Garth Brooks will join returning host Dolly Parton as co-host of the 58th annual Academy of Country Music Awards, Billboard has exclusively learned. The May 11 show will stream live on Amazon’s Prime Video from Ford Center at the Star in Frisco, Texas, outside of Dallas.
Parton hosted the ACM Awards solo in 2000 and with Jimmie Allen and Gabby Barrett last year — its first year on Prime Video — while this will mark Brooks’ first time hosting the show. Billboard sat down with the two icons as they filmed promotional video footage for the awards show at a Nashville production studio and displayed an easy-going banter that should serve them well on awards night.
“All I hope that we do as a pair is represent [country music] well,” Brooks tells Billboard of co-hosting the ACM Awards. “I mean, you’ve got your foundation and what you’re looking for here,” he says, gesturing to Parton seated beside him. “You’ve got talent and class. Let’s represent country music the best that we can.”
“I told him to say all that, and that I’d say something good about him if he would say something good about me,” Parton says with a laugh.
“We are excited about this because we’ve always wanted to do something together,” Parton continues. “We’ve always admired each other musically and as people and how we handle our business. So this is a great thrill for me. I think the fans are going to enjoy seeing us together, ‘cause Lord knows he’s got fans and I got a few.”
Both Brooks and Parton have ample experience in the ACM Awards’ winners circle, with Parton earning 13 ACM Awards wins, including entertainer of the year in 1977. Brooks has earned 22 ACM Awards, including a record-setting six entertainer of the year trophies (with a consecutive four-year run from 1990-93), in addition to being named ACM artist of the decade for the ‘90s.
Though Brooks released his debut album in 1989 and went on to become the best-selling solo artist in U.S. history, with nine RIAA Diamond Awards to his credit and 19 Billboard Country Airplay chart-toppers, the ACM Awards will mark his first time hosting any major awards show. Brooks, who inked an exclusive streaming deal with Amazon Music in 2016, says several factors were at play in his decision to co-host this year’s ACM Awards in addition to that partnership.
Primary among his reasons is “just getting to work with Dolly,” says Brooks, briefly reaching over to hold Parton’s hand. “When you think about my career, I don’t want to pick favorites, but some of our biggest nights have been at the ACMs. The fact that they would even ask is flattering and the fact that I get to host with Ms. Parton is unbelievable. The surprise of the night is you’re gonna see this beautiful woman carry this 260-pound ass all night.”
When it comes to crafting the script that will navigate viewers through the evening, Parton says, “We’re both pretty good at ad-libbing. Garth’s more serious-minded than me. I just talk off the top of my head. But we’ll have a lot of fun together.”
“I like being a goofball too, but the truth is, comedy is the hardest way to make a living,” Brooks adds. “If you think you can just write comedy and it be funny, it usually isn’t. So my thing is, I feel more comfortable if we just stay on the class side and let her do her thing,” Brooks says, adding that he appreciates efficiency in hosts. “I watch awards shows and what do I want? Let me see the performances and don’t take a long time telling me who’s gonna win, because I want to hear what the winners will have to say.”
“That’s a good point,” Parton responds. “And there’s always things that just happen usually on live shows like that. Sometimes your best comedy are things that might even happen with someone in the audience or something is said and you just pick up on it. We’re country people, most of the artists are kind of like people we grew up with, so you play off of that, and it’s usually entertaining. Whether it’s funny or not, it’s usually entertaining.”
They note fans shouldn’t expect a musical collaboration during the ACM Awards, but Parton, who was officially inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame last year, will premiere the lead single from her upcoming rock album on the show.
Meanwhile, Brooks’ excitement at finally working with Parton shines through.
“Just sitting here, I’m nervous as hell,” Brooks admits, “and I don’t know why that is because she’s never been anything but sweet to me, never been anything but treated me as an equal, though I’m not. It’s that thing when someone has done something that freaking cool, you just become a fan. If [George] Strait was here, I wouldn’t be holding his hand as much, but…” Brooks jokes, drawing a big laugh from Parton.
“Well, it’s because I’ve been around forever,” Parton interjects.
“What I’m looking forward to the most,” Brooks says, gesturing to Parton, “and forgive me for comparing you to somebody else, but when you get to work with Reba McEntire, you just wear out pencils on a notebook because you take notes, right? A woman in this industry — and I’m married to one of the greatest singers ever — they have to work a thousand times harder to get a tenth as much,” says Brooks, who wed Trisha Yearwood in 2005. “So you watch them go to work, and when it’s your turn, your time, you work like a girl. You outwork everybody you can.”
“Well, that’s very sweet,” Parton replied. “Now I see why you’ve been married to Trisha all these years. And Reba, I’ve co-hosted with her before [on the 2019 CMA Awards], and she is a worker too. I admire and respect all the great women in the business, but it’s nice to have these great guys like the Garths and people that really do appreciate the women as well as the men. We have a mutual respect for each other.”
She also recently announced an upcoming book, Behind the Seams: My Life in Rhinestones, out in October. Asked about their fashion for the ACMs, Parton said, “[Garth] said a funny thing earlier. When they asked what I was going to be wearing — in three words, how would I describe it? — I said, ‘Nothing but trash,’ and when they asked him about it, he said, ‘Nothing but Trish.’ … I thought that was so great that she gets him all together,” Parton said.
Regarding whether fans might see a return Parton-Brooks pairing as ACM Awards co-hosts in 2024, Parton quips, “We’ll see how we do this year, they may not even ask us [back].”
Brooks adds, “I tell you what, yes to everything, except [Parton] might be going, ‘I’m not sure I wanna work with that guy. He’s too much of a fan.’”
“I’m a fan of yours too,” Parton replies. “I think that’s going to be one of the things that hopefully shows up on camera that we like each other for real. I think sometimes you get people onstage and everybody’s a pro and can get up there and talk, but when you really feel the warmth between two people, I think that’s where the magic is, and I think we both have that in us.”