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Academy of Country Music Awards Supersizes for Golden Anniversary

The axiom “everything’s bigger in Texas” certainly holds true for the 50th Academy of Country Music Awards.

To herald the golden anniversary, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones enticed the annual kudo ceremony from its longtime home at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand Garden Arena to the Lone Star state.

Fans gobbled up the more than 60,000 initially available tickets for the April 19 show at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, in 18 minutes. An additional 5,000 limited view seats were released later to try to meet demand.

“Country is at one of the hottest points it’s ever been,” says Bob Romeo, CEO of the Academy of Country Music. “To showcase it at the AT&T Stadium, it screams ‘big’ for what we’re doing and for the format. That’s our job.”

Joining in the celebration will be a who’s who of country artists, including the evening’s top nominee Miranda Lambert, plus Jason Aldean, Garth Brooks, Dierks Bentley, Kenny Chesney, George Strait, Eric Church, Reba McEntire and Keith Urban. Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan will co-host for the third time.

Bentley, who is up for seven awards, appreciates the show’s relaxed vibe, in contrast to the fall’s Country Music Assn. Awards (CMAs). “It’s a little looser (since) it’s out of Nashville,” he says. “It’s a really fun atmosphere and has a great energy.”

To commemorate the show’s history, the ACMs will hand out 50th Anniversary Milestone Awards to artists who have set ACM Award records over the past five decades, including Brooks & Dunn for the most ACMs (27), Brooks for most wins for entertainer of the year and Taylor Swift for youngest artist to win entertainer of the year.

The ACMs, produced by Dick Clark Prods., will air on CBS and expand to 3½ hours from its normal three-hour time frame. “It’s a live music event on steroids,” says Jack Sussman, executive VP, specials, music and live events, CBS Entertainment. Last year’s show swept the night, drawing more than 14.1 million viewers.

With the supersized show, however, comes a supersized budget and supersized challenges.

“The show is costing us almost four times what it costs us to do at the MGM,” Romeo says, adding the stadium production will cost “well north of $15 million. … Just to open AT&T Stadium is a big number.”

Concerns presented themselves along the way: “A lot of people said the building had sound issues,” Romeo says. “We’ve spent a lot of time sending engineers in and are adding sound baffles.”

A tunnel underneath the stadium is being built to link the two stages. Normally, the ACMs take over the MGM Arena 10 days before the event; this time it’s 32 days.

Between CBS’ licensing fee, ticket revenue, ancillary income streams and a $5.4 million tax break, the ACMs will make money, Romeo assures.

The extravaganza will cap a weekend of activities, including the two-day ACM Party for a Cause Festival, April 17-18.

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