Eric Church kicked off the 51st annual Country Music Association Awards show in Nashville on Wednesday by singing "Amazing Grace," a solemn reminder of last month's deadly shooting in Las Vegas at a country music festival, setting a tone for an evening that strived to be hopeful amidst tragedy.
Soon afterward, Hootie and the Blowfish took the stage to sing their classic "Hold My Hand." The band was joined by Keith Urban, Lady Antebellum, Reba McEntire, Little Big Town, Thomas Rhett and more of country's biggest stars.
Then, Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood, who hosted the show for the 10th year in a row, took the stage to deliver a somber message about recent national tragedies.
"Las Vegas, Charlottesville, New York, Sutherland Springs, historic storms in Texas, Puerto Rico and Florida -- the list goes on and on," said Underwood. "This has been a year marked by tragedy impacting countless lives, including so many in our country music family so we're going to do with families do: cry together and sing together."
In the, 58 people were killed and more than 450 were injured on Oct. 1 at the Route 91 Country Music Festival in Las Vegas when Stephen Paddock opened fire from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay. Country music star was performing.
"The way we see it, the best way to honor our fans is to play our music, loud and proud," said Paisley. "This year's show is dedicated to all those we lost and all those still healing. We love you and we will never forget you."
Paisley and Underwood quickly addressed the controversy over the. The CMA apologized earlier this week for initially not allowing journalists to ask questions about politics or the Las Vegas shooting.
Underwood said, "CMA has given us some guidelines with specific topics to avoid, so we can't be doing any silly little songs because this year's show is a politics-free zone."
Paisley asked if he could sing songs like "Way Down Yonder on the Scaramucci" and "Stand by Your Manafort."
"Definitely not," said Underwood. But soon the two launched into a version of Underwood's "Before He Cheats."
"Until Rocket Man starts a nuclear war and maybe next time, he'll think before he tweets," they sang.
Paisley and Underwood congratulated Kelsea Ballerini and Maren Morris for their recent engagements, and Little Big Town's Kimberly Schlapman and Thomas Rhett for the new additions to their families. They also congratulated Hillary Scott and Chris Stapleton, who are each expecting twins.
Paisley and Underwood then put on eclipse glasses and wondered aloud why Eric Church always wears sunglasses, and sang a few lines of "Total Eclipse of the Garth."
Tim McGraw and Faith Hill walked onto the stage to present Underwood and Paisley with dolls of them, and pretended to be the hosts as they played with the dolls.
McGraw said, "I'm Brad Paisley and I'm not half as funny as I think I am." McGraw and Hill assured the co-hosts they were just kidding around and congratulated them on 10 years of hosting the CMAs.
Brittany Snow and Ruby Rose of "Pitch Perfect 3" presented the first award of the night, single of the year, which went to "Blue Ain't Your Color" by Keith Urban. Urban thanked his wife, Nicole Kidman, and promised to FaceTime her after the show.
Thomas Rhett performed "Unforgettable" against a blue light-up backdrop.
Karlie Kloss, Bobby Bones, Luke Combs and Brett Young presented song of the year, which went to "Better Man," written by Taylor Swift and performed by Little Big Town.
Little Big Town took the stage and member Karen Fairchild pointed out, "We didn't write this song … We want to say thanks to Taylor Swift."
Dierks Bentley began a moving tribute to Troy Gentry, singing Montgomery Gentry's "My Town," and was soon joined by Rascal Flatts, as the audience erupted into cheers. Eddie Montgomery of Montgomery Gentry took the stage to close out the song, leaving several people in the audience in tears.in September.
Paisley joked about the lifted CMA media restrictions and claimed the show nixed "Huey Lewis and the Fake News."
Kelsea Ballerini and Reba McEntire joined forces to sing Ballerini's single "Legends" together on a stage built to look like a Hollywood movie set.
Luke Bryan performed "Light It Up," appropriately in front of a wall made of light-up tiles.
Afterward, Miranda Lambert sang her honky-tonk-style single "To Learn Her" against a retro-looking backdrop with a huge chandelier.
Jason Ritter and JoAnna Garcia Swisher presented new artist of the year. Swisher pointed out that Jason's grandfather, Tex Ritter, was a founding member of the Country Music Association. Jon Pardi won the award and thanked his friends and family back home "who watched me play at back yards, dive bars and fairs."
Paisley and Underwood introduced who they called "the brightest star of all": Garth Brooks, who sang "Ask Me How I Know" on a bright set that had a giant "G" sign hanging over the stage.
Paisley and Underwood took questions from fans and one asked how they get in shape to host the CMAs. Underwood and Paisley claimed they do yoga with goats -- and that they used Little Big Town's dressing rooms. Underwood warned that those little brown things are "not chocolate-covered raisins" as Little Big Town members laughed in the audience.
Brothers Osborne sang "It Ain't My Fault," then they paid tribute to, who died in September, with a rousing rendition of "Livin' on Tulsa Time."
Tyler Perry took the stage and talked about black country singer Charley Pride's legacy and how people have more in common than they think, regardless of race.
He presented Chris Stapleton with album of the year for "From a Room, Volume One." Stapleton thanked his wife, his children, the children he's expecting and his fans.
Husband and wife Tim McGraw and Faith Hill took the stage to sing their romantic single "The Rest of Our Life" together in front of a tree, locking eyes and smiling at each other.
Later, Pink took the stage to sing "Barbies." She sat on a stool in a small circle covered in lights with string musicians, a guitarist and backup singers.
Old Dominion sang "No Such Thing as a Broken Heart." Matthew Ramsey took a break from singing to present radio broadcast personalities of the year, and thanked fans for listening to Old Dominion on the radio.
Little Big Town joined songwriter Jimmy Webb onstage to pay a moving tribute to Glen Campbell, performing "Wichita Lineman."
Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush of Sugarland took the stage to present vocal duo of the year, an award the two have won several times in the past. The award went to Brothers Osborne -- their second win in the category.
Paisley announced that Mac McAnally won musician of the year before introducing Chris and Morgane Stapleton to the stage. The couple sang "Broken Halos."
Maren Morris and Niall Horan performed together for the first time at the CMAs to sing their song "Seeing Blind."
Underwood returned to the stage in a dramatic, flowing white gown to sing "Softly and Tenderly" against a backdrop of photos of notable members of the country music community who died the past year, including Gregg Allman,, Don Williams, Troy Gentry and more. The performance closed off with a tribute to those who died during the Las Vegas shooting victims, with photos of the victims appearing behind Underwood as she sang.
Brett Eldredge, Dustin Lynch and Lea Michele presented vocal group of the year, which went to Little Big Town. Kimberly Schlapman said, "Let's spread the love. That is why we were put on this earth."
Brad Paisley echoed those sentiments with his t-shirt that said "Unity" as he sang "Heaven South." Kane Brown joined him later on stage to sing the rest of the song.
Jon Pardi sang "Dirt on My Boots" and paused his song to thank radio fans for making his song No. 1 and presented the winners of radio station of the year.
Dan + Shay and Lauren Alaina continued the theme of unity and sang "Get Together" by The Youngbloods.
Keith Urban took the stage to sing "Female," a song inspired by the. Lyrics included lines like, "When somebody laughs and implies that she asked for it, just cause she was wearing a skirt. Oh is that how that works?" The audience gave Urban a standing ovation for the performance.
Actress Michelle Monaghan and NASCAR's Jimmie Johnson took the stage to present female vocalist of the year. Miranda Lambert won the award for the seventh time.
"I feel truly like there's a family here tonight," Lambert said. Lambert talked about the bond she felt with the country music community as she accepted the award.
Eric Church returned to the stage to sing "Chattanooga Lucy."
Trisha Yearwood presented male vocalist of the year, which went to Chris Stapleton. It was his second award of the night and his third win for male vocalist of the year. Stapleton thanked Luke Bryan, Dierks Bentley and the rest of the nominees for helping him when "nobody had even heard of me."
Underwood and Paisley introduced Alan Jackson as one of their favorites. Jackson performed "Chasin' That Neon Rainbow"
Reba McEntire presented entertainer of the year to Garth Brooks. He called McEntire "the entertainer of a lifetime."
Brooks thanked his fans and said, "The most important thing other than God himself are you, the people who allow us to play the greatest music ever, country music." He gave a shoutout to his wife and said, "Miss Yearwood, I am yours forever."
Jackson returned to play "Don't Rock the Jukebox," joined by Underwood and Paisley.
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