Jason Aldean, Kenny Chesney, Lady Antebellum, Brad Paisley and Taylor Swift found themselves in excellent company at the CMT Artists of the Year special. In fact, all five stars were all sitting near each other at the exclusive gala event which premiered Tuesday night (Dec. 13) on CMT. They mingled with the likes of Sara Evans, Faith Hill, host Rob Lowe and many other celebrities as numerous cameras captured the moment.
"You know what? It's been a great year," Aldean said in his acceptance speech, after receiving the award from Lionel Richie. "I remember about this time last year, sitting around and not really sure about how this year would go. ... Getting ready for us to go out and headline a tour for the first time this year and being a little nervous. So I've got to say a huge thank you to all the fans who came out this year to support the tour."
He continued, "I've got a lot of family here, so I want to thank my family. I love you guys and everybody I work with. But I want to take a second and thank people that don't really get a lot of credit for everything they do, which is my band, my road crew, everybody that sets up everything out on the road every single night so we can put on these shows. They're the ones that make it happen."
He added, "This group that I'm in right here, with Kenny, Brad, Lady A -- don't forget I took you guys out on your first tour, by the way -- and Taylor ... I mean, this is good company, and I'm very thankful, CMT, for supporting us from day one. And thank you all. I appreciate it."
In his speech, Chesney told the audience the award was a "true honor." He accepted the trophy from former St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa and New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton.
"I feel very fortunate to have music in my life at all, to be able to do what I do for a living, to be able to touch people with a melody and with a rhyme. I feel like I'm a very lucky person that God gave me a path and put a song and a dream in my heart," Chesney said.
"The thing that matters the most is the people you get to meet along the way and the people that get to share that with you. And I've been very blessed in that regard," he added.
After Evans praised Lady Antebellum's achievements, Hillary Scott spoke first during the trio's moment at the podium.
"First of all, I'm so humbled. I mean, all the artists in this room are some of our biggest influences, some of our best friends and have all had spectacular years. We are so honored and feel very, very privileged to be in this group of five," she said.
Bandmate Charles Kelley noted, "We were laughing earlier. We said if anybody ever was to say, 'Give me five songs to give me a little taste about what's going on in country music,' I'd give them 'Love Story,' I'd give them 'You and Tequila,' I'd give them 'Dirt Road Anthem' and 'This Is Country Music' - and one of our crappy songs."
The comment brought a round of laughter from the room. He added, "But seriously, that's what I think I so cool about this. It just shows how great the genre is right now. It's got so many great things going on inside of it, and we're just excited to be a part of it."
Lady Antebellum's Dave Haywood concluded, "Everything we do is for the fans. Thank you, guys."
Brad Paisley grinned as his friend, Star Trek actor William Shatner, presented a hug and an award to him.
"What a pleasure to get to be able to do this for a living," Paisley said. "I just wanted to be in this type of music. I didn't know I would become famous or a star of any kind. I think I stand here able to say that the coolest thing you could be -- and the most fun you can have and probably the kindest people you'll ever be around -- is if you become famous in country music."
He added, "In my opinion, it's the best industry because everybody's so kind. This town is so much fun to make music in. You've just seen a great cross-section of the hillbillies that we are and the gourmet dinners that we eat. Thanks, CMT, for doing a great job tonight in honoring a great year by these five acts. I am such a big fan. ... I love you guys, and I can't say enough how much it means to be a part of this type of music."
Swift received her award from Hill, who made a surprise appearance at the event. After an embrace, Swift noted, "Wow, this is such a beautiful night. It's so wonderful to get to be here. It's kind of like a reunion because I have all these memories from all the artists that are being honored tonight. I remember touring with Brad for a year when I was 17 and all the pranks that went down. And, Kenny, you always seem to know if I'm having a bad day, and you'll text me to say, 'Just letting you know I'm here for you, and I love you.' That means to world to me."
With barely a breath, she added, "And I remember this epic dance party that we had with Lady A about a year and a-half ago that, I think, you wrote 'We Own the Night' about. I'm not sure. It was an amazing time. And Jason and his beautiful little girls, who I just love. I love all the people that are here tonight. I just want to say thank you to anyone who's watching -- the fans and especially all the men in the armed forces who are either away from home or coming home soon. Or anyone who's missing someone tonight who's fighting for our country. Thank you for everything that you do. This is fantastic. Thank you, CMT."
Musical performances include Aldean's electric take on "Tattoos on This Town" and Lady Antebellum's stripped-down "Dancing Away With My Heart." All-American Rejects blended Swift's "Mean" with their own hit, "Gives You Hell," and Gavin DeGraw serenaded the audience with Chesney's hit, "Somewhere With You." Paisley shared the stage with Eagles guitarist-vocalist Joe Walsh for a medley of "Life's Been Good" and "Camouflage." The Avett Brothers also gave a special performance of "Laundry Room."
In their pre-taped video segments and in-person acceptance speeches, all five honorees reflected on the past year and sincerely acknowledged the accomplishments of the other recipients. The five artists were chosen by the network based upon their career achievements in 2011.
See complete coverage of the 2011 CMT Artists of the Year special.