NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Singerand other country stars honored the victims of the Las Vegas mass shooting and recent disasters instead of taking home awards at the CMT Artists of the Year show Wednesday night. The musicians also paid tribute to late artist Tom Petty at the show.
The format of the show pivoted to focus on victims of the shooting, as well as those recovering from hurricanes and wildfires, with a night of somber tributes, inspirational anthems and voices lifted in harmony.
Aldean, who was on stage at the Route 91 Harvest Festival when the shooting occurred Oct. 1, stood side-by-side with the night's other award winners, including Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line, Chris Stapleton and Keith Urban, to dedicate the night to music fans. The honorees did not accept awards or give speeches as usual, but some chose to perform or other musicians performed in their honor.
"We've been tested beyond our worst nightmare these past few months," Aldean said during the live broadcast from Nashville, Tennessee. "Heartbroken doesn't even begin to describe how some of us feel. But we have proven time and again in this country that we have the power to overcome anything that threatens our way of life, or our freedom. We dedicate this night to you and everyone who has experienced loss or tragedy in the last few months."
Aldean closed out the night with a defiant and rollicking group performance of "I Won't Back Down" by Petty with Urban, Stapleton and Little Big Town.
Andra Day kicked off the awards show with her anthem "Rise Up," in a beautiful harmony duet by Little Big Town. Then Lee Ann Womack, Danielle Bradbury and rapper Common joined them for a performance of "Stand Up For Something."
"On this night when we usually celebrate a year of music, we also want to celebrate a year of incredible human spirit, the spirit we see in our fans every night," Stapleton said.
"So in some small way we want to thank you for your resolve and perhaps lift your spirits for just a moment," Urban said.
The names of the 58 victims from Las Vegas were listed during an in memoriam segment, along with the names of Petty, Gregg Allman, Glen Campbell, Don Williams and Troy Gentry.
Other performances including Bryan singing his single "Fast," and Stapleton singing his song "Broken Halos," a song that he's dedicated to victims of the Vegas shooting.
The Backstreet Boys sang Florida Georgia Line's emotional ballad "H.O.L.Y." and Keith Urban performed a jazzy version of his song "Blue Ain't Your Color."
Phillip Phillips added some blues licks to Sam Hunt's mega hit "Body Like a Back Road," which was named song of the year by CMT.
Near the end of the night, Bryan took a moment to honor his friend Aldean.
"It could have been any one of us standing on that stage two weeks ago," Bryan said. "It's a nightmare that nobody should have to face. Jason has responded with dignity, care, respect and, some ways, defiance. And we all proud of him, especially me."
Aldean has been outspoken since the shooting about standing strong in the wake of tragedy. At his concert last Thursday in Tulsa, he said, "These people are going to continue to try to hold us down. To those people that keep trying to do that, I say (expletive) you, we don't really care." At the show, he called for more of the national unity he's seen since the attack. The singer also visited shooting survivors in the hospital following the attack.