Jason Aldean performs Toby Keith tribute at ACM Awards with moving 'Should've Been a Cowboy' cover

17 May 2024, 12:15 | Updated: 17 May 2024, 12:38

Jason Aldean pays tribute to friend Toby Keith
Jason Aldean pays tribute to friend Toby Keith. Picture: Getty

By Tom Eames

In a heartfelt tribute during the 2024 ACM Awards, Jason Aldean honoured his late friend and country legend Toby Keith.

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The emotional performance took place on Thursday night, with Toby Keith's wife and son witnessing the tribute from the audience for the first time.

Keith, who passed away from complications of stomach cancer on February 5, was not only a revered figure in the country music world but also a close friend of Aldean's.

One of Keith's final public appearances was at an Aldean concert last year, making the tribute even more poignant.

Seated on stools, Aldean and two acoustic guitar players delivered a touching and subdued rendition of 'Should've Been a Cowboy' from Keith's 1993 self-titled debut album. The performance was marked by its intimate and personal tone, featuring an extended orchestral interlude that beautifully bridged the final two choruses.

Jason Aldean – Should've Been A Cowboy [Toby Keith Tribute] (Live from the 59th ACM Awards)

As the performance drew to a close, cameras captured a moving moment as Keith's son, Stelen, and wife, Tricia Covel, were seen shedding tears.

This was a notable occasion, as previously only Keith's three children had attended tributes at the CMT Music Awards, and only Stelen had accepted Keith's Country Music Hall of Fame nomination in March.

"Toby was a huge presence in our business and someone we all looked up to and respected," Aldean posted on Facebook the day following Keith's death.

Throughout his illustrious career, Keith garnered 14 ACM Awards, including multiple wins for Top Male Vocalist and Album of the Year. He was honoured as ACM's Entertainer of the Year in both 2002 and 2003, solidifying his legacy in country music.

Jason Aldean and Toby Keith attend the 2022 BMI Country Awards at BMI on November 08, 2022 in Nashville, Tennessee
Jason Aldean and Toby Keith attend the 2022 BMI Country Awards at BMI on November 08, 2022 in Nashville, Tennessee. Picture: Getty

Aldean, in an interview with the Tennessean prior to the show, reflected on the significance of 'Should've Been a Cowboy' in his own career.

"Even when I started playing in clubs early on at 14 and 15 years old, I was up there playing 'Should've Been a Cowboy,'" Aldean shared. "So it's really cool. It's kind of a full circle moment to come here and play it for him and honour his legacy."

The 2024 ACM Awards, hosted by Reba McEntire, were broadcast live from Frisco, Texas, on Amazon Prime, featuring performances by numerous country music stars, creating a night filled with both celebration and heartfelt remembrance.