CHRIS PIZZELLO/INVISION/AP Enlarge
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — George Strait is the Country Music Association’s entertainer of the year.
The win Wednesday night was Strait’s third for the CMA’s top honor — but his first since 1990. The Texan, 61, is retiring from the road and has been celebrated by his peers as he completes his The Cowboy Rides Away tour.
His win capped a night in which voters spread the love. Taylor Swift and Blake Shelton, each up for entertainer of the year, won two awards each.
Strait was already the CMA’s most-nominated artist when he earned this year’s nomination, his first in the category since 2009. The gap of 23 years between wins is a record in the entertainer category.
Miranda Lambert won her fourth-straight female vocalist of the year award while her husband, Shelton, won album of the year and male vocalist — a category he also won for the fourth year in a row. Florida Georgia Line took too early awards to join Swift, Keith Urban, and Tim McGraw atop the early winners list.
Entertainer of the Year: George Strait
Album of the Year: Blake Shelton — “Based on a True Story ...”
Song of the Year: Jessi Alexander, Connie Harrington and Jimmy Yeary — “I Drive Your Truck”
Single of the Year: Florida Georgia Line — “Cruise”
Male Vocalist of the Year: Blake Shelton
Female Vocalist of the Year: Miranda Lambert
New Artist of the Year: Kacey Musgraves
Vocal Group of the Year: Little Big Town
Vocal Duo of the Year: Florida Georgia Line
Music Video of the Year: Tim McGraw with Taylor Swift and Keith Urban — “Highway Don’t Care”
Musical Event of the Year: Tim McGraw with Taylor Swift and Keith Urban — “Highway Don’t Care”
Musician of the Year: Mac McAnally
“I really didn’t think this was going to happen this year,” Lambert said before thanking each of the other nominees.
The husband and wife have been favorites of the CMA’s 6,000 voters for three years; Wednesday as no different. Shelton’s album of the year win for Based on a True Story ... was a bit of a surprise, a year after taking entertainer of the year.
“I had mentioned earlier today that if there was an award that would mean the most to me tonight, it would be album of the year,” said Shelton, getting serious after jokingly grabbing his trophy from presenter Sheryl Crow.
Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley scored single and vocal duo of the year. Their quick tally was more proof the so-called bro country movement is the sound of the moment in mainstream country. FGL kicked off the show performing a fist-pumping medley with Luke Bryan, and very quickly returned to the stage to take the trophy for single of the year for their “Cruise” remix featuring Nelly. They also played the new song “Round Here.”
“It’s been a constant thing all year — we’ve been trying to wrap our minds around what’s going on,” Hubbard said. “It’s been a dream come true for us and a huge blessing for us and something we could have never imagined.”
Kacey Musgraves — who, along with Swift, led all nominees with six — won the new artist trophy, besting a field that included Florida Georgia Line. With smart songwriting, a progressive bent, and a strong sense of self like country’s other top women, Musgraves made an auspicious mainstream country debut this year with her album Same Trailer Different Park. She set a record for nominations for a woman in her first year on the show.
Swift tied Florida Georgia Line with two trophies after her “Highway Don’t Care” collaboration with McGraw and Urban won musical event and music video of the year before the show began. Lee Brice’s “I’d Drive Your Truck,” about a fallen soldier whose father still drives his truck, won song of the year, and Little Big Town took its second-straight vocal group of the year.
Swift performed a somber, acoustic version of her hit “Red” with Vince Gill, Alison Krauss, and Sam Bush and was given the CMA’s Pinnacle Award. The award goes to artists who take country music to a worldwide audience. Garth Brooks is the only previous winner.
The CMA brought a star-studded welcoming group out on stage for Swift that included Strait, Rascal Flatts, McGraw, and Faith Hill, Urban, and Paisley — all of whom gave Swift a chance to open for them on the road as a teenager. A video salute followed with appearances by Justin Timberlake, Julia Roberts, Carly Simon, Ethel Kennedy, and Mick Jagger — whose appearance made Swift shout.
Swift recounted a call she got out of the blue from her Big Machine Records head Scott Borchetta when she was 16.
“He said, ‘Can you be on the road in two days to open for Rascal Flatt?’ and I immediately started screaming and said, ‘This must be a miracle,’” she said. “He said, ‘No, it’s not a miracle. Eric Church got fired for playing too long.”
She added: “You’ve made me feel so special right now, thank you.”
Hosts Carrie Underwood and Paisley got the show going on a jovial note as they took the stage with their opening skit, joking about feuds in music. They got Bryan and Zac Brown to hug it out after their mild feud over song trends in Nashville. They joked about Julianne Hough’s misguided blackface Halloween costume, urging Rucker to start his own feud with the singer.
In one of the night’s most anticipated moments, Kenny Rogers received the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award and was saluted by Jennifer Nettles, Rucker, and Rascal Flatts.