Eric Church surprised Morgan Wallen as he appeared on The Ryman stage to present him with the ACM Milestone Award at the 15th Annual Academy of Country Music (ACM) Honors.
Following a tribute performance from Wallen’s longtime friends HARDY and ERNEST, who performed a medley of Wallen covers that included “Sand In My Boots,” “Wasted On You” and “More Than My Hometown,” Church walked onto the stage with Wallen’s ACM Award in his hand.
Wallen’s face lit up as he saw his musical hero enter the stage. Church delivered a heartfelt speech that also had the audience bursting into laughter.
“This is such an honor for me, I want to thank the Academy. The ACM called about coming to do this, they said ‘we want you to present this award to Morgan and we want you to tell a story,’ and I said I spent the last three weeks, and I can’t tell you one story that I can actually tell you,” Church joked.
Church, who wrote a song on Wallen’s record-breaking sophomore album, then admitted “it has been one of the honors of my career, and my life, to get to know Morgan over the last couple of years,” before sharing a story of their friendship.
“Whether it’s on a golf cart, a fishing boat, or over guitars late at night, I’ve seen him go through some things, I’ve seen him mature as an artist, I’ve seen him mature as a man,” Church said. ”I can tell you this, we’re very lucky to have him in country music.”
After praising Wallen, Church presented him with the coveted ACM Milestone Award, which according to the Academy Of Country Music, is “presented to a Country Music artist, duo/group or industry leader for a specific, unprecedented or outstanding achievement in the field of Country Music during the preceding calendar year.”
Wallen, who was seated in the front row of the audience with his mother Lesli and father Tommy by his side, then joined Church on stage to accept the award in front of the star-studded crowd.
“I had a whole that I typed out, before I knew any of this was going on,” Wallen said as Church watched on from side stage. ”The first concert I ever went to was an Eric Church concert in Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville. And man I just, I felt… it seemed to me like I could feel what he was feeling when he was singin’… I mean, it changed my life. So for you to be up here presenting this to me now is more special than I can put into words.”
The “You Proof” continued to thank everyone on his team and all those who have encouraged him to follow his dreams.
“You know, I get to do this in front of my parents who are here tonight. Thank you guys for always supporting me,” Wallen added. ”Man, thank you to everybody that’s on my team, my friends, my songwriting friends.”
Wallen then took a moment to recognize HARDY and ERNEST’s impressive performance that celebrated several of his chart-topping hits.
“HARDY and ERN, you know… I never really got to hear ’em perform like that, so that was really special for me too,” Wallen continued. “We’ve known each other a long time now, we’ve written 100 songs together, we’ve done a lot of things together and that was one of my favorite moments of all of the ones we’ve had together.”
After thanking the Academy of Country Music for bestowing the esteemed honor upon him, Wallen went on to thank God and his band.
“Thank you to God. Me and God, we’ve had some interesting do-si-dos, I guess you could say,” Wallen quipped. ”That definitely wasn’t in my speech originally. But I really am grateful for the opportunities. You know, me and my band, thank you to my band, I think they’re in here somewhere. I really am grateful for the opportunities that have been given to me, and just for everybody who’s made it possible, I thank you guys. Most of you know who you are.”
He concluded his speech by graciously thanking his fans.
”It’s been an incredible year, just to hit on the awards, so it’s been awesome. Awards are awesome, but my true measure of success is my fans, and I get to see every single night out on the road this year and for many years,” Wallen said. ”So thank you guys for supporting me, man, it means a lot to me. Seriously, thank everybody, I really appreciate it. God bless you, have a great night.”
Hosted by reigning ACM Female Artist of the Year, Carly Pearce, the 15th Annual ACM Honors took place on Wednesday, August 24 at the famed Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee.
Dubbed “Country Music industry’s favorite night,” ACM Honors recognized several special honorees, including ACM Triple Crown Award recipient Miranda Lambert, ACM Spirit Award recipient Chris Stapleton, ACM Poet’s Award recipient Shania Twain, ACM Milestone Award recipient Morgan Wallen and ACM Film Award recipient Yellowstone.
Performers and presenters included Kelsea Ballerini, Dierks Bentley, The Warren Brothers, Brooks & Dunn, Dan + Shay, Eric Church, Jordan Davis, ERNEST, Jesse Frasure, Vince Gill, Ashley Gorley, Mickey Guyton, HARDY, Wynonna Judd, Avril Lavigne, Little Big Town, Morgan Wallen, Lainey Wilson and more.
ACM Award winner and Grammy nominee Trace Adkins was also on hand to perform his cover of “A Country Boy Can Survive,” from the brand new FOX country music drama MONARCH, in which he stars alongside Susan Sarandon and Anna Friel.
ACM Honors premiered on Tuesday, September 13 at 8/7c on FOX. The show will be available to stream the following day on Hulu.