Stars like George Strait, Kenny Chesney and Carrie Underwood surprised Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn on Monday with renditions of their favorite hits, relayed their fondest memories and even played practical jokes on the groundbreaking duo, who are counting down the days until their final performance together after two decades.
"Twenty years," Taylor Swift joked, "to me that's like a lifetime."
Swift surprised Dunn with a video that showed him doing an imitation of the 20-year-old sensation's trademark head shake.
"You had no idea how important that moment is because in 20 years that's the first time I've ever seen him mess his hair up," Brooks told Swift.
Faith Hill remembered the group as country's biggest practical jokers, telling a story from an early 1990s tour on which she opened for the duo. She turned in late one night in her hotel room and got an unwelcome surprise.
"I pulled back my covers, tucked myself in bed and there it was: a slimy eel thawing out in my sheets," Hill said.
She sang a poignant rendition of "The Long Goodbye," then left the stage. A moment later two waiters appeared with takeout boxes for the duo, who sat on stage during the taping.
"Oh, it's eel from Faith," Brooks said before popping a piece in his mouth.
Dunn quipped: "I'll save mine."
The fun will soon be ending for Brooks & Dunn, who are touring through the summer and will play their final concert on Aug. 10 in Nashville, Tennessee.
Brad Paisley told the story of how they were solo artists until Tim DuBois at Arista Nashville came up with the idea to put them together, and told them to go write a song and see what happens. Brooks later said they came up with "Brand New Man" and "My Next Broken Heart," a song played by Paisley, on consecutive days, and the partnership was sealed.
"Tim introduced us over an enchilada on a Tuesday morning," Brooks told the crowd. "He said, 'I don't need a boy singer, I've got Alan Jackson.'"
Brooks & Dunn released their first record, "Brand New Man," in 1991 and went on to become country music's top-selling duo with more than 30 million albums sold and 23 No. 1 hits. They also served as role models and springboards for dozens of acts who followed, taking new singers and groups on tour with them.
Each of the 16 performing acts got to choose a meaningful tune to play during the show, which will air May 23 on CBS. Strait received a standing ovation before playing "Boot Scootin' Boogie."
"People ask me all the time who I listen to, and I answer with three simple words: 'Brooks and Dunn,'" Strait said.
The night was filled with great performances. Lady Antebellum singers Hillary Scott and Charles Kelley coaxed Dunn and Reba McEntire on stage for "If You See Him/If You See He." Chesney got them to sing along on "You're Going to Miss Me When I'm Gone." Miranda Lambert chose "Hillbilly Deluxe," she said, "because it rocks." And Underwood sang "Neon Moon" the night after making history with her second entertainer of the year win at the Academy of Country Music Awards.
The night's most poignant moment came after poet Maya Angelou hailed them in a video address.
"In their whole body of work, they've shown how much they care about the human condition," she said.
Singer Jennifer Hudson then performed a show-stopping version of "Believe," reducing Hill and other members of the audience to tears.
"Girl, have you heard you?" Brooks asked the singer.
Longtime friend McEntire wowed the duo with "Indian Summer" and Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush of Sugarland said they chose "Red Dirt Road" because they write their own material and wanted to pick a song that Brooks & Dunn penned themselves.
Bush told the story of how Dunn started the song on a cocktail napkin and handed it to Brooks to finish.
The duo was honored with the ACM Milestone Award before capping the evening off with an all-star jam of "Play Something Country."
Brooks thanked the many people responsible for their success but also kept the crowd laughing.
"People say this is like a marriage breaking up, and, no, it's not," he joked. "There's things involved in a marriage that are not involved in Ronnie's and my relationship."
Dunn reminded the crowd that though the duo is ending its run, the music will continue.
"I'm going to buy a secondhand van and get a rusty old horse trailer, throw me some band equipment in it, and go find me a beer joint and keep singing," he said.