Los Angeles Times
The 56th Country Music Association Awards brought country music’s finest to the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee, on Wednesday.
Co-hosted by music superstar Luke Bryan and NFL vet Peyton Manning, the three-hour ABC telecast was packed with performances paying tribute to past and present country music legends. (And no, Maren Morris did not attend.)
Here’s a recap of the night’s biggest moments:
Salutes to Loretta Lynn and Jerry Lee Lewis
Superstars Carrie Underwood and Reba McEntire opened the show with a glittering tribute to late country music legend Loretta Lynn, who died last month at 90.
Underwood sang “You Ain’t Woman Enough,” Lambert performed “Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’,” and McEntire sang “You’re Looking at Country.” The trio then performed Lynn’s iconic hit “Coal Miner’s Daughter” as photos of them with Lynn were displayed behind them.
Rock pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis, who also died last month, was honored with a fiery tribute by Elle King and the Black Keys.
All eyes on Miranda Lambert
Lambert, who turned 39 on Thursday, also performed “Geraldene” during the telecast. But before that, she turned heads on the red carpet in a black and pink gown while accompanied by her husband, Brendan McLoughlin.
And on Carrie Underwood’s side-eye …
The “Before He Cheats” singer, who has hosted past CMA Awards, became the butt of a joke told by this year’s co-hosts Bryan and Manning. During their opening monologue, Manning called back to last year’s show when Underwood’s side-eye reaction went viral. It was her response after a quip about vaccinations amid the scandal ignited by football star Aaron Rodgers’ stance against the COVID-19 vaccine that she and husband Mike Fisher supported.
“Carrie Underwood and I have a lot in common,” Manning said onstage to Bryan. “We both work with Brad Paisley. We’ve both been on ‘Sunday Night Football’ a lot and we’re both very nervous about what Luke Bryan might say tonight.”
“Hell, even I’m nervous about what Luke Bryan might say tonight,” Bryan replied.
Alas, there were no reaction shots of Underwood during Wednesday’s show.
Alan Jackson receives a lifetime achievement award
After several tribute performances by Dierks Bentley, Jon Pardi and Lainey Wilson and one of his own, the “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” and three-time entertainer of the year gave a heartfelt speech about how he started in the industry with “three chords and a prayer.”
“Country music’s been real good to me and I fell in love with it when I was a young man. I really love the instruments, the steel guitars and the fiddles and things like that that gave it such a unique character to me and made it its own,” Alan Jackson said.
“And I love the lyrics and the songs and the artists and the melodies and the harmonies. It’s just a real American music to me.”
The “Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow” singer, 64, also thanked his wife and family and shared that a Hank Williams movie inspired him to move to Nashville when he was broke.
“I’ve definitely lived the American dream,” he said before asking someone to hand him his trophy. “And I’m still living that honky tonk dream, y’all.”
Luke Combs wins entertainer of the year for a second time
For the second year in a row, Luke Combs was named entertainer of the year — the show’s top honor — triumphing over Underwood, Lambert, Chris Stapleton and Morgan Wallen. The musician — whose No. 1 hits include “Hurricane,” “When It Rains It Pours,” “One Number Away” and “She Got the Best of Me” — also won album of the year for “Growin’ Up” during the ceremony.
“I want to thank country music for making my dreams come true,” Combs said, dedicating his award to his wife and newborn baby. “Country is sounding more country than it has in a long time tonight.”
Wynonna Judd expresses her gratitude
Singer Wynonna Judd thanked the audience in the arena and at home for the “love and support” she and her family received following the death of her mother, Naomi Judd, in April. (Judd died by suicide a day before the duo was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and after announcing a comeback tour.)
“These past six months have been a time to grieve and a time to be grateful,” she said onstage before presenting an award to vocal duo winners Brothers Osborne. “I am humbled and honored tonight to still have a seat at the table of country music. I have the opportunity of presenting the CMA Award for Duo, which Mom and I won seven times.”