Taylor Swift returned to the CMA Awards to present the Entertainer of the Year Award to Garth Brooks. "Thank you for a wonderful run," Brooks said after tipping his hat to the audience. "We are so damn lucky to be part of this thing called country music."
Stapleton repeats as Male Vocalist of the Year
Chris Stapleton won Male Vocalist of the Year for the second consecutive time. "These are the best people in the world, country music people," Stapleton said, before thanking everyone from his wife to his band to his in-laws.
Dolly Parton receives Lifetime Achievement Award
"Adoring fan and loving friend" Lily Tomlin on her "9 to 5" co-star Dolly Parton: "Dolly is country music." Parton is this year's recipient of the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award.
Jennifer Nettles, Reba, Kacey Musgraves, Martina McBride and Carrie Underwood performed a medley of some of Parton's most famous songs that ended with all of the women singing her masterpiece "I Will Always Love You."
Parton's speech was touching, thanking Fred Foster and the late Porter Wagoner, but it also contained some of her irrepressible humor when she mentioned that receiving the Willie Nelson Lifetime Award was "an absolute high" for her.
Carrie Underwood named Female Vocalist of the Year
Carrie Underwood took home her fourth Female Vocalist of the Year Award. After tearfully thanking her husband and son and a handful of others, a flabbergasted Underwood admitted, "I've just become suddenly stupid...I just love you all. God bless you guys; thank you so much."
Kenny Chesney wins Pinnacle Award
Moments after Beyonce and the Dixie Chicks' performance of "Daddy Lessons" (which segued into a snippet of "Long Time Gone," a Darrell Scott song the Chicks recorded in 2002), Peyton Manning presented Kenny Chesney with the CMA Pinnacle Award for all he has done and "all he will continue to do" for country music. This is only the third time this award has been presented at the CMA Awards; the two previous recipients were Garth Brooks and Taylor Swift.
"When I think about what this means to me...it means connections with a lot of people," Chesney said. He also expressed his appreciation for his devoted fan group No Shoes Nation, telling them, "Thanks for giving me an amazing life."
Little Big Town wins fifth Vocal Group of the Year Award
Little Big Town won the Vocal Group of the Year Award for the fifth consecutive year. The quartet's acceptance speech included shout outs to the stars they watched on the CMA Awards while growing up, including Barbara Mandrell.
Brothers Osborne celebrate 'unreal' Vocal Duo win
The Vocal Duo of the Year Award went to Brothers Osborne. They hadn't prepared a speech (they'd been expecting to congratulate Florida Georgia Line on their win), "I feel so grateful to be here tonight; this is unreal," said a gobsmacked T.J. Osborne, while next to him, John Osborne could barely contain his glee..
"Mr. Misunderstood" named Album of the Year
Eric Church's "Mr. Misunderstood" won Album of the Year. "I'm not sure what's better: winning the award or Faith Hill fixing my tie," he deadpanned. "It's because of the fans that this happened," he added.
Garth and Trisha pay tribute to country classics
Trisha Yearwood and Entertainer of the Year nominee Garth Brooks teamed up for the awards show's second medley of country classics. The married megastars performed snippets of the playful Johnny Cash and June Carter duet "Jackson," Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty's "Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man," George Jones and Tammy Wynette's "Golden Ring." In between the duets, Brooks sang Roger Miller's "Chug-a-Lug" and Keith Whitley's "Don't Close Your Eyes" and Yearwood delivered strong versions of Lynn Anderson's hit "Rose Garden" and Crystal Gale's "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue."
Maren Morris named New Artist of the Year
Shortly after she performed her song "My Church" with Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the McCrary Sisters, Maren Morris was named New Artist of the Year. "I never thought as a songwriter I'd be standing here today," Morris said while fighting back tears during her acceptance speech.
Lori McKenna is first female to win Song of the Year' twice in a row
Song of the Year honors went to "Humble and Kind" by Lori McKenna. McKenna, one of the co-writers of "Girl Crush," is the first female songwriter to win this award in two consecutive years. Tim McGraw's recording of "Humble and Kind" topped the charts earlier this year, and it was McGraw's wife, Faith Hill, who helped McKenna get her start as a songwriter in this town by recording several of her songs for her 2005 album "Fireflies."
Thomas Rhett's "Die a Happy Man" wins Single of the Year
The Single of the Year Award went to Thomas Rhett's "Die a Happy Man." In his acceptance speech, Rhett thanked, "My lovely wife...she was the full inspiration for the song...God, this is a dream come true."
Randy Travis sings during star-studded opener
The 50th annual CMA Awards began with a bang, as country legends and current stars paid tribute to some of the genre's finest songs during a lengthy medley.
Vince Gill paid tribute to the late Merle Haggard by performing a snippet of "Mama Tried," joined by Haggard's youngest son, Ben. His performance was followed by a salute to Buck Owens by Roy Clark and Brad Paisley (who appeared to be wearing the yellow rhinestone jacket Owens wore on his Carnegie Hall live album), Carrie Underwood singing "Stand By Your Man," Paisley and Charley Pride singing "Kiss an Angel Good Morning," Alabama's "Mountain Music," Charlie Daniels' "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," Reba's version of "Fancy," Dwight Yoakam's "Guitars, Cadillacs," Clint Black's "Killin' Time," Ricky Skaggs' "Country Boy," and Alan Jackson's "Don't Rock the Jukebox."
The grand finale of the country music medley was an emotional one, as all of the performers gathered on stage to sing Randy Travis' "Forever and Ever Amen." Travis himself joined in on the last lines of the song, to thunderous applause from the audience.