Garth Brooks and Dolly Parton have friends in host places: each other, as they prepare to co-helm the 58th annual Academy of Country Music Awards show Thursday night.
Parton has done the hosting thing for the ACM Awards or CMAs a bare handful of times over the years (including taking on the role for last year’s ACMs); it’s Brooks’ first time, meanwhile, emceeing a kudocast. Regardless of their awards-show resumes, this pairing is not your average “get,” as landing hosts goes. There’s a good argument to be made that Parton is the biggest female star in the history of their genre, and just as good a case for thinking Brooks is the all-time biggest male star in the format, as they step down from country’s Mount Olympus to chaperone the prom.
“I know I think of her in those terms,” said Brooks, as the two did a joint interview with Variety last week, “and she would probably say she doesn’t think of her in those terms. But, I mean, you can’t deny that Dolly Parton and whoever is a damn good couple.”
“Well, I think that everybody else knows we’re bigger stars than we do,” said Parton, “because we look at it like work, and think about how lucky we are. I think we’re too humble and grateful for that, and I think that’s one of the reasons we’ve lasted so long. We love the music. But I’ve always admired and respected how he not only sings and performs, but how he does his business. He is one of the most brilliant marketing people in the world. And I’ve gotten some good hints from him about my own career. But I really don’t think either of us have ever had a big head. I’ve got big hair, but not that.”
These two admit that they never got to know each other until the ACMs brought them together for the telecast — or, rather, webcast, since this marks the second consecutive year that the show has eschewed a traditional broadcast partner to go out live globally on Prime Video and Amazon’s Twitch channel. (The commercial-free two-hour show begins Thursday at 7 p.m. ET/6 CT/4 PT.)
About the idea that they had been ships passing, Brooks said, “You’re dead on. You understand the life of artists — that we really don’t know each other. But if you just think you can only love a person so much, and then you get to meet ’em and spend time with them — I’ll say the same thing about James Taylor — how can you love somebody more that you already worshipped? But then it happens. This has been a really fun collaboration.”
“Well, I’ve always admired and loved him too,” said Parton, “so this is just some icing on a really good cake that we’re getting to have. And I like icing.”
The frosting will not include a duet of any kind between co-hosts, so no one should hold their breath over 120 minutes waiting for that. Parton and Brooks each have an explanation for why they won’t be hooking up in song, one more facetious than the other.
Said Brooks, “I’ll take this one. They wanted to do something (with her) up front and I said, ‘Look, man, the moment of the show, for me, is Dolly Parton closing the show with the song off her new rock album.’ And so my thing is, anything that she does performance-wise before that — this is just my thought — takes away from that. So I just want the anticipation of just what’s waiting when quite arguably the greatest female in country music history is gonna take the stage to close the show.”
“Now, you wanna know the real truth?” interjected Parton. “Trisha (Yearwood), his wife, is not gonna let me sing a duet with him, and I don’t want to have to kick her butt, because I’d have to get on a ladder to do it, but she could whoop me good. So I think it’s more that. But anyway, he is generous like that. He is wanting me to have my moment. But I don’t think Trisha would let it happen, do you?”
“Oh my God, Trisha,” said Brooks. “The only butt she’d kick is mine, to get in my place, so she could sing with you. That would be it.”
Parton discussed the number she’ll be doing to close out the show. “My rock album is called ‘Rockstar’ and it features a whole lot of big artists” — as revealed in an announcement Tuesday, all 30-plus of them — “but I’m singing this one on my own. It’s a song I felt real inspired to write just because of the condition of the world these days and how we just keep getting farther and farther apart when we should be trying so hard to get closer together., and it’s called ‘World on Fire.’ It’s talking about all the situations in the world: ‘Liar, liar, the world’s on fire, what you gonna do when it all burns down? But we’ve still got time to turn it all around.’ I’m not one for speaking out much, but that don’t mean I don’t stay in touch. ‘Everybody’s tripping over this and that, what are we gonna do when we all fall flat?’ It’s an anthem more than anything, just about trying to uplift mankind and uplift the world and show some love and some light. It fit in country music just because of the message. I normally wouldn’t have done a rock song on the ACMs, but then my country fans have followed me all these years, and I felt it was really a sweet thing to kind of let them in on what I’m doing a little different, so they’ll feel part of it too.”
“It’s gonna fit on the ACMs because it’s Dolly frickin’ Parton — that’s why it’s gonna fit on,” added Brooks.
A quickening of the generational shift in country can be seen in this year’s nominations, in which Hardy has the most nods, closely followed by Lainey Wilson — neither of whom is even onto their third album yet. Among the top nominees, Miranda Lambert practically counts as the grizzled veteran, even though she might still feel fresh in the eyes of an experienced fan of Brooks or Parton or anyone who first made their mark in the previous century.
Brooks was particularly happy about Wilson’s nominations. “What I like about Lainey,” he said, ” is you can tell the influence of the person sitting next to me in Lainey. That’s what I love about country music: you see the gifts handed down from generation to generation. The same way with Luke Combs and Cody Johnson… There seems to be a turn toward more traditional that’s coming to country music, which I love, because, like rock ‘n’ roll… they didn’t take care of their format and now it’s gone. So I always encourage country music to stay sincere, and stay as a family. So it’s cool to see that kind of handed down, and now the new generation is kind of carrying that torch, and as an older artist, that makes me feel good about country music’s future.
“Oh, I think so,” said Parton. “And Chris Stapleton…. We love him. I love him.”
“He might be the greatest vocalist…” said Brooks.
“He sang a song on my rock album — he did (Bob Seger’s) ‘Night Moves’ with me,” Parton added. “It turned out so good. But we’ve got so many wonderful nominees and artists and that’s one of the things we’re both looking forward to is to meet and watching the new people coming up, and seeing them feel like we’ve had the opportunity to feel through the years.”
At one point, some inter-host chuckling occurred, prompting Brooks to say, “You gotta save me, because this is exactly what’s gonna happen the night of the awards show. We’re gonna have a script. She’s not gonna stick to it, at all.” Said Parton, “Well, I might. But that’s gonna be half the fun, though. I don’t think either one of us are gonna stick to any kind of script, do you?” This interview was conducted before the writers’ strike, so with that underway, we might actually have to hold them to the promise of winging it.
Thursday’s live show will be available to all on Prime Video, with Amazon Prime non-subscribers able to take advantage of a 30-day free trial, as well as viewable for free via Amazon’s Twitch channel. Come Friday, it will be available for perpetual streaming on the Amazon Music app and on Amazon Freevee, starting at 8 p.m. ET/5 PT.
Ed Sheeran was announced this week as a guest performer from outside the genre. Other performers include the aforementioned Lambert, Hardy, Wilson, Combs, Johnson, Hardy and Yearwood as well as Jason Aldean, Kane Brown, Brandy Clark, Caylee Hammack, Jo Dee Messina, Ashley McBryde, John Osborne, Pillbox Patti, Carly Pearce, Jelly Roll, Cole Swindell, Keith Urban, the War And Treaty, Hailey Whitters and Bailey Zimmerman. The show is being aired live from a stadium near Dallas, the Ford Center at the Star in Frisco, Texas