By Brian Ives 

Last year, a number of cross-generational country superstars joined together for the “Forever Country” video, a Joseph Kahn directed high-tech mashup that saw Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Keith Urban, Little Big Town, Lady Antebellum, Miranda Lambert, Luke Bryan, Reba McIntyre, Jason Aldean, Carrie Underwood, Dierks Bentley, Rascal Flatts and Brett Eldredge, Alan Jackson, George Strait, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton and many others perform a medley of the country standards “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” “On the Road Again” and “I Will Always Love You.”

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Last night at the Academy of Country Music Awards, “Forever Country” won Video of the Year, and it felt more than a bit symbolic. Over the past decade or so, country music has enthusiastically embraced technology, trends, and the sounds of other music genres, but at the core of it, Nashville is a city about songs. These days, those songs can be heard in cavernous football stadiums accompanied by a visual production fit for a sci-fi movie, but you can still hear them at a guitar pull at the Bluebird Cafe in Music City. Both of these extremes and a lot that fits in between were on display at the ACMs last night.

Related: ACM Awards Winners List 

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Surely a lot of attention will be given to Florida Georgia Line, who performed at the show with the Backstreet Boys, a moment that would have been hard to fathom during BSB’s rise to fame in the mid- to late- ’90s. The boy band joined FGL for their collaboration, “God, Your Mama and Me,” a song that melded the country duo’s pop-influenced sound and BSB’s multi-vocal attack. But then, they went into “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” which not only saw FGL’s Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley throwing down boy-band dance moves, but the broadcast showed that in the front row, all of the country icons (including Tim, Faith, Carrie, and Keith) were singing along, and seemingly knowing every word. If you pine for the old days of straight-ahead country music, this may not have been a great moment for you, but despite country’s ever-present sense of traditionalism, the genre doesn’t take kindly to the “Get off my lawn!” attitude in 2017.

That said, it was still a night with great moments for purists. Miranda Lambert, who won Best Female Vocalist for the eighth time, along with Album of the Year for The Weight of These Wings, performed “Tin Man,” accompanied only by her acoustic guitar. Not that she’s always averse to big production—who could forget her roof-raising “Little Red Wagon” at the GRAMMY Awards in 2015—but last night, she provided one of the night’s most arresting moments, singing a song she co-wrote, using only her voice and six strings.

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