NOTE: I’ve placed a list of the performers and their songs at the end of the article for those that are looking for that information!
Usually each year I write an article called “Backstage At The ACM’s,” but I didn’t this year because while I was backstage at the show, I didn’t really pay much attention to it. That’s because I was so entertained by the rehearsals for the show the Academy of Country Music and Dick Clark Productions were taping the following night.
Like most music fans, I’ve always liked the music of Lionel Richie, through his time with the Commodores and during his solo career. I even saw him in concert once in Philadelphia during his tour supporting “Dancing On The Ceiling.” I’ll always remember the bungee jumpers featured during “Dancing” as back then, seeing people bouncing around on huge rubber bands was something new.
But I wasn’t sure basing a show around Lionel’s music in 2012 was the path to big ratings. If you listen to a recent Richie album, you’ll find he’s kept up with the times with a bit of house here and some silky R&B there but very little of his classic piano based ballads and no sign of the country stylings of songs like “Easy” and “Stuck On You.” But there’s no doubt Lionel’s new “Tuskegee” album brings it all back home, enlisting some of country’s biggest stars to join him on his greatest hits.
I was hired to work on “ACM Presents: Lionel Richie & Friends In Concert” as the researcher, and after last year’s “Girls’ Night Out” featured tributes to a long list of country divas, a show where we just featured the music of one star was like a vacation. Fortunately Lionel’s record company, Universal Nashville, had filmed an excellent interview with Lionel as well as lots of footage of Lionel recording with the various country stars, giving me a big head start on the job by the time we got to Las Vegas.
As in past years, while the rehearsals for the ACM Awards take place on the big stage in the MGM Grand Garden Arena, a band of Nashville pros led by Music Director Edgar Struble gathers in one of the large rooms in the arena hallway and one by one (and in this case, sometimes two by two when there was a duet with Lionel that needed to be rehearsed) the stars come in and work on their song.
Luke Bryan was first in on Thursday, performing one of Lionel’s more rocking tunes. Friday brought the first appearance of Mr. Richie, who sat in with some of country’s biggest stars like Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw, who both appear on “Tuskegee.” You could immediately see what a great entertainer Lionel is, as he told stories about his career (including how he once performed with Eric Clapton and Clapton’s crew pranked him by pretending that Eric was mad Lionel had walked in front of him onstage) and sang directly to the various staff members watching to make sure everyone was having a good time.
As always, I was amazed by the vocals of Gary LeVox of Rascal Flatts. He may sound great on records and on stage, but there’s nothing like hearing him sing in a small studio.
Saturday included the rehearsal of one of the numbers that brought down the house at the show, as Marc Anthony and Sara Evans worked out their duet on Lionel’s classic, “Endless Love.” Marc made us laugh when he walked in and saw the staff seated at a long table that reminded him of the judges table in the audition room of a certain TV show. He faced us and said, “I’m Marc, 15, from the Bronx.” Then the vocal fireworks began between him and Sara…
Afterward, I saw that Sara had left her lyric sheet that she had written notes on of where she should sing. I was going to keep it as a souvenir, but I thought she might need it and so I gave it to her talent escort. Sure enough, she was holding it during her rehearsal in the arena, so I’m glad I gave it up!
Sunday was probably the most fun rehearsal. It started with Lionel playing the songs he’s performing solo on the show. No matter how many times he’s performed a song like “Three Times A Lady,” he still brings emotion and heart to it. We were then joined by another powerhouse vocalist, Jennifer Nettles, who will duet with Lionel on one of his number one hits, “Hello.” Next up was Kenny Rogers, who immediately started ragging on Lionel. It was like watching a great comedy team with Lionel the straight man. Kenny even stayed through the remaining rehearsals, just so he could offer complaints about the big hits that Lionel promised him that he never got to record, like “Endless Love” that he said Lionel played for him once and then somehow he could never get him back on the phone! You’ll get a taste of Kenny’s sense of humor on the show, as he gave a no holds barred commentary on the origin of his platinum hit, “Lady.”
The final rehearsal featured Big & Rich performing one of the Commodores biggest dance hits. The band got the soulful sound just right and the singers proved they could front any bar band in the U.S.
Monday, we moved to the big stage in the Grand Garden Arena for the dress rehearsal. I was busy working on getting materials for a montage in the show and stayed in the production office for most of it. Besides, I knew I would be watching the show that night!
While the ACM Presents concerts have been a big success in the past three years they did them, this year was something special, as the audience had a lot more energy, getting up to dance at every opportunity and handing out standing ovations whenever they could. I was especially pleased to see Kenny Rogers get such a warm welcome as he’s been under the radar a bit the past few years (although he is working on a new album).
I didn’t even mention such great performers as Martina McBride, Jason Aldean, Lady Antebellum and Darius Rucker. It was a terrific show to see in person and I know you’ll enjoy it if you watch it tonight at 9:00 on CBS… even if Lionel didn’t sing my favorite of his songs, “Oh No.” Oh well, there’s always “Tuskegee 2”!
List Of Performers:
Big & Rich: “Brick House”
Blake Shelton (with Lionel): “You Are”
Darius Rucker (with Lionel): “Stuck On You”
Jason Aldean: “Say You, Say Me”
Jennifer Nettles (with Lionel): “Hello”
Kenny Chesney (with Lionel): “My Love”
Kenny Rogers (with Lionel): “Lady”
Lionel Richie: “All Night Long (All Night),” “Three Times A Lady, “Easy”
Lady Antebellum: “Truly”
Luke Bryan: “Running With The Night”
Martina McBride: “Still”
Rascal Flatts (with Lionel): “Dancing On The Ceiling”
Sara Evans & Marc Anthony: “Endless Love”
The Band Perry: “Penny Lover”
Tim McGraw (with Lionel): “Sail On”