The Country Music Association’s 50th Annual Awards spectacle was an adept blending of star power, tradition, progression, and of course, music.
For a show 50 years in the making, the evening’s first eight minutes paid homage to a good portion of the major stars the genre has produced in the past five decades. Vince Gill, who hosted the CMAs from 1992-2003, paid tribute to Merle Haggard by performing “Mama Tried” with Haggard’s son Ben. Brad Paisley and Roy Clark teamed for Buck Owens‘ “I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail,” while Carrie Underwood performed Tammy Wynette‘s classic “Stand By Your Man.” Charley Pride joined Paisley for “Kiss An Angel Good Morning,” followed by Alabama‘s rendition of “Mountain Music.” Charlie Daniels lent a blazing fiddle performance to “The Devil Went Down To Georgia,” followed by Reba (“Fancy”), Dwight Yoakam (“Guitars, Cadillacs”), Clint Black (“Killing Time”), Ricky Skaggs (“Country Boy”), and Alan Jackson (“Don’t Rock The Jukebox”).
And those were just the stars onstage…the audience was brimming with prior and current CMA winners, including Lorrie Morgan, Loretta Lynn, Lee Greenwood, and more.
The medley ended in one of the most touching moments of the evening, as Randy Travis was brought to the stage to take part in an all-star performance of his signature “Forever and Ever, Amen.” Travis, still recovering from a stroke he suffered in 2013, provided the final “Amen” at the end of the song, to the delight of the crowd.
Throughout the evening, video clips highlighted past CMA award winners from across the decades, while country’s brightest stars teamed for unique performances, such as George Strait and Alan Jackson’s collaboration on “Remember When” and “Troubadour.”
In the hours leading up to the awards, it was confirmed that pop superstar Beyonce would perform during the event. She was joined onstage by The Dixie Chicks for a mashup of “Daddy’s Lessons,” from Beyonce’s album Lemonade, and The Dixie Chicks’ “Long Time Gone.” The Chicks may not be ready to make nice, but they were ready to give the CMA event one of its most talked-about moments.
Several of country’s top female vocalists, including Reba, Jennifer Nettles, Carrie Underwood, Kacey Musgraves and Martina McBride teamed to pay tribute to Dolly Parton. The ladies’ illustrious harmonies earned a standing ovation from the crowd.
Parton accepted the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award with her signature wit. “This is an absolute high,” Parton quipped, before plugging her upcoming Christmas movie Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love, which airs on NBC on Nov. 30.
Kenny Chesney was honored with the Pinnacle Award, presented by Peyton Manning.
Awards co-host Underwood took home her fourth Female Vocalist of the Year honor, after a foot-stomping, pyro-laced performance of “Dirty Laundry.” The performance was heightened further by an all-female backing band, which included Lindsay Ell, Lindi Ortega, Rachel Loy, Elizabeth Chan,Orianthi and trio Runaway June.
Chris Stapleton was the evening’s only double winner, taking home both Male Vocalist of the Year and Video of the Year for “Fire Away.” He later shared the stage with Dwight Yoakam for a tribute to Willie Nelson with “Seven Spanish Angels.”
Perhaps the biggest surprise winner of the evening was Brothers Osborne winning Vocal Duo of the Year over Florida Georgia Line, who had taken the trophy each year since 2013.
Maren Morris took home the evening’s New Artist of the Year honor, fresh off a soulful, rousing performance of “My Church,” backed by The McCrary Sisters and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The performance was a big alert to country music fans that this newcomer has the vocal chops and onstage charisma (not to mention the songwriting skills) that could translate well as a future headliner.
Songwriter Lori McKenna was honored with Song of the Year for “Humble and Kind.” Tim McGraw later performed the heart-warming song surrounded by students from Christ Presbyterian Academy in Nashville. Interestingly, the past two times that the Song of the Year category was won by a solo writer, they were also female writers–Kimberly Perry won in 2011 for her solo write of “If I Die Young,” and Jennifer Nettles won in 2008 for “Stay.” Prior to that was Alan Jackson’s win for penning “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)” in 2002.
Eric Church featured vocals from the soulful Rhiannon Giddens during his rendition of “Kill A Word.” Church’s Album of the Year win for Mr. Misunderstood was a full-circle moment, seeing that Church announced the album’s surprise arrival last year during the CMA Awards. Church and his team always put Church’s fans first, and in staying true to that tradition, made loyal fans the first to receive copies of Mr. Misunderstood upon its surprise release.
Garth Brooks emerged the winner of a hotly contested Entertainer race this year, edging out Luke Bryan, Chris Stapleton, Carrie Underwood and Keith Urban to win. Brooks’ last win in the Entertainer category was in 1997; this marks his fourth CMA Entertainer of the Year honor. Taylor Swift made an appearance to honor Brooks with the award.
Earlier in the evening, Brooks and country superstar wife Trisha Yearwood treated the crowd to a medley of country classics, including “Golden Ring,” “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue,” “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man,” “Rose Garden,” and “Don’t Close Your Eyes.”
“We are so dang lucky to be part of this thing called country music,” Brooks told the crowd. Amen.
Click here for a recap of the evening’s winners.
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