FRISCO, TEXAS -- Cole Swindell spent a lot of time onstage early at the Academy of Country Music Awards, performing and then quickly collecting the night's first award, song of the year.

Swindell and a team of songwriters won Thursday for "She Had Me at Heads Carolina," the song he and Jo Dee Messina had just performed onstage.

Swindell said he was honoured by the win in a songwriting category because it was one of the reasons he got into country music.

Swindell later won song of the year for the same song. "Thank you country music fans, that's all I've ever been," he said. "I don't know what I ever did to get this fortunate."

Old Dominion frontman Matthew Ramsey used the band's win for group of the year to address recent divisiveness and gun violence. He referenced the party atmosphere of the show but said he also recognized that "there are people obviously hurting in the world right now trying to figure out how to make sense of the divisiveness and shootings and things like that."

Ramsey continued: "We are most proud to be able to make music for people that are hurting right now. So thank you for including us in the party and allowing us to make music for whoever needs it."

The show opened with Keith Urban performing, fittingly, his song "Texas Time." The ACMs are being handed out at Ford Center at the Star in Frisco.

Host Garth Brooks started the show with a discussion of the country music's history and who was the greatest of all time, or GOAT. After listing off numerous male performers, he tossed to Dolly Parton, who wheeled a live goat onto the stage.

The easy banter between Brooks, in his first hosting gig, and Parton carried the show's early moments. The pair are co-hosting, and Parton will close out the two-hour show that's streaming on Amazon Prime with a performance of a song from her upcoming rock album.

A later routine involved the pair video conferencing with Willie Nelson to wish him happy birthday. The country legend recently turned 90, and the ACMs honoured him with a performance of Nelson's hit with Waylon Jennings, "Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys" by Cody Johnson.

Singer-songwriter HARDY entered Thursday's show as the leading nominee, up for seven trophies including two in the song of the year category. One of his nominated songs is "Wait in the Truck," his duet with Lainey Wilson, who is second-leading nominee.

HARDY and Wilson won the music event award for "Wait in the Truck."

"Thank you Lainey, you absolutely killed it," HARDY said. He credited her with making people believe in the song, which references domestic violence and seeking revenge.

"This was a song about real life," Wilson said. "I didn't want people to relate to this song, but a lot of them do."

HARDY also won the artist-songwriter of the year honour.

He's also a nominee as a songwriter for Morgan Wallen's "Sand in my Boots." The country superstar won't perform as planned due to a vocal cord injury that's halted his tour.

The night could end with reigning entertainer of the year Miranda Lambert extending her lead as the most decorated artist in ACMs history. She's up for entertainer of the year along with Carrie Underwood, Chris Stapleton, Jason Aldean, Kane Brown, Luke Combs and Wallen.

Two nominees are already winners: Hailey Whitters and Zach Bryan have won best new artist honours.

Performers will include some of country's biggest names, including Carly Pearce and Brandy Clark, along with a special performance from British pop star Ed Sheeran.