Garth Brooks, Little Big Town and Chris Stapleton were the big winners at the 51st Annual CMA Awards, broadcast live from Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena on Wednesday, a show chock full of touching moments, moving tributes and musical performances.
Brooks took home the big award — Entertainer of the Year — thanking, among others his fans, “The most important thing, other than God himself,” and “the people that allow us to get to be in the greatest music ever, country music.”
Stapleton walked off with Male Vocalist and top album honors for From A Room: Volume 1. Before announcing Stapleton as the winner, actor/writer/director Tyler Perry — who presented the award — drew a standing ovation when he said, “I believe it has never been more important than it is right now that we all come together, find some common ground…spend some time listening to each other and realize that we are more alike than not alike.”
Little Big Town copped trophies for vocal group and Song of the Year for “Better Man,” written by Taylor Swift.
Swift couldn’t make to the show, but LBT’s Karen Fairchild thanked her for “this beautiful song and for loving songs and loving Nashville.” Later, while picking up the group’s award for Vocal Group of the Year, Fairchild noted, “Tonight should be about harmony. It should be about what we can do together to change things. ”
Other winners included Miranda Lambert, who noted while accepting her Female Vocalist award, “I feel like there’s a family in this room…we’re bonded together and banded together more than we ever have been and I feel like country music is winning right now.”
Keith Urban grabbed the Single of the Year nod for “Blue Ain’t Your Color.” Brothers Osborne won for Vocal Duo; and Jon Pardi took home the New Artist of the Year honor.
The show began on a serious note, with Eric Church delivering an a capella version of “Amazing Grace,” followed by Urban, Lady Antebellum and an all-star chorus joining Darius Rucker for his 1994 hit with Hootie & the Blowfish, “Hold My Hand.”
Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley — hosting the broadcast for the 10th straight year — reflected on the storms and violent tragedies that have impacted so many across the United States this past year. Paisley dedicated the show to “all those we’ve lost and to all those who are still healing.”
“We love you and we will never forget you,” he said. Added Underwood: “Tonight we’re gonna do what families do: come together, pray together, cry together and sing together too.”
Country stars also made sure to pay homage to their late friends and colleagues. Glen Campbell — who died this past August — was honored by Little Big Town and songwriter Jimmy Webb with a performance of his song “Wichita Lineman.” Rascal Flatts and Dierks Bentley paid tribute to Montgomery Gentry’s Troy Gentry — who was killed in a helicopter crash in September — by singing “My Town.” In a moment that brought tears to some in the crowd, Gentry’s partner Eddie Montgomery came on stage to sing along. Brothers Osborne closed their performance with “Tulsa Time,” by Don Williams, who passed in September.
The “In Memoriam” segment featured Underwood performing Alan Jackson’s “Softly and Tenderly,” as the pictures and names of the Las Vegas shooting victims appeared on the screen.
The show was dominated by performances by nominees — including Lambert, Stapleton and Keith Urban — but newcomers to the show took the stage, too. One Direction’s Niall Horan joined Maren Morris for a performance of “Seeing Blind,” while Pink earned a standing ovation for “Barbies.”
The show didn’t shy away from politics either — in spite of guidelines about specific topics to avoid. Brad rattled off a bunch of song titles he couldn’t sing, including “Scaramucci” – a song about the former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci sung to the tune of Alan Jackson’s “Chattahoochee” — and “Hold Me Closer Bernie Sanders.” And he and Carrie took aim at President Donald Trump with a parody of Underwood’s “Before He Cheats” called “Before He Tweets.”