(NASHVILLE, Tenn.) — George Strait beat out today’s hottest young country music talents to take home the Entertainer of the Year trophy at the 47th annual Country Music Association awards, held Wednesday night in Nashville, Tenn., and telecast live on ABC.
It was clear that Strait, who’s currently out on his Cowboy Rides Away farewell tour, didn’t expect the honor. Taking the stage, Strait said, ‘What? Never in a million years…thank you so much….this just blows me away. I just cannot believe it.”
This was Strait’s third Entertainer of the Year award, but the last time he won was way back in 1990, when Taylor Swift, who he beat out for the award, was less than a year old.
Strait, who’s the only artist in music history to have a top 10 hit every year for 30 years, loomed large throughout the telecast. He and Alan Jackson teamed up to pay tribute to the late George Jones by singing Jones’ signature hit, “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” and he was also part of the night’s other major event: the Pinnacle Award presentation, which went to Swift.
Along with Rascal Flatts, Keith Urban, Brad Paisley, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, Strait was part of a group of artists who Swift had all opened for early on in her career, and they all took the stage to salute Swift’s incredible achievements in bringing country music to a global audience.
Video tributes from the likes of Mick Jagger, Julia Roberts, Reese Witherspoon and Justin Timberlake rounded out the segment.
While Swift wasn’t surprised by the Pinnacle Award, which had been pre-announced, she was clearly emotional while accepting it.
“To the CMA…to whoever made this choice [to give this to me], you not only honor my hard work and exhaustion, but the hard work and exhaustion of my family and my label, and everyone who works with me,” she declared. “But most of all, my fans, who have filled stadiums: I love you!”
Wednesday night marked only the second time this award has even been given out; its first recipient, Garth Brooks, won in 2005.
Swift also performed her song “Red” on the telecast acoustically, with some help from musicians like Vince Gill and Alison Krauss, and took home two awards which had also been pre-announced: Musical Event of the Year and Video of the Year for “Highway Don’t Care,” which she shared with McGraw and Urban.
Going into the awards, Swift had six nods, as did Kacey Musgraves, but despite huge critical acclaim, the newcomer only managed to take home one trophy: Best New Artist. Musgraves also attracted attention when ABC censored the words “roll up a joint” during her performance of her song “Follow Your Arrow,” and some believed she had an inappropriate look on her face when her friend Miranda Lambert was named Best Female Vocalist over her.
Blake Shelton and Lambert continued their reign as country music’s winningest couple by each taking home the Male and Female Vocalist trophies, respectively, for the fourth straight year. In Lambert’s case, she’s now tied with Reba McEntire as the only artist to win this award four times in a row. Both artists swore that they didn’t think they’d win yet again this year.
Shelton also took home the Album of the Year award for Based on a True Story; it was his first win in that category and the one he said meant the most to him.
Newcomers Florida Georgia Line, who opened the show with Luke Bryan, pulled off a double win, taking home the prizes for Vocal Duo of the Year, and Single of the Year for “Cruise.”
Little Big Town won Vocal Group of the Year for the second year in a row, while Lee Brice’s hit “I Drive Your Truck” was named Song of the Year.
Once again, Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley served as hosts for the telecast, and got plenty of mileage out of the “feud” between Bryan and Zac Brown; Brown had said in an interview that he thought Bryan’s hit “My Kind of Night” was the worst song he’d ever heard. But as soon as Underwood and Paisley mentioned the topic, Bryan ran over to Brown in the audience and hugged it out.
Still, the hots continued with their bit, singing War’s seventies hit “Why Can’t We Be Friends” with appropriate lyrics, and having Kellie Pickler give out “feuding assignments” to other stars in the audience.
Kelly Clarkson was told to feud with her new stepmother-in-law, McEntire; Darius Rucker was told to feud with Julianne Hough — a reference to Hough’s decision to wear blackface for Halloween — and Kenny Rogers was told to feud with Paisley, who called the veteran performer “pure evil.”
Speaking of Rogers, the newly-inducted member of the Country Music Hall of Fame was also the subject of a tribute; Jennifer Nettles duetted with him on “Islands in the Stream,” while Rucker sang “The Gambler,” and Rascal Flatts sang “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In),” Rogers’ psychedelic hit with his early band The First Edition.
Underwood and Paisley also did a clever parody of Robin Thicke’s hit “Blurred Lines,” turning it into “Duck Blinds,” with help from Duck Dynasty stars the Robertsons, and made several Miley Cyrus jokes.
They thanked Swift for “never humping a teddy bear or gyrating with Beetlejuice,” and Underwood quipped, “If someone in music was going to be caught naked licking a sledgehammer, I think we all thought it’d be Blake Shelton.”
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Sandra Gonzalez, CNN
Nate Eaton, EastIdahoNews.com
Eric Levenson, CNN
Madison Park, Keith Allen and Andreas Preuss, CNN