AT&T Stadium prepares for its Academy of Country Music Awards close-up

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BY PRESTON JONES

Thursday afternoon, inside AT&T Stadium, it’s still and silent.

The turf has been rolled up and stored.

Instead of the familiar Dallas Cowboys star at midfield, it’s simply bare cement.

Everywhere you look, there is evidence of the massive construction job underway inside the billion-dollar sports venue.

The now-bare playing field is littered with crates, cases, light rigging (some 340,000 pounds of it, hanging from 340 different points), blueprints, and thousands of chairs, patiently waiting to be set up.

It looks, in spots, like a Home Depot was turned upside down and emptied out on the stadium floor.

In the east end zone, a gigantic stage, sitting several feet off the floor, is beginning to take shape, with thin strips of video screens extending along the curve of the room, test patterns glowing.

From the underside of the enormous video screen down to the hallways outside the locker rooms, there sits the detritus of several dozen workers, busying themselves with converting the home of the Dallas Cowboys into the sleek setting for the Academy of Country Music’s 50th annual awards ceremony.

Workers descended upon AT&T Stadium on March 16, beginning what will be a solid 30 days of build-out and preparation for the ACMs, set to be broadcast live on CBS from AT&T Stadium April 19.

“It’s been a pretty incredibly smooth month, for the amount of production we’re putting in,” said Mark Neifeld, AT&T Stadium manager of events. “There are a lot of moving parts.”

Indeed, the sheer scale of what Neifeld described as creating “a stadium television set,” complete with 7,500 seats on the field level, is a little daunting — to say nothing of the decade spent wooing the ACMs to Arlington in the first place.

Among other tweaks, AT&T Stadium’s temporary transition into a gargantuan TV studio means the roof won’t be open for the ACMs — for the first time in its six-year existence, the transparent roof is blacked out by a 100,000-square foot piece of material (the east and west end zones’ windows are also darkened).

The ceremony will stretch over three and a half hours and, in between the various awards, will feature more than 20 performances, including appearances from Garth Brooks, Miranda Lambert, George Strait, Reba McEntire and many, many more.

“It’s a different event,” Neifeld said. “When we [have] a live event, people are here, most of the time, for a concert, enjoying X amount of hours of concert. We sort of have to retrain our guest services staff to understand commercial breaks and what challenges those come with: trying to get people into their seats, trying to fill TV shots.

“Those are the things that are unique to this event. Not something you have to worry about for a football game, but definitely when you’ve got 20 million viewers at home, you want to make sure the stadium looks alive — it will be — but there are just some different challenges.”

Neifeld estimated Thursday preparations for the ACMs were “85-90 percent” completed, with technical and performance rehearsals set to begin April 16.

But for now, it’s another day of moving, lifting, positioning, measuring, cutting and building, as Neifeld — who counts Brooks, McEntire, Strait and Florida Georgia Line among the artists he’s most excited to see perform — hopes those attending the 50th annual ACM Awards leave with just one thought in mind.

“‘There’s no stadium that could pull that off like AT&T Stadium,’” Neifeld said. “Hopefully, as a partner in this region, they leave here and say ‘There’s no region that could’ve pulled that off,’ and I’m not quite sure there is [one].”