Updated at 1 a.m. ET.
The Country Music Association rewarded Kenny Chesney with his fourth entertainer of the year trophy at Wednesday night’s (Nov. 12) awards show in Nashville. Along the way, George Strait, Brad Paisley and Sugarland‘s Jennifer Nettles received two awards each at the 42nd annual CMA Awards.
Strait won single of the year honors for “I Saw God Today” and the album of the year award for Troubadour. Paisley won the male vocalist prize for the second year in a row, and he and video directors Jim Shea and Peter Tilden shared video of the year honors for “Waitin’ on a Woman” Sugarland received the vocal duo award for the second year straight, and Nettles collected an additional trophy in the song of the year category for their hit, “Stay.”
Other winners included Carrie Underwood (female vocalist), Lady Antebellum (new artist) and Rascal Flatts (vocal group). Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant and Alison Krauss topped the musical competition for their collaboration on “Gone, Gone, Gone.”
Chesney was typically modest in commenting on his latest entertainer of the year win.
“As much as tonight is about awards, I really believe that being able to stand up here is more about great songs, it’s more about the fans, it’s more about being onstage every night in front of a lot of people that really make it happen for me and the band,” he said. “This is my fourth time standing up here, and I’m really humbled tonight. I really appreciate it.”
Strait thanked songwriters Rodney Clawson, Monty Criswell and Wade Kirby for allowing him to record “I Saw God Today.”
“Songwriters are so gifted,” he said. “Thank you for letting me sing such a beautiful song.”
In accepting his fifth album of the year award, Strait noted, “All you fans, you’re the greatest. Everybody says they’ve got the greatest fans. Well, I’ve really got the greatest fans.”
The vocal duo award is Sugarland’s second career win at the CMA Awards.
“You never know when you get up here if you’re going to be able to come back and stand up here again, so thank you so much,” Nettle said in accepting the award with musical partner Kristian Bush. “To be here in front of you in accepting this award for duo is a really big deal.”
“Stay” was a major hit for Sugarland, but the song of the year award only goes to the songwriter — and Nettles was the sole composer.
“It’s just been a gift from the beginning,” she said of the song. “It was a gift to write, and I hope it was a gift and touched your hearts.”
This marks Underwood’s third consecutive win as female vocalist. Still, the American Idol winner is quick to point out that she doesn’t take things for granted in terms of the Nashville music industry.
“I got here through an unconventional way, and you guys didn’t have to accept me at all,” she said. “Everybody in town, everybody in Nashville, everybody in the country music community has been so great.”
Lady Antebellum — the trio of Hillary Scott, Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood — were clearly surprised by their success in the new artist category against Jason Aldean, Rodney Atkins, James Otto and Kellie Pickler.
“It’s not supposed to happen like this,” Haywood told the crowd.
Scott and Kelley were thinking of their biggest fans.
“Thank you, mom,” Kelley said. “All our moms are sitting there. We love you so much. Our families give such huge support to us.”
As for the musical performances during the show, Paisley and Keith Urban kicked things off “Start a Band,” their duet from Paisley’s new album, Play. With some fiery guitar interplay, they closed the song with a sly nod to Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water.”
Among the highlights was Kenny Chesney performing “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven” with the Wailers, the Jamaican reggae band that once backed the late Bob Marley. After finishing Chesney’s hit, they segued into Marley’s “Three Little Birds”
Chesney’s performance with the Wailers had been previously announced, and so had Kid Rock‘s song. However, what hadn’t been announced was that Kid Rock would be joined onstage by rap star Lil Wayne for “All Summer Long.” Kid Rock and Lil Wayne were both wearing Tennessee Titans jerseys, and the rapper was brandishing a guitar, but his contributions were primarily of a visual nature.
Taylor Swift is gaining a reputation for bringing strong theatrical values to her performances at awards shows, and Wednesday night was no exception. With a castle-like stage set, Swift’s band members were dressed like musicians from a time long, long ago to perform her current single, “Love Story.” In a flash of strobe lights toward the close of the song, Swift changed dresses to wear an elegant white gown.
Miranda Lambert took a simpler route by accompanying herself on an acoustic guitar to sing “More Like Her.” Even when the band began playing behind her, the song lyrics and melodic structure provided a perfect example of pure country music at its best.
One of the most emotional moments of the evening came when Leslie Ponder, whose husband was killed in 2005 while serving in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan, introduced Carrie Underwood’s performance of “Just a Dream.”
Brooks & Dunn reunited with Reba McEntire to sing “Cowgirls Don’t Cry.” The Eagles returned for their second CMA appearance in as many years to perform “Busy Being Fabulous,” a track from their Long Road Out of Eden album.
Among the new faces to the CMA Awards show were Lady Antebellum and former Hootie & the Blowfish vocalist Darius Rucker. Lady Antebellum’s delivery of “Love Don’t Live Here” demonstrated strong energy, presence and great vocals. Combine that with a formidable original song, and you can understand why they were named new artist of the year. Rucker offered his first No. 1 country single, “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It.”
Other performers included: Trace Adkins (“You’re Gonna Miss This”), Jason Aldean (“She’s Country”), Rodney Atkins (“It’s America”), Alan Jackson (“Good Time”), Martina McBride (“Ride”), James Otto (“Just Got Started Lovin’ You”), Brad Paisley (“Waitin’ on a Woman”), Kellie Pickler (“Best Days of Your Life”), George Strait “River of Love”), Sugarland (“Love”) and Keith Urban (“Sweet Thing”).