It was a night of tributes at the CMA Awards last night, along with a night of honoring country music’s biggest stars, legends and the guys and gals who will carry on the country music tradition. It was also a night that was described as “a feeling of family” by many of the artists who came backstage to the press room during the awards show – a night when it felt like there could be a healing despite all the horrible shootings, the misconduct of high ranking people in the movie and music communities and a world that is still far from peace among its nations.
Eric Church got the night underway with “Amazing Grace,” followed by Darius Rucker and a group of entertainers singing his Hootie and the Blowfish hit “Hold My Hand.”
Dierks Bentley and Rascal Flatt paid tribute to the late Troy Gentry, singing “My Town.” They were joined on the final verse by Eddie Montgomery, who was met with a warm welcome and standing ovation from the audience. Gentry’s wife and family members were in the audience.
Later in the show Little Big Town performed a tribute to Glen Campbell, “Wichita Lineman,” commenting backstage that they will forever be grateful to have been a part of that. The song’s writer, Jimmy Webb, was on piano, and pronounced the group’s vocals “angelic” and the performance a “reverential treatment” of the tune. Glen’s wife, son and daughter were in the audience.
Campbell won Musical Event with Willie Nelson for “Funny How Times Slips Away.” His wife Kim explained how the duet came about. “After Glen was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and he was on his final tour, there were still things he wanted to do so we made a bucket list of songs he still wanted to record. This was one of them, and we decided to go in the studio to record them. He had a blast doing it, and I believe it helped him maintain longer than he would have without that project to get done. Being able to get that early diagnosis helped Glen to make plans and show the public that there is a lot of life to live after the diagnosis. Music will lift you up and take you on the rest of your journey.”
“Dad wanted to send the message that you don’t have to be ashamed of a diagnosis of Alzeimer’s, you should be able to go out in public and be who you are,” added daughter Ashley. “That is the message we would like to put forward.”
Underwood paid tribute to Tom Petty, Don Williams and the victims of the shooting at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival in Las Vegas in October, singing “Softly and Tenderly” as their photos were rolled across the screen.
These were all somber moments worked into the show between awards and humor from Underwood and Brad Paisley. And then there was the music — Tim McGraw and Faith Hill treated the audience with a small sample of their Soul2Soul tour with the couple’s new single, “The Rest of Our Life.” Best New Artist, Jon Pardi, performed “Dirt On My Boots,” while backstage David Garibaldi, a performing artist known from his appearances on “America’s Got Talent,” was drawing a picture of him with paint on canvas.
Chris Stapleton sang “Broken Halos,” the tune he determined to be the only thing he could play that night. “When the producer of the show called me, there was only one song in my mind, and I told him and he agreed. It wasn’t much more than a one or two second discussion.”
Miranda Lambert chose the most country song on her new album, “To Learn Her,” causing Garth Brooks to comment, “She stuck traditional country music in all of our faces tonight.”
Speaking of Brooks, the newly crowned Entertainer of the Year caused a bit of controversy
among fans for lip syncing his current single, “Ask Me How I Know,” at his awards show performance. Backstage in the press room, Brooks explained he is in the midst of playing 12 shows in 10 days, and was not feeling well. “We made a game-time call on whether to sing to a track or lip-sync. My voice just wasn’t there, and we want to represent country music the best we can.”
Another piece of history was made when Little Big Town won the Group of the Year trophy for the sixth time, tying them with the Statler Brothers and Rascal Flatts. “What an honor,” Karen Fairchild said, while Phillip Sweet added, “It’s just amazing to be in that category, because there is so much talent in the category.”
One of the surprises of the night was when it was announced that Sugarland would present the Duo of the Year award. Kristian Bush and Jennifer Nettles Sugar walked out to a wall of applause, taking a few minutes to talk about their history as a duo before presenting the Vocal Duo award to Brothers Osborne, who took the award home for the second year in a row.
“Country music has always been the music that said anything,” T.J. told the media in the press room later in the evening. “Merle Haggard and those guys spoke up for every American in the country and said things that mattered to people. Artists are supposed to speak for people, be a release for people, and if you have a song that is therapy for you to write, and your fans listen, and it helps them get through something they are trying to get through, that’s what you are hoping for.”
Actor Tyler Perry presented the Album of the Year award, but first took time to talk about the man who won that award in 1969. “A man walked out in front of a group of people, not unlike you, and said to them, ‘I know it is a little different for you to see me come out here with this permanent tan’. It was Charley Pride’s first appearance on the CMA award show, and he took home that year’s Album of the Year.
“That moment was very important. We all come together to find common ground, spend time listening to each other and realize that we are more alike than not alike. It is my honor this year to say the artists in this category have used their music beautifully.” He then presented Album of the Year to Chris Stapleton, who also took home the Male Vocalist honor.
A complete list of the award winners follows:
Entertainer of the Year – Garth Brooks
Album of the Year – “From A Room: Volume 1” (Chris Stapleton)
Female Vocalist of the Year – Miranda Lambert
Male Vocalist of the Year – Chris Stapleton
Vocal Duo of the Year – Brothers Osborne
Vocal Group of the Year – Little Big Town
Musical Event of the Year – Glen Campbell with Willie Nelson, “Funny How Time Slips Away”
New Artist of the Year – Jon Pardi
Song of the Year – “Better Man” Writer, Taylor Swift; Recorded by Little Big Town
Single of the Year – “Blue Ain’t Your Color,” Keith Urban
Music Video of the Year – “It Ain’t My Fault,” Brothers Osborne
Musician of the Year – Mac McAnally