Aside from a few President Trump jokes, the Country Music Association Awards largely stayed away from politics on Wednesday night — not too surprising, as country singers have mostly remained very, very neutral in a year of political controversies.
Instead, the show pushed "unity." Co-host Brad Paisley wore a T-shirt with the word printed on it. Onstage, artists emphasized the need for Americans to join together, particularly in the wake of the Las Vegas massacre, where 58 people were shot and killed and hundreds more were injured at a country music festival last month.
"This has been a year marked by tragedies impacting countless lives, including so many in our country music family. So tonight, we're going to do what families do," co-host Carrie Underwood said at the top of the show. "Come together, pray together, cry together and sing together, too."
When Little Big Town won vocal group of the year, Karen Fairchild reminded the audience, "Kindness is an attractive quality. We actually could change the way things are going, we just have to step out and be together." Presenter Tyler Perry got a standing ovation when he urged everyone to "spend some time listening to each other and realize that we are more alike than we are not alike."
Elsewhere, CMA favorite Chris Stapleton won the album and male vocalist trophies, tying Little Big Town and Brothers Osborne, who also took home two awards each. Miranda Lambert picked up female vocalist prize, while Keith Urban's ballad "Blue Ain't Your Color" won single of the year over Sam Hunt's unstoppable earworm "Body Like a Back Road." And for the second year in a row, Garth Brooks walked away with the night's biggest award, entertainer of the year.
Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood's monologue
It's the 10th consecutive year that these two have hosted the CMAs, and their comedic timing really does get better every November. The duo had a tough task, going from a solemn Las Vegas tribute into the traditional monologue with country song parodies. Still, they made it work — particularly one parody set to the tune of Underwood's "Before He Cheats." Except this one was aimed at President Trump and was called "Before He Tweets." Sample lyrics: "Right now, he's probably in his PJs watching cable news reaching for his cellphone/Right now, he's probably asking Siri 'How in the hell do you spell Pocahontas?' "
The opening medley
This may be a controversial opinion depending on how you feel about Hootie and the Blowfish, but it was a delight to see Lady Antebellum, Keith Urban and Darius Rucker all singing along to "Hold My Hand," joined by the rest of their fellow country stars later in the song. It was all preceded with a stellar rendition of "Amazing Grace" from Eric Church.
Carrie Underwood's haunting In Memoriam tribute
Underwood's voice can take on any song, but you could hear a pin drop in the Bridgestone Arena when she sang the hymn "Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling" during the In Memoriam segment. While the slideshow first paid tribute to country stars who died this year, the screen flipped to show the Las Vegas victims for a truly emotional moment.
Brothers Osborne's performance
This Maryland duo has become an industry favorite, and their electric performance of "It Ain't My Fault" proved why — along with an excellent version of Don Williams's "Tulsa Time," which spurred Keith Urban, Miranda Lambert, Lady Antebellum and Dierks Bentley to get up and start dancing. The siblings also won the vocal duo prize, and in his acceptance speech, T.J. Osborne joked that they've made a lot more money since they won the same award last year.
Miranda Lambert's "To Learn Her"
Lambert has had some powerful award show performances lately when she goes for the slower ballads, and this traditional country song was no exception. It's not even her current single — she just wanted to sing it.
The tributes to Troy Gentry and Glen Campbell
Gentry, of longtime Nashville duo Montgomery Gentry, died in a plane crash a couple of months ago at age 50. Dierks Bentley and Rascal Flatts joined together for a rendition of "Our Town," and Eddie Montgomery jumped in to sing along, as well — the cameras caught quite a few tears in the audience. Later, Little Big Town honored the late Glen Campbell with a cover of "Wichita Lineman."
Taylor Swift not showing up to accept the song of the year award for "Better Man"
Yes, Swift is in New York rehearsing for "Saturday Night Live" because her album comes out tomorrow, and yes, she made a big deal about the fact that she's no longer a country singer. Still, given the fact that she wrote Little Big Town's "Better Man" and it became a big hit, it would have been fun to see the pop megastar on the CMA stage once again. Plus, her best pal Karlie Kloss was presenting the trophy! What are the odds? Instead, we just got this tweet:
However, we did learn the fun fact that Swift emailed the song to Little Big Town member Phillip Sweet, who isn't so great about checking his email. "We want to say thanks to Taylor Swift," Karen Fairchild said. "Taylor, wherever you are, thank you for this beautiful song and for loving songs and loving Nashville."
The Garth Brooks lip-sync incident during "Ask Me How I Know"
Come on, Garth — as entertainer of the year, you should know you can't hold the microphone away from your face when the vocal track is still playing. Social media will catch you immediately.
Brooks later told the Tennessean that he made the call because he wasn't feeling well: "We decided to lip-sync it because my voice just isn't going anywhere, and we wanted to represent country music the best we can."
Pop stars taking stage time away from country singers
Sure, Pink sounded great on "Barbies," and Maren Morris and Niall Horan's "Seeing Blind" was entertaining. Yet we could think of lots of other Nashville singers who would have loved an entire solo performance slot that Pink claimed. (She did have a No. 1 country song with Kenny Chesney this year, but he wasn't in attendance.) And Morris only got to sing part of her current hit, "I Could Use a Love Song," before segueing into the song that's on Horan's album.
That Barbie bit in the opening monologue
It's a running inside joke to have Tim McGraw and Faith Hill Barbies on stage, so this year, the power couple decided to "make" dolls of Paisley and Underwood. The whole bit was just really awkward.