Chris Stapleton, Florida Georgia Line, Jason Aldean, Keith Urban and Luke Bryan were the honorees at this year’s CMT Artists of the Year special, which aired live from Nashville’s Schermerhorn Symphony Center on Wednesday.
However, the focus of the show was less awards and more “hope and healing,” following the mass shooting in Las Vegas and the recent natural disasters in Houston, Florida, Puerto Rico and California.
R&B singer Andra Day, joined by Little Big Town, opened the program with a powerful performance of Day’s hit “Rise Up,” after which the five honorees took the stage to explain that the show was tribute to the victims and expression of gratitude to the first responders.
“Music can be so powerful, and we have never needed it more than we do right now,” said six-time honoree Bryan. “We hope music can be a part of the healing.”
“The entire nation is trying to process these devastating events,” Stapleton continued. “On this night, one that we usually celebrate a year of music, we also want to celebrate a year of incredible human spirit.”
“During tragedies like Las Vegas, so many people — from concertgoers to first responders who risked their own lives for total strangers — it’s in those moments, those acts of courage and heroism, that bring light to even the darkest times,” noted FGL’s Tyler Hubbard.
“In some small way tonight, we want to thank you for your resolve and perhaps lift your spirits,” Urban added. “We hope to remind you that everything we go though, we can get through when we stick together.”
Aldean, who was onstage when the gunman opened fire noted, “We have proven time and again in this country that we have the power to overcome anything that threatens our way of life, or our freedom…We dedicate this night to you and to everyone who’s experienced loss or tragedy in the past few months… we will get through this together.”
Little Big Town, Danielle Bradbery and Lee Ann Womack then joined Day and rapper Common for a moving rendition of Day and Common’s “Stand Up for Something.”
Six-time CMT Artist of the Year recipient Luke Bryan’s performance of “Fast” was introduced by Lionel Richie – who will join Bryan as a judge on ABC’s American Idol revival. He lightened things up with a story about Luke trying convince Richie to go fishing with him, joking joked, “Hunting to me is going to look for a jacket at the store; and fishing is, ‘I’m going to the grocery store to pick up some fish.’”
Sam Hunt, whose “Body Like a Back Road” was named song of the year by CMT, was performing in Hawaii and unable to attend the event. American Idol alum and fellow Georgian Phillip Phillips performed the song.
Stapleton, introduced by the Osborne Brothers, was joined by his wife Morgane for “Broken Halos,” dedicated to victims of the Las Vegas shootings and all Americans suffering in the wake of the country’s recent natural disasters.
In keeping with the evening’s theme of “hope and healing,” the “In Memoriam” segment included the names of all the victims of the Las Vegas shooting.
Vince Gill, introducing Keith Urban, likened him to “a little brother,” adding “and who wouldn’t want Keith Urban as your little brother.” Urban then performed “Blue Ain’t Your Color,” for his wife, Nicole Kidman, ending by saying, “I love you baby.”
Backstreet Boys introduced their friends and touring buddies Florida Georgia Line, before performing FGL’s big hit, “HOLY.”
Aldean, accepting his sixth CMT Artist of the Year title, was the final honoree of the night. He was introduced by Bryan, who noted, “It could have been any one of us on that stage in Las Vegas,” adding, “Jason Aldean has responded with dignity, care, respect and, in some ways, defiance.” Aldean, joined by Urban, Stapleton and Little Big Town, delivered the show’s finale, a cover of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.”
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