The 53rd CMA Awards assured a celebration of women – and country music’s biggest night occurred. After the evening, more than forty women spanning generations in the genre made the stage to perform, accept or deliver awards.
Garth Brooks got the night’s top honor – Entertainer of the Year – for a record-breaking 7th time. Still, he made use of his platform to draw attention to the women artists in-crowd.
Brooks told that if the award was being presented based on the night’s performances – co-host Reba McEntire would take the prize for her theatric performance of “Fancy.”
He also mentioned to Kelsea Ballerini’s stripped-down presentation of her “Homecoming Queen,” saying it shrank the cavernous arena into a small, intimate space.
“Seven is important because that’s my number and it feels good, but it’s also the historic night it comes on. This is a salute to women. And, guess who lives with one of the greatest female singers on the plant?” Brooks asked, referring to his wife, Trisha Yearwood.
“And, guess who has three daughters who needed to hear that message tonight, that needed to see Kacey Musgraves come out with Willie Nelson and be flawless?”
Musgraves and Luke Combs were the night’s best winners. The singers each got two trophies.
“I think (winning tonight) does mean something extra special considering there are so many women here who paved the way for me to be able to speak my mind and do the things that I do,” says Musgraves, who female vocalist and video of the year. “I think every year in country music females should be equally celebrated. I think the female narrative is really important and it’s been the backbone of country music since the beginning.”
This year, for the initial time, the CMA Awards show was hosted by three women.
Carrie Underwood, who has co-hosted the CMA Awards for more than a decade, returned again this year with her new partners Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire.
The host trio starts the show with “Those Memories of You” before an attack of country music’s leading women past and present.
Tanya Tucker dug into classic “Delta Dawn;” Gretchen Wilson kicked out “Redneck Woman;” The Highwomen paid tribute to Tammy Wynette with “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad” … and that’s not half of what viewers watched.
“What a way to kick off country music’s biggest night,” Underwood spoke in the opening monologue.
From there, women carried on to dominate the show. Maren Morris, the night’s top nominee, and expectant mom, tearfully received the trophy for Album of the Year for her“GIRL.”
“This is incredible,” Morris says. “Thank you country music. Thank you to my peers in the room that I respect so much for voting for me for this.”
The majority of “Girl,” like her launch, “Hero,” before it, was produced by late songwriter and producer Michael James Ryan — known professionally as Busbee — who passed away in September at age of 43.
“I would be really remiss if I didn’t mention a huge facet of why this album sounds the way it does,” Morris told as she received the award. And we miss him so dearly.”
Blake Shelton got his first CMA award – Single of the Year, for “God’s Country” – since he got Male Vocalist of the Year in 2014.
“I think the success of ‘God’s Country’ is a combination of the message of the song and simply the title. With where we are in this country, I think it’s refreshing to see a title like that. And you don’t hear songs that sound like that anymore. It just has the ‘A Country Boy Can Survive’ element to it. I knew there would be some people out there starving for a song like that.”
Shelton’s fiddle player Jenee Fleenor, meanwhile, became the first woman to win Musician of the Year and rising star Ashley McBryde was titled as New Artist of the Year.
“I once had the pleasure of playing a tribute show for Mr. John Prine and the next day he shook my hand and he added, ‘You’re really good. You’re no Reba,’” McBryde remembered. “I cherish those little moments that are like that — that is truth and guidance from voices that we respect and admire. And I’m thankful for that and for this and for the opportunity to step up.”
McBryde was part of one of the night’s more rememberable performances – along with Ballerini, Little Big Town, Maddie & Tae, Runaway June, Carly Pearce and Lindsay Ell on Little Big Town’s CMA Award-winning “Girl Crush.”
The women traded harmonies and swapped lines on the hit. At Last, the ladies lined up in the stage. Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild introduced them, saying: “You’re looking at the future of country music right here,” she told.
Parton, who made clever jokes about everything from Porter Wagoner to the size of her clothing rack, put her jokes on hold for her medley of motivational songs.
She welcomed for KING & COUNTRY to the CMA Awards to present their popular duet “God Only Knows,” which ended with a sweet kiss on the hand from singer Joel Smallbone.
Parton asked Zach Williams out next to sing their new duet “There Was Jesus” then ended with a solo performance of “Faith,” a 2019 collaboration with Swedish duo Galantis.
McEntire’s “Fancy” was one of the most exaggerated presentations of the night.
She begins the song in a lavender satin gown, which she stripped off the disclose a slender, red sequined dress, which she changed a verse later to show a fitted, strappy sequined top and matching, flowing pants.
McEntire held no guitar or microphone – she attracted the audience with her eyes and the dynamic, knowing way she worked the stage as well.
Miranda Lambert converts the CMA Awards floor into a carwash complete with bubbles for her new hit “It All Comes Out in Wash” and Dan + Shay presented the stage with an orchestra to revive their multi-week No. 1 hit “Speechless.”
The men were named duo of the year later in the show. While Dan and Shay have won a Grammy, an ACM Award, a Billboard Award, a CMT Award and more, a CMA presents had eluded them until tonight’s show.
“This is a little overwhelming, man,” singer Shay Mooney. “There are so many of our heroes in the room. Brooks & Dunn, are you kidding me? This is absolutely incredible.”
“Shay and I have chased this dream our entire lives,” Dan Smyers told backstage. “We grew up listening to country music and we moved to this town because we wanted to write country music because we wanted to someday be a part of this community. It’s so incredible, I don’t even know if this is real. I feel like we may be living in a dream.”
But Lil Nas X might have been the most amazed winner of the night. His record-breaking duet with Billy Ray Cyrus “Old Town Road” won a vocal event of the year.
“I wasn’t sure if this was going to be able to happen tonight,” he says. “I’m so happy this song was accepted because it is the bridging of two polar opposite genres. I’m happy it’s gotten respect from both places.”