Vaccinated healthcare workers will be special guests at the 2021 ACM Awards. Staff from Nashville's Vanderbilt University Medical Center have been invited to attend the awards show in person this year.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ACM Awards would invite a large crowd of artists, their loved ones and teams, media members and country music fans to attend the annual awards show.

The 2020 ACM Awards went forward in September — five months later than usual — without an audience due to pandemic-related restrictions on large gatherings, but on Sunday night (April 18), it'll be a "small audience" of doctors, nurses and other staff from Vanderbilt, according to Academy of Country Music CEO Damon Whiteside.

The ACM has been working with both Vanderbilt and Nashville officials on safety protocols for the 2021 ACM Awards, Whiteside tells the Country Music Media Podcast, which is hosted by Billy Dukes, also a senior editor at Taste of Country. Though the audience members have all been vaccinated — healthcare workers were among the first people to be eligible for COVID-19 vaccines, both in Tennessee and around the United States — masks will be required.

Artists, meanwhile, will circulate into the crowd as the categories in which they are nominated are announced, as they did at the 2021 Grammy Awards in March. They'll accept their awards live onstage, and they, too, will be masked.

"[We're] just taking every possible safety precaution," Whiteside says — including not allowing alcohol inside the awards show's venues.

"There's not gonna be alcohol at all this year, probably much to the artists' chagrin," Whiteside reveals; however, he adds, "the artists will all have their buses," where drinks can flow freely.

In 2020, after years in Las Vegas, the ACM Awards moved to Nashville for the first time ever, in light of the pandemic. In 2021, the show will broadcast from the same three venues used in 2020 — the Grand Ole Opry House, the Ryman Auditorium and the Bluebird Cafe — but the whole show will be live (in 2020, Ryman performances were pre-taped). A few performances will also take place at the Station Inn and the Bridge Building, and on Lower Broadway.

Keith Urban, who hosted the 2020 ACMs, and Mickey Guyton are co-hosting the 2021 ACM Awards. Whiteside shares that Urban will be stationed at the Opry House, while Guyton will be at the Ryman, though showrunners hope to race them across town to each other once or twice during the evening so they can be onstage together.

The 2021 ACM Awards will begin at 8PM ET on April 18 and air live on CBS and stream live on Paramount+. Sign up for Paramount+ here.

2021 ACM Awards Nominees: The Full List

Maren Morris and Chris Stapleton lead all 2021 ACM Awards nominees with six each and Miranda Lambert has five, including Female Artist of the Year. Thomas Rhett and Ashley McBryde will be up for four ACM awards on April 18. The CBS broadcast will award trophies for Entertainer, Song and Album of the Year, in addition to Duo and Group of the Year. This is a list of all ACM Awards nominations for 2021.

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