Wednesday night in Nashville, as he accepted the CMA Entertainer of the Year trophy for a record fifth time, Garth Brooks said it best: “We are so damn lucky to be part of this thing called country music!” No doubt viewers tuning into the 50th Annual CMA Awards felt the same, as they enjoyed more than three hours’ worth of tributes to five decades of country music history, plus performances from today’s hottest acts.
The show began with a montage of past CMA moments, and then gave way to a parade of country stars and legends, all performing one after another. The lineup included Vince Gill singing “Mama Tried” with the late Merle Haggard‘s son Ben on guitar, Alabama doing “Mountain Music,” Reba McEntire singing “Fancy,” Alan Jackson doing “Don’t Rock the Jukebox,” and many more. It ended with Randy Travis coming onstage during a rendition of “Forever and Ever, Amen.” The only thing he was able to sing was the final “Amen,” but it was a touching moment.
The rest of the night was full of such tributes: Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood teamed for a medley of memorable country duets; Jason Aldean joined Brooks & Dunn for a version of their first single, “Brand New Man,” Alan Jackson and George Strait joined forces for a mashup of “Remember When” and “Troubadour,” and Reba, Jennifer Nettles, Kacey Musgraves, Martina McBride and Carrie Underwood paid tribute to Dolly Parton, who received the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award. “This is an absolute ‘high’ for me,” quipped Dolly, referring to Willie’s well-documented penchant for pot.
But of course, there were the standard awards to hand out, and there were two first-time winners: Thomas Rhett, who took home Single of the Year for “Die a Happy Man,” and Brothers Osborne, who were surprise winners for Vocal Duo of the Year. A shocked John Osborne yelled, “I can’t believe this is happening right now! Wooooh!”
Eric Church accepted the Album of the Year trophy for Mr. Misunderstood from Faith Hill, and quipped, “I’m not sure what’s better, winning the award or having Faith Hill fix my tie!” And speaking of Faith, her husband Tim McGraw‘s hit “Humble & Kind” was named Song of the Year.
Maren Morris was teary-eyed accepting the New Artist of the Year award right after she’d finished singing “My Church.” “Y’all!” she said. “I can’t win this award right after performing…I’m gonna fall apart!” She then shared that last year, she “sat at a bar across the street and watched this show.”
Carrie Underwood was named Female Vocalist of the Year — her third win in the category — and after managing to thank a few people, she blanked and said, “I’ve become suddenly stupid! I just love you all!” Chris Stapleton won his second straight Male Vocalist of the Year trophy, and accepted the award from none other than Sharon Stone.
Little Big Town won the Vocal Group of the Year Award, and Kimberly Schlapman gushed over the audience full of legends, saying, “We sat at home and watched so many of you as kids, we idolized you!” Karen Fairchild added, “I remember watching Barbara Mandrell and saying, ‘Dang, a chick just won Entertainer of the Year!'”
Kenny Chesney accepted the Pinnacle Award, given to an artist who’s “made country music a more powerful global force,” from his pal Peyton Manning. It had only been given out twice before: once in 2005 to Garth Brooks, and again in 2013 to Taylor Swift. Speaking of Taylor, she returned to the CMA stage to present the Entertainer of the Year award — which she’s won twice — to none other than Garth.
“Very, very sweet,” said Garth, accepting the award. “It’s cool.” So was the show. The only thing missing was a live recreation of the CMA 50th anniversary star-studded single, “Forever Country.”
Oh, and did we mention that Beyonce duetted with the Dixie Chicks? They sang “Daddy Lessons,” a country-flavored track from Beyonce’s acclaimed album, Lemonade, that the Chicks have performed live in concert.
Here are the winners for the 50th Annual CMA Awards, held Wednesday night in Nashville:
Entertainer of the Year
Album of the Year
Mr. Misunderstood, Eric Church
Single of the Year
“Die a Happy Man,” Thomas Rhett
Song of the Year
“Humble and Kind,” Tim McGraw
Male Vocalist of the Year
Female Vocalist of the Year
New Artist of the Year
Vocal Group of the Year
Little Big Town
Vocal Duo of the Year
Musical Event of the Year
“Different for Girls” Dierks Bentley feat. Elle King
Music Video of the Year
“Fire Away,” Chris Stapleton
Musician of the Year
Dann Huff (guitar)
Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award
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