only Want to Be With You.”
“This song is for all of the old people out there,” Rucker quipped. “I’m one of you.”
Taking advantage of the stellar backing band, Rucker and Sixwire then slowly segued into a full-blown jam session, flowing into Rucker’s Grammy-winning rendering of Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel,” complete with an a cappella, audience-led ending.
Of the newcomers to take the stage Tuesday evening, Brown was undoubtedly one of the most energetic and engaging, infusing the night with a performance that was both uplifting and added to the party atmosphere. His joy was palpable, especially given his long-fought recovery following a near-fatal motorcycle accident in August 2020.
“Never allow someone to dim your light,” he told the crowd, and brought the audience to its feet, shimmying in the aisles, with many attempting to recreate the steps to the viral dance that accompanied Brown’s 3x-Platinum hit “The Git Up.”
He followed with “No Body’s More Country,” and ended with a new song, “I’ll Never,” which he called his “new single,” though he noted no release date was set yet.
McCreery recently notched his overall fifth career No. 1 Country Airplay hit with the three-week chart-leader “Damn Strait.” During his performance of the track during ACM Party for a Cause, the crowd cheered with every mention of one of “King George” Strait’s songs titles that are sprinkled throughout the hit.
Throughout his performance, McCreery’s blend of a relatable-yet-professional show style afforded the singer-songwriter an affable camaraderie with the crowd as he also offered “You Time,” as well as his engagement-inspired hit “This Is It.” The intensely personal song, written about his longtime relationship with wife Gabi, was a tune he says he never intended to be on the radio.
“The song was so specific to us, to our story,” McCreery said, noting that his label team and management loved it upon hearing it, as did members of country radio. McCreery released “This Is It” to radio, and it became another of his string of chart-topping recent singles.
He also reminded the crowd — to great applause — that he and wife Gabi are expecting their first child in November.
The sibling duo of John and TJ Osborne took the stage and immediately let their rambunctious brand of blues, rock and country do the talking, ripping into “Skeletons.” They followed with perennial fan-favorite “Ain’t My Fault,” with the crowd taking particular glee in shouting back the lyric, “Blame the song for the party that went all night long.” The duo, who have taken home a total of six ACM Awards, gives equal weighting to TJ’s commanding vocal and John’s searing guitar work, moreover evidenced by their slow-burn hit “Stay a Little Longer.”
Whitters’ effervescent personality and cheeky wit charmed the crowd during the singer-songwriter’s brief acoustic performance. Backed by guitar and fiddle, Whitters wrapped her Natalie Maines-esque vocals around songs including the infinitely catchy “Everything She Ain’t,” offering a sweet-yet-fierce performance style that makes her one to watch.