Everyone who was a part of Wednesday’s (Nov. 2) 50th annual CMA Awards walked away with memories they will never forget.
But Eric Church summed up the night best when he visited backstage with media after winning album of the year for Mr. Misunderstood.
“If you put everything into making the best record you can make, regardless of how you release it, and regardless of the press and the hype, then the music wins,” he said. “For me, that was the biggest thing about tonight is that music wins.”
“It’s an exciting time in country music,” he added. “The people that are not only winning awards, but they are relevant. But you could even go even past country music into the Americana world. There are a lot of people now that can go sell out two or three Ryman Auditoriums. They’re relevant and the music is relevant and the depth is relevant, and I think that that’s something that doesn’t always happen that way.
“And it’s an exciting time. It’s a time that I think, historically, as people look back on it, it’s going to be something that they can look to this period and think, ‘That was a positive period,’ I hope.”
Single of the year winner Thomas Rhett agreed that winning anything on the CMA’s golden anniversary was huge.
“There’s country music royalty in the house, there’s hip-hop royalty in the house,” he said. “I mean, I just hung with Jay-Z for 10 minutes. It was the weirdest and most awesome thing ever.”
The feeling was mutual for entertainer of the year Garth Brooks.
“I can tell you this,” he said, “greatest opening in CMA history. and I’ve seen half of them. As if you think it got better, every act just kept getting better and better and here comes Randy Travis singing ‘Amen.’ Are you kidding me? I lost it. I cried like a baby. The five girls singing “I will Always Love You” — unbelievable. Queen Bey and the Dixie Chicks, I thought that was just raw power, and I love that it was all feminine raw power.”
Co-host and reigning female vocalist of the year Carrie Underwood revealed she didn’t even know the Beyoncé and Dixie Chicks collaboration was even happening until the day before the show.
“It was all very hush-hush,” she said. “And we’d be like reading our scripts and we’re like, ‘Who’s this TBD performance in our scripts?’ But it is the 50th and we were expected to go all out, and I feel like we did. We wanted to include just as many legends as we possibly could in one way or another, whether they were singing little snippets or we had them on the (musical) bumpers coming in or being able to acknowledge them in the audience we just wanted to elevate the show and have as many people there as possible.”
Then new winners backstage shared in the thrill of winning their first CMA crystal bullets.
“I feel incredibly lucky to receive this award on the 50th,” Maren Morris said after being named new artist of the year. “I think there was so much tradition in the audience and so many icons. But at the same time — the reflection of the winners — I feel like the tide is turning here in Nashville musically, and seeing people like Brothers Osborne win, that’s huge. Not because they’re friends of mine, but because they are that good and they deserve it. New blood is coming in and being recognized. And, yeah, it just makes me really grateful for it all to fall on this year.”
“We really wanted [Maren] to win,” Brothers Osborne frontman TJ Osborne said. “We love her. She’s great, she’s talented and she totally deserves to win that award. We we thought, in a long landslide, would be her winning new artist and us winning vocal duo. I mean — hell — from the time I was a kid, I thought the best thing that would ever happen to me was just being able to come to the CMA Awards. I thought it was a long shot.”
Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement honoree Dolly Parton felt her whole life flash before her watching eyes as Martina McBride, Reba McEntire, Kacey Musgraves, Jennifer Nettles and Carrie Underwood each sang lines of her classic hit “I Will Always Love You.”
“My whole life just took a twirl,” she said. “Back when I was working with Porter Wagoner, when I first wrote that song and the fact that I was sitting next to Vince Gill and he and I recorded it as a duet, all of a sudden I was thinking about so many things. And looking up there and seeing all those beautiful women singing my song and seeming like they appreciated me, it was very touching. I was trying not to mess up my makeup or I would have boo-hoo’ed.”
Reigning male vocalist of the year Chris Stapleton admitted just being a part of the night was an overwhelming experience.
“I don’t know if everybody else here felt that,” he said. “But the gravity of what we get to be a part of, being a part of country music and the CMAs, it’s a really, it feels heavy, but in a good way. It’s very moving. The whole night was moving.”
Song of the year winner Lori McKenna agreed.
“I told the kids, ‘We’re here to experience this night,’” she said. “This is going to be unbelievable music that they’ve never been exposed to in this type of way with just so many legends being part of this show tonight — the 50th anniversary and everything. And I told them, ‘We might not win, but that’s not why we’re here.’ I was afraid they’d be disappointed if we didn’t win. But I think that would have been OK. I’m just amazed.”