The ABC-TV network telecast of the 51st Annual CMA Awards conveyed a theme of love, unity and respect while honoring some of the genre’s most recognizable names.
Garth Brooks repeated his 2016 win as Entertainer of the Year. This set a CMA record of six wins for him in this category. Miranda Lambert also made history, claiming her seventh Female Vocalist award.
Little Big Town won its sixth Vocal Group prize. Mac McAnally topped his own record with his ninth Musician of the Year win. Chris Stapleton claimed his third Male Vocalist honor as well as Album of the Year. Brothers Osborne were also double winners, garnering Duo and Video awards.
Winners’ remarks and show highlights stressed a theme of unity and healing in the face of national catastrophes, including October’s mass shooting of fans during a country-music festival in Las Vegas.
“Tonight should be about harmony and what we can do together to change things,” said Karen Fairchild of Little Big Town. “Kindness is an attractive quality. We can change things if we step out together.”
“More than any other year, I feel like there is a family in the room tonight,” said Lambert.
“Miranda said it best: We are family,” echoed Brooks. “The most important people…are the people who allow us to do what we do – the fans.”The show opened with Eric Church singing “Amazing Grace” and then Darius Rucker leading an all-star assemblage in performing his uplifting 1994 Hootie & The Blowfish hit “Hold My Hand.”
Co-hosts Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley set the tone for the show. “This has been a year marked by tragedy,” said Underwood. “So tonight we’re going to do what families do—come together, pray together, cry together and sing together. Our music lifts…”
Later in the show, she stood in the center of Bridgestone Arena and sang “Softly and Tenderly” as photos of country-music folks we lost during the past year appeared. The segment concluded with portraits of all 58 Las Vegas victims.
One of the late performers she saluted was a 2017 award winner. Glen Campbell and Willie Nelson’s performance of “Funny How Time Slips Away” on Campbell’s final Adios album claimed the Music Event award.
Little Big Town performed a flawlessly harmonized version of Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman” in tribute. Jimmy Webb, the song’s composer, accompanied the group on piano.
Dierks Bentley and Rascal Flatts saluted the late Troy Gentry by singing “My Town” on the show. Gentry’s duo partner Eddie Montgomery came onstage to sing the last verse and offered a shout-out to “T-Roy.” Angie Gentry, the star’s widow, wept in the crowd.
Brothers Osborne rocked their hit “It Ain’t My Fault” and then shifted gears into “Tulsa Time” to honor the late Don Williams.
Another highlight was Keith Urban’s introduction of his pulsing, heart-in-throat song “Female” as an anti-sexual harassment statement.
Kane Brown’s appearance with Brad Paisley during the cheery, downhome “Heaven South” was a statement of inclusion. Paisley’s t-shirt read, “Unity.”
Presenter Tyler Perry also offered a rebuke to the more extreme elements of Trump Nation. “It’s important that we come together and find some common ground, and realize that we are more alike than not alike,” he said.
Rucker’s show-opening appearance and the prominence of The McCrary Sisters and Joanna Cotton during the Eric Church performance of “Chattanooga Lucy” also underscored the theme of diversity and inclusion.
Another musical highlight was Lambert’s stone-country delivery of “To Learn Her,” which earned her a standing ovation. The same was true for Stapleton’s soulful performance of “Broken Halos” and for Alan Jackson’s plain-spoken delivery of “Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow.”
Brooks earned a long ovation for a torrid, dramatic performance of his current hit “Ask Me How I Know.” He shared his microphone with Mitch Rossell, who co-wrote the song.
Tim McGraw and Faith Hill electrified the arena with the deeply romantic “The Rest of Our Life.” Reba McEntire offered an effective alto harmony on Kelsea Ballerini’s “Legends.”
Other performances included Pink’s acoustic ballad “Barbie,” Old Dominion’s hit “No Such Thing as a Broken Heart,” Maren Morris and Niall Horan’s mash up of “I Could Use a Love Song” with “Seeing Blind,” Thomas Rhett’s “Unforgettable” and New Artist of the Year winner Jon Pardi’s “Dirt on My Boots.”
Luke Bryan’s “Light It Up” led into a Chevy commercial by him. Lauren Alaina sang The Youngbloods’ 1967 hippie peace anthem “Get Together” with Dan + Shay, which led into a Walmart commercial utilizing the same song.
Many of ABC’s TV stars were included as presenters, alongside such country artists as Trisha Yearwood, Brett Young, Luke Combs, radio winner Bobby Bones, Kellie Pickler, Brett Eldredge and an apparently reunited Sugarland.
Urban’s “Blue Ain’t Your Color” won Single of the Year. Taylor Swift’s “Better Man,” a hit for Little Big Town, won Song of the Year.
The CMA Awards telecast had many moments of levity, as well as healing. Co-host Paisley provided most of these, offering parody tunes ranging from “Before He Tweets” to “Total Eclipse of the Garth.”
The show’s theme of unity-through-song led Paisley to go off script at one point. “The warmth in this room tonight is amazing,” he stated. He also offered the telecast’s benediction: “This show is dedicated to all those we have lost….we will never forget you.”
New Country Music Hall of Fame inductee Jackson closed the program with Paisley and Underwood doing a rousing rendition of “Don’t Rock the Jukebox.”
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