Gone CountryMay 01, 2023 ● By Lisa Sciortino
By Lisa Sciortino
Photos courtesy of Academy of Country Music
Photos courtesy of Academy of Country Music
Frisco is quickly becoming the world’s second home of country music.
So says Damon Whiteside — and he would know. As chief executive officer of the Nashville-headquartered Academy of Country Music, he has his finger on the pulse of all that happens within the country music industry.
About two years ago, the Academy selected Frisco as the host city for its 58th ACM Awards, which will take place at the Ford Center at The Star on May 11. (Ticket information is available at acmcountry.com.)
The two-hour show, which will stream live in 240 countries around the globe via Amazon Prime Video, is set to be hosted by country music legends Dolly Parton and Garth Brooks.
Among the nominees in the Entertainer of the Year Award category are artists Carrie Underwood, Chris Stapleton, Jason Aldean, Kane Brown, Luke Combs and Miranda Lambert.
“We are all about Frisco now. That’s becoming our second home,” Whiteside told Frisco STYLE recently during an exclusive interview.
Whiteside visited our city several times while attending meetings and scouting filming locations in advance of the awards show. He even traversed local streets on foot while taking daily runs. “I’m really impressed with what a beautiful city it is, and I can’t believe the growth. It feels like Nashville in that regard. It’s growing so fast.”
A ‘Deep Partnership’
This marks the second time that the ACM Awards will be held in North Texas. In 2015, it was televised from AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
When Whiteside joined the Academy of Country Music as CEO in 2020, he says many of its board members were still discussing the partnership it had forged with the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys as a result of the awards show five years earlier.
“It was like, `Man we’ve really got to get back to Texas at some point. We’ve really got to partner with the Cowboys again. We had such a great experience. The fans there are huge country (music) fans. The (music) artists love it there. We really should think about it again,’” he recalls.
Whiteside says he began having “initial discussions” with the Dallas Cowboys two years ago prior to the onset of the pandemic. “That slowed things down. We ended up moving our show to Nashville for two years during COVID because it was more convenient for the artists,” as many of them call that city home. (Last year, the ACM Awards were held in Las Vegas, where it has a long history of being staged.)
While searching for a home for the show, Whiteside and his team planned to return to North Texas to once again scout AT&T Stadium.
However, “In talking with the Cowboys team and just doing some research, we learned about The Star and thought, `While we’re out there, let’s run by and take a tour of it and just see what it is,’” he recalls. “We did that and just immediately felt that it was the perfect home for us and started getting more serious about it and trying to figure out what year would make sense to try to move the show there. … It was probably a two-year process figuring all of that out, but we ultimately decided to move (to Frisco) for this year.”
Whiteside, who also serves as the awards show’s executive producer, says the Academy “loves the whole … Star facility. Of course, the Ford Center works perfectly for the show. We love the size and scope and scale of it and … we just absolutely love working with the Cowboys. … We’re very much in a very deep partnership with them.”
The Academy has received “tremendous feedback” from music artists and other industry professionals who are “excited to be coming back to Texas” for the ACM Awards, he says. “Some are more local to the Frisco area. Across the board everyone’s been very, very excited about it.”
The process of preparing to produce the program in Frisco (which, for the most part, lacks a history of hosting such large and far-reaching events as the ACM Awards) has “been very smooth,” Whiteside says. “The City of Frisco, the mayor and all of his team have been very warm and welcoming to us. Working with all the city officials has been just seamless. We felt the enthusiasm about bringing the show and all of our artists there really from everyone involved.”
Whiteside describes the awards show’s production as “massive. … We’re shipping in all of the production equipment and people from literally all over the country. … When all is said and done, it will be thousands of people that will be coming in and onsite just from the industry side, artists, their teams, all the ACM staff and board, crew … then just all of the fans who are going to want to come in and be part of the week, too.”
He says the Academy’s board members, music industry executives and country music artists will essentially “take over” the Omni PGA Frisco Resort (which opened its doors early this month) in advance of the show.
“It’s been great in terms of having the hotel base there and just all of the places to entertain all of our industry and board members and artists. It’s going to be a great place for everybody to have a lot of fun over a week.”
Official ACM Awards festivities are scheduled to begin early the week of the show, including the ACM Country Kickoff at The Star, featuring live music on a large stage, a beer garden and “fan activations” at The Star’s Tostitos Championship Plaza. “We encourage locals to come on out” for that free event, Whiteside says.
Also, in advance of the awards show, he says Parton will “takeover” The Star’s retail, dining and entertainment district, “which will be a really special experience for fans who love Dolly.”
On May 10, singer Morgan Wallen (who is also an Entertainer of the Year Award nominee) will headline a concert as part of the Topgolf Tee-Off and Rock-On fundraiser, which will be held at Topgolf in The Colony. (Tickets to that event as also available for purchase.)
The night of the ACM Awards, a “major red carpet” will be set up at The Star to welcome celebrity guests and performers, who will also attend an after party there.
Whiteside says that the awards show will open with a “Texas moment … that establishes that we are in Texas and celebrates that. … Certainly, some of the big-name Texas artists that you’re expect will be part of the show.”
In 2022, the ACM Awards became the first major awards show to stream live exclusively.
The transition away from a traditional television broadcast to livestreaming has “had a huge impact in a good way,” Whiteside says.
Besides being presented in a concise two-hour block, he explains, “We are commercial free, so it’s literally just wall-to-wall music with some awards mixed in.
“I think it’s the most entertaining show out there because it really does just feel like a big country music concert with big stars versus having to stop for commercial breaks or having it drag on,” Whiteside says. “It’s very fast-paced. It’s just filled with music. It’s entertaining. … From that perspective, it’s really changed the face of the show and made it a much better viewer experience.”
With its mix of appearances and performances by legendary and new country-music artists, Whiteside says he is confident that that the ACM Awards will “show the breadth of what this industry is all about.”
Also, “The fact that we do get to stream live to 240 territories around the world … really gives us that global exposure. … You’re seeing a lot more international markets that have growing country (music) fan bases and artists are starting to tour more globally, so that’s exciting to see. This show is going to help with that, to grow the country music footprint around the world.”
Lisa Sciortino is managing editor of Frisco STYLE Magazine.