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LAS VEGAS — The Academy of Country Music put on one last show Monday night before ending the week that "Vegas Goes Country." Tribute concert ACM Presents: An All-Star Salute to the Troops, taped at the MGM Grand Garden Arena to air next month on CBS, showcased members of the U.S. military onstage alongside country superstars, leading to standing ovations all night long.
Keith Urban, Hunter Hayes, Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan, Dierks Bentley, Eli Young Band, Tim McGraw, Rascal Flatts, Lady Antebellum and Kellie Pickler all performed. A pre-recorded duet by Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton was also shown and will be a part of the final televised event.
The night kicked off with a duet by Merle Haggard and George Strait. The 2014 ACM entertainer of the year sang Fightin' Side of Me with Haggard, the ACM's first entertainer of the year (in 1970) and Sunday's recipient of the Crystal Milestone Award.
For Strait, being able to give back to the troops is a full-circle experience. "We owe them a lot," he told the media after his win. "I'm an ex-military guy myself. I served three years. And it was a great experience for me, it really was. I wouldn't trade those days for anything."
Teaming with Haggard for the tribute concert was also fitting, as Strait first saw Haggard perform at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii while he was in the Army. "It just blew me away," he said Sunday. "That's what I wanted to be like. I wanted to be like the Hag."
The most impressive collaboration of the night would be the Band Perry's rendition of If I Die Young with the vocal accompaniment of Army SPC Kelly Gregg, a patient administration specialist. The audience cheered for an encore.
Carrie Underwood gave a knockout debut performance of an original song, Keep Us Safe, which she co-wrote for the show.
Toby Keith ended the night with a heartfelt version of American Soldier and was caught off-guard when he was presented with a USO Award, honoring his commitment to the troops. "I saw a need," he told the crowd. "I saw a void that the great Bob Hope left behind that no one was filling."
ACM Presents: An All-Star Salute to the Troops airs May 20 (CBS, 9 p.m. ET/PT).