It was up to Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley to set the tone for Wednesday night's (Nov. 8) CMA Awards. And right away, Underwood acknowledged the tragedies leading up to this year's show, and how the night was going to go.
"Tonight, we're gonna do what families do. Come together, pray together, cry together and sing together, too," Underwood said.
But their show opening wasn't all somber and melancholy. Underwood and Paisley opened up about the alleged guidelines for this year's show, and how the hosts were supposed to keep politics out of it. Which meant Paisley couldn't perform all the songs he'd prepared, like his country tribute to President Trump "Before He Tweets," or the one that celebrated Garth Brooks' return to the stage, "Total Eclipse of the Garth."
And eventually, they got around to giving out some CMA Awards.
Keith Urban won the first CMA Award of the night for single of the year, for his ballad "Blue Ain't Your Color." He thanked the songwriters first, then was quick to give his wife a shout out. "For my wife Nicole Mary -- who's in China tonight -- I love you, baby. I'm gonna FaceTime you in a second."
The song of the year award went to Taylor Swift, for writing Little Big Town's "Better Man." And when Karen Fairchild, Jimi Westbrook, Kimberly Schlapman and Philip Sweet took the stage to accept on Swift's behalf, they shared some details about the day they first heard the song. "We didn't write this," Fairchild said, "but we're really grateful that Phillip checked his email one night and that song was in the email, because he doesn't always check his email. So we want to say thanks to Taylor Swift.
"Taylor, wherever you are, thank you for this beautiful song and for loving songs and loving Nashville," she said.
Jon Pardi was the next winner, when he was presented with the CMA Award for new artist of the year. After thanking all of his industry friends and family, he turned his attention to the ones who backed him in the lean years. "Thanks to all my friends and family back home who watched me play in backyards and little hometown dive bars and fairs when I was still in high school," he said.
Chris Stapleton was honored with the album of the year CMA Award for his From a Room: Volume 1. And the first thing he did was acknowledge the solid work from the other nominees in the category. "Those were so many good records that just got mentioned. I'm always humbled by getting these things. I want to thank my wife so much, I want to thank my kids, and my kids that are on the way," he said before thanking Nashville, the CMAs and the fans.
The CMA Award for vocal duo of the year went to Brothers Osborne for the second year in a row.
"This is incredible, y'all," said T.J. Osborne, the younger brother of the duo. "We've been asked a lot this week what it meant to us to win a CMA Award, which is a hard question to really answer and quantify," he said. "I can say we've made a lot more money since winning, and some more notoriety. After that, it really opened my eyes to what mattered most, and it was what I had all along; my family and friends."
Little Big Town was honored with the vocal group of the year award, and all four of the band members took the stage to accept their CMA.
"We are so grateful to be a part of this amazing genre of country music, and the talent we see in this category alone humbles us so much. We love making music, we love seeing your faces," Sweet said.
Fairchild echoed his sentiments, saying, "Tonight should be about harmony. It should be about what we can do together to change things. Kindness is an attractive quality. We actually could change the way things are going; we just have to step out and be together. We take care of each other."
Schlapman chimed in, too, with a fitting quote from poet Maya Angelou. "Maya Angelou said, 'People will forget what you said, and they'll forget what you did, but they'll never forget how you made them feel.' And we're here tonight to just spread the love. That's why we were put on this earth," Schlapman said.
The winner of the female vocalist of the year was Miranda Lambert, for the seventh time. But before she used her time on stage to share her thank yous, she had a message for Underwood after her incredibly moving performance of the Christian hymn "Softly and Tenderly," dedicated to all the souls that country music lost this year.
"Carrie, you just destroyed me," Lambert said. "More than any other year, I feel truly like there's a family in this room tonight. I feel like we're bonded together and banded together more than we've ever been, and I feel like country music is winning right now."
Stapleton was named the male vocalist of the year, and when he walked onstage for the second time during the show, he again gave most of his praise to the other men in the category.
"Luke [Bryan] took me out when nobody had ever even heard of me, Eric [Church] took me out when nobody had ever even heard of me, Thomas [Rhett] wrote songs with me, Dierks [Bentley] wrote songs with me, and every one of those guys deserve this thing. I want to thank my wife. I couldn't do anything I ever do without her," Stapleton said.
At the very end of the three-hour broadcast, when it was time for the grand prize of the night, the entertainer of the year award went to Garth Brooks. No stranger to the award, Brooks had won it in 1991, 1992, 1997, 1998 and 2016.
But he wasn't dwelling on the past. All that was on Brooks' mind was thanking the people who back him when he's on the road.
"All you guys down here in the front row," he said, "we can agree about one thing. Let's all raise a toast to everybody on the road to the most important people on the road. That's that band and crew that takes us everywhere all the time.
"I was talking to Kelsea [Ballerini] backstage about how we get to do this for a living, and the most important thing, other than God himself, are you people that allow us to get to be in the greatest music ever: country music."
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