Garth Brooks continued his winning streak as entertainer of the year at the 2017 Country Music Association Awards, beating out Luke Bryan and Keith Urban.
Brooks, who has won the top prize six times, also beat Chris Stapleton and Eric Church on Wednesday at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee.
“We’re a family,” he said about the country music community when accepting the honor.
Though he ended the awards show on a happy note, the night was marked by emotional and political moments.
Carrie Underwood broke down while singing during the “In Memoriam” section after photos of the 58 people who died at a country music festival in Las Vegas were shown. Little Big Town’s Kimberly Schlapman quoted Maya Angelou when the foursome won vocal group of the year, while bandmate Karen Fairchild told the audience, “Kindness is an attractive quality.”
“Tonight should be about harmony, about what we can do together to change things,” Fairchild said.
That sentiment was present throughout the three-hour show, which aired on ABC.
While paying tribute to Charley Pride, filmmaker Tyler Perry said now is the time we have to all “find some common ground.” And the show opened with a performance by Church, Urban, Darius Rucker and Lady Antebellum honoring the victims of the recent mass shootings, as well as the tens of thousands of people affected by hurricanes in recent months.
Keith Urban earned a rousing applause when he debuted a song called “Female,” which he said was inspired by the dozens of allegations of sexual assault and harassment against Harvey Weinstein.
The CMA Awards also paid tribute to some of the genre’s brightest stars who have passed away. Glen Campbell, who died in August, was honored during a touching performance of “Wichita Lineman” by Little Big Town and Jimmy Webb, who wrote the song.
Rascal Flatts and Dierks Bentley also paid homage to Troy Gentry, one-half of the popular country duo Montgomery Gentry, who died in a helicopter crash in September. Eddie Montgomery later joined in for the performance of “My Town,” as some audience members sang along with tears in their eyes.
“This has been a year marked my tragedy … Tonight we’re going to do what families do, come together, pray together, cry together and sing together, too,” said Underwood, who co-hosted the show.
“This show is dedicated to all those we lost,” fellow host Brad Paisley said.
Paisley and Underwood celebrated their 10-year anniversary — as hosts of the CMAs. They joked at the top of the show about CMA sending restrictions to press about what to ask singers on the red carpet, saying they shouldn’t ask about politics or guns. They also riffed on politics, taking shots at both President Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
“Maybe next time he’ll think before he tweets,” they sang to the beat of Underwood’s massive hit, “Before He Cheats.”
One person they didn’t joke about was Taylor Swift. And though Swift is releasing her second pop album this week, she’s still being awarded for her contributions to country music.
Swift won song of the year — awarded to songwriters — for penning Little Big Town’s No. 1 hit, “Better Man.” Swift will release her sixth album, “reputation,” on Friday.
“She couldn’t be here tonight but Taylor, wherever you are, thank you for this beautiful song,” Fairchild said onstage.
Swift wasn’t the only pop star who had a presence at the CMAs. Pink sang her slow tune “Barbie,” backed by several musicians and singers, while One Direction’s Niall Horan performed a duet with Grammy-winning singer Maren Morris, fitting right in with the country crowd and showcasing his singer-songwriter side.
Winners at the show included Miranda Lambert (female vocalist of the year), Brothers Osborne (vocal duo of the year) and Jon Pardi (new artist of the year). Campbell and Willie Nelson won musical event of the year for “Funny How Time Slips Away.”
Stapleton won male vocalist of the year and album of the year for his sophomore effort, “From a Room: Volume 1.”
“I’m always humbled by getting these things,” said Stapleton, who thanked his wife Morgane, who is pregnant with twins and was in the audience.
“I want to thank my kids and my kids that are on the way,” he added.