Luke Bryan Says “Grab the Reins and Hold On”

Backstage Reflections on the Path from Bars to Stadiums to CMA Entertainer of the Year

First, Luke Bryan wanted to know if he was holding his CMA trophy for entertainer of the year properly. Then he kissed it. Then he held it high. That’s because it was, after all, his very first CMA award .

And when he came backstage following Wednesday night’s (Nov. 5) show to tell reporters how that felt, it’s no wonder he was genuinely shocked. His thoughts were scattered, but his sentiments were genuine.

“How do you even compute that your first CMA Award is entertainer of the year?” he said. “To try to understand that you would win your first CMA — and it’s entertainer of the year? I have longed — and sought after for many of these years — to get one of these in my hands. To get the respect from the CMA board is a ginormous deal.”

Bryan said he felt like he didn’t express himself nearly enough when he accepted the award from Garth Brooks.

“And the fact that I’ve never met Garth, and Garth handed me the CMA entertainer of the year award,” he said. “Y’all, that is like just crazy to me.”

Bryan said repeatedly how humbled he was and that he always would be.

“I’m really just so blessed that this is from the CMA,” he said. “I will never take a second of it for granted. Honestly, from the bottom of my heart. I go out onstage every night and try to sing it and perform it and entertain it like it’s my last.”

Then he reflected on the hard work it took to get here, giving most of the credit to his fans who were with him even when the rooms were small and he was singing other artists’ hits.

“My whole career, from the time I was playing in bars as a teenager until now, I just had to watch the fans,” he said. “Even when I was doing covers, if I played a cover that I liked and the people in the room didn’t really react, I didn’t play that cover anymore.”

But even though Bryan has climbed up the gig ladder and sells out rooms about 100 times the size of a tiny club in Georgia, it was not a no-brainer when he made the move to stadiums this year.

“When we launched into stadiums this year, we launched very naively,” he admitted. “I really remember when I walked out onstage in Pittsburgh, the first thought was, ‘OK, well this is a different sensation.’

“The only way to learn how to play a stadium? You just have to run your butt out there and grab onto the reins and hold on.”

Alison makes her living loving country music. She's based in Chicago, but she's always leaving her heart in Nashville.