Stevie Wonder talks God and Country at the ACMs

by Dan MacIntosh

Welcome to the press room at the Academy of Country Music Awards. After the awards are allocated and the lights go down on the main stage, the artists meet the media.

Our intrepid reporter, Dan MacIntosh, braved the elements for the 2013 Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas, Nevada. The gold he prospected came from some unexpected sources.

Stevie Wonder

The ACMs aren't just for Country stars. John Mayer and Kelly Clarkson performed, as did Stevie Wonder, who played "Sir Duke" with Hunter Hayes. Our question about his thoughts on country music brought out a surprisingly emotional response from Stevie. We pick up the conversation with Hunter talking about the performance.

Hunter Hayes: For me, I can tell you that this has been a dream of mine for a long time. I've mentioned this to everyone I know. And I was fortunate enough to get to meet Stevie last year. And we talked about collaborating. And I will say in the runthrough I was so nervous. We ran it through for the first time without a whole lot of lighting. I was standing at the front of the stage when the riser rolled up and I just looked at every one of the guys in the band and we were just all in awe that this is happening. It's something I've been dreaming of forever, and it finally happened. It's amazing.

Stevie Wonder: What can I say. This young man is a blessing to country music, and to America. Because he really has listened to all kinds of music, and you can hear those influences in what he's doing. And he does it so incredibly well, and blends it with what he knows and how he feels.

But most of all what excites me about Hunter Hayes is a pureness inside that heart, his love for music. It's really emotional to me, because I see God working in him. And I'm very happy about that. I mean, he's the kind of artist that we talk about when we say we want to bring love back to music and bring people and unit back to music; this man has that in him. So I just say today is the beginning of the best part of the rest of his life.

Songfacts: Stevie, I want to ask you about your motivation for coming to a country awards show, and a little bit about some of your favorite country music. Which artists do you particularly love?

Stevie: I love from bluegrass to LA music to country. I love music, period. What I can tell you is that I have always been a lover of music and country music. And the amazing thing, I recently saw a few days ago the Motown show [Motown - The Musical], and what was amazing to me in comparing tonight to that was in that show was all the music Smokey did, and Holland-Dozier-Holland did, and Norman Whitfield - all the various writers that had love, and it was about lifting people up, lifting love up.

And so tonight, I'm here in this event, and it's about lifting people up, music up, love up. Listen, we could not be here without love. And I wish I could say to the president in this very moment, "President Obama, will you let me go to North Korea to talk to the leader, because he must not know the people that are helpless, they will be killed if there were war." So it's emotional to me. And it's fun. So there we go.

Eric Church

Church took home the trophy for Album of the Year for Chief, which was produced by Jay Joyce. A relative newcomer to the country scene, Joyce has also produced Tim Finn, Audio Adrenaline, and Cage the Elephant.

Songfacts: About your producer Jay Joyce, what special qualities did he bring to the album to make it so good?

Eric: Well, first of all, he won producer of the year, ACM. But I think Jay, he's a guy that you can't really put a genre on. You can't say he's this kind of producer, he does this or he does that. He does everything. And I think his true talent is letting the song realize its potential regardless of the genre. If it's country, he doesn't try to put a steel guitar or fiddle on it. If it's rock and roll, he doesn't have to put electric guitar on it. It's just his interpretation of letting the song realize its potential. And I think that's how you judge a producer. They let the song turn into what the song was intended to be.

Little Big Town

"Pontoon," produced by the aforementioned Jay Joyce, is a catchy hit about kicking back on a party boat.

Songfacts: How concerned were you that perhaps most of the country didn't know what a pontoon was before you released that song, and then secondly, do you feel like you've educated America a little bit about culture?

Kimberly Schlapman: We weren't really concerned until we went to London. We realized they really have no idea what a pontoon is.

Jimi Westbrook: We thought everybody knew what a pontoon was.

Karen Fairchild: Yeah, we grew up on pontoons and on the lake, and it's part of southern living. And I guess we just assumed everybody knew that. Motorboating is also very universal. [Laughing] If you didn't know what a pontoon was, you had another shot.

Get more on LBT in our interview with Phillip Sweet.

Miranda Lambert

Lambert was the big winner at the ACMs, collecting Female Vocalist of the Year (for the fourth consecutive year) and also Single Record of the Year and Song of the Year for "Over You," which she co-wrote with her husband, Blake Shelton.

Female Reporter: On this season of The Voice, Blake jokingly said you wanted to adopt a contestant to try to win them over. Is that something you would ever consider doing, adopting?

Miranda: We already have adopted RaeLynn and Dia and Gwynn, and we have five kids already from The Voice. So if we did adopt, it would probably be someone from The Voice.

Male Reporter: Do you realize this is your fourth consecutive win as female vocalist? I mean, when you think about this category, Reba won it seven times, but you're getting up in those big numbers, too. Any comfort in that?

Miranda: I can't bring in anything that's happening right now. I mean, I actually voted for Carrie, because I'm such a fan of hers and I'm so jealous, her voice and her legs. And I can't believe that last night I saw Shania Twain, and Faith Hill introduced me to Shania Twain, and in my 12 year old wildest dreams that would never happen in the whole world. So I've been overstimulated pretty much since then.

Songfacts: Miranda, you mentioned songwriting and how special it is that your lyrics were recognized. What were some of your songwriting inspirations? Who were the songwriters that you looked up to when you were learning the craft of songwriting?

Miranda: My dad is actually a singer/songwriter. I grew up listening to his songs. And as I got older and he would sing his songs around the campfire, he would also sing Merle Haggard and David Allan Coe and Guy Clark and Jerry Jeff Walker. And I couldn't tell the difference sometimes if it was one of their songs or one of my dad's. So I just loved songwriting so much since then. It's in my blood.

Male Reporter: You've been glowing for so many years now, which is great. How has the power of music truly made a strong marriage and how do you make it stronger from here?

Miranda: You know, it's not easy all the time being on opposite sides of the country, traveling and all that. But when you get to celebrate moments like this together and when you go through the hard stuff together, those are the moments that actually count. All the rest is fluff. And like I always say, my mom said to my dad, divorce is not an option. So we really love each other and have a real marriage outside of all of this. When this is all said and done, we will be drinking a beer together on a front porch somewhere reminiscing about the good old days. And that's what I'm happy about.

Female Reporter: Miranda, he mentioned you're glowing, and I had just heard that you and the Pistol Annies and Sheryl Crow were all spray tanning the other day at 11:30.

Miranda: It's not a natural glow. [Laughing].

Female Reporter: Do you get to have girls' night like that often?

Miranda: I think girl time together is so important, because you can talk about stuff that you can't really talk about with your husband or the guys. I mean, I live on a bus with boys. It was kind of an impromptu thing, but I think it's really important to be able to balance yourself talking to other women and talking about the same problems that you're having, they're probably having or going to have them or been through it. So I really cherish that time.

Thompson Square

This husband and wife team took Vocal Duo of the Year for the second consecutive year on the strength of their hit "If I Didn't Have You."

Songfacts: As a duo, were there any male/female duos that were the biggest inspiration for you and your music?

Keifer Thompson: I think Johnny and June were. The love they had for one another, I feel like we have that same thing. When you look at one of them and you see how they look at the other one, that's how I look at Shawna and that's how I feel about her. And it was really interesting, last year we were watching a special about them and Shawna started crying, of course.

Shawna Thompson: Of course.

Keifer: Not that we're comparing ourselves to Johnny and June, but the love aspect of what we do is definitely there.

Florida Georgia Line

Florida Georgia Line are the duo of Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley. They won for New Artist of the Year. Hubbard co-wrote the song "Black Tears," which was recorded by Jason Aldean.

Songfacts: Tyler, my favorite song of the year is "Black Tears," which you co-wrote. Can you talk a little bit about the inspiration for writing that song?

Tyler Hubbard: Man, you know what, that was just one of those songs where you try to put yourself in somebody else's shoes and write from their perspective. It worked out nicely for us. That's been a song that we loved for a log time, and it's really cool that Aldean cut it and it did well for him so it's an honor, man.

Luke Bryan

Bryan hosted the show with Blake Shelton, and also won Entertainer of the Year. He performed his song "Crash My Party" at the ceremony.

Songfacts: I know making music is something that probably comes very natural to you. Hosting an awards show I'm guessing is not quite so natural. So two part question. Number one, how do you feel you did? And secondly, were you given any advice about hosting a show that you put to use tonight?

Luke: Well, as far as a scale of 1 to 10 on how I think I did hosting, I put so much emphasis on making sure that the hosting went well, I feel like I knocked it out of the park. Blake and I just had a blast, and I've been known to really get excited about stuff. I was proud that I was calm in that moment. I was so focused on hosting that I forgot the first line of my new single, "Crash My Party," and somehow - I don't know if you all picked up on that - but somehow I don't even know what I was saying, but I just went, "Blah blah blah," and then I got back on track. Because hosting was such an important thing for me, even just representing country music, being savvy and cool in that position was a big deal for me. I put a lot of pressure on myself, and I've enjoyed the pressure.

People in my management, we were so focused on the hosting that I don't even know if right before the show happened we could have told you what I was nominated for, just because we were just wanting the show to be great. And as long as the show is great and my performance is great, the nominations, and then to top this off with the Entertainer of the Year deal just is an amazing thing. And I know you had a second part.

Songfacts: Did anybody give you any advice?

Luke: I had Reba McEntire texting me before the show: "Good luck." And then Blake is just a true champion and a true professional. What I was amazed by is the time leading up to hosting. Blake's busy, I'm busy, but come crunch time, when me and Blake were reading our scripts and doing all that, he and I were like, "Let's re-do it, let's make it work." And it's cool when you see somebody as a true professional and it inspires you to be a true professional. And that's what, obviously, Blake Shelton is.

April 16, 2013
More Song Writing

Comments: 1

  • K.c. from NhLuke Bryan: "Well, as far as a scale of 1 to 10 on how I think I did hosting, I put so much emphasis on making sure that the hosting went well, I feel like I knocked it out of the park." Quote of the year! (My 10-year-old daughter, who has the BIGGEST crush on Luke, would kill me if she knew I was picking on him!) I did think that he and Blake did a good job, tho, and couldn't be happier with his EOtY win.
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