CMT honored five country artists on Wednesday night that had incredible success on tour and on country radio this past year. Those five were Dan + Shay, Luke Combs, Kane Brown, Carrie Underwood and Thomas Rhett. CMT also honored Ashley McBryde, who received the Breakout Artist of the Year and Reba McEntire, who received the Artist of a Lifetime Award.
Dan + Shay began show performing their hit song “Tequila”. The Grammy-winning duo was introduced by gospel-pop singer and their good friend, Tori Kelly. The two accepted their award, told the story of the journey and thanked a bevy of people who helped them get there.
“We’ve spent the last four or five years trying to figure out what we wanted to say and by that third record, this was finally the time we could put our stamp on a record,” Shay Mooney explained.
Roseanne and Big Bang Theory Star Johnny Galecki came up on stage to announce Luke Combs as the next Artist of the Year Award winner. He spoke of Combs’ past, being broke and working odd jobs to make end’s meat until “Hurricane” blew up online. He has since generated millions of streams and set sales records with his debut album “This One’s For You”. Combs, who is currently on his Beer Never Broke My Heart tour with Morgan Wallen and Jameson Rodgers, couldn’t be there last night, so This is Us star Chrissy Metz performed Combs’ newest single to country radio “Even Though I’m Leaving”.
Another This Is Us cast member, Lonnie Chavis introduced Kane Brown. Chavis and Brown got to know each other when Chavis portrayed a younger version of Brown in his music video for “Good As You”. It has been an emotional week for Brown, as his drummer and lifelong friend Kenny Dixon passed away tragically in a car accident last Saturday. Brown, who was vulnerable on stage, dedicated the award to Dixon. “I want to dedicate this to my drummer Kenny, he started with me coming out of Chattanooga on Facebook. People didn’t think we would make it, he was with me the whole time. He was so supportive of me.” Another friend of Brown and fellow country artist Chris Young performed one of his new songs, “Drowning” which is about the loss of a friend.
Next on stage was Kid Rock, who introduced the recipient of the Breakout Artist of the Year, Ashley McBryde. “It’s daunting to tell you the story about this year’s Breakout Artist because she is the real storyteller…I defy you to listen to those songs and not be moved; they take a hold of us.” McBryde then performed her most recent release “One Night Standards”.
McBryde told us she was broke, living out of her car and playing acoustic gigs before she got recognized. “I had this tip jar and I would look at these one dollar bills like this one dollar bill was a moment for somebody and any nights where you go ‘what I am even doing this for?’ just count your moments in the tip jar and try to put on your big-girl boots.”
Radio DJ, Bobby Bones introduced Carrie Underwood as the next Artist of the Year. He mentioned Underwood was one of the first recipients of the award ten years ago and has won three more in between her first and this one. She was not in attendance either because she was in Ohio performing on her Cry Pretty 360 tour with special guests Maddie & Tae and Runaway June. However, we did get to see Underwood’s powerful vocals on display during two songs from the show, both from her 2012 album Blown Away including “Blown Away” and “Two Black Cadillacs”
Thomas Rhett was the last Artist of the Year recipient and he was introduced by none other than his wife, Lauren Akins. He performed a song off his new album about sacrifice; one we did not see live at Madison Square Garden, “Dream You Never Had”. Arguably one of the most emotional and touching moments the country family has seen in a few years, Rhett spontaneously moved by the emotion of the night, asked the audience if he could take a moment to pray, for Kane Brown’s family and Kenny Dixon’s family. “Father God, we love you so much. Loss is something that we can’t comprehend and so right now I pray that you can be with Kane and his family and his drummer, Kenny and his family and bring them peace that only you know how to bring somebody,” Rhett prayed.
Last, but certainly not least, the Artist of a Lifetime Award winner, Reba McEntire was honored. First, Lady Antebellum covered her song “Is There Life Out There”. Next, Country Music Hall of Famer, Vince Gill gave a very personal and heartfelt speech about their friendship and of course all the success she has had in this industry. Then, it was McEntire’s turn to speak:
“I appreciate the people I got to open the show for and the ones that guided me and taught that I would get through with my show, run back and sign autographs and then I’d sit there and watch their shows because I was learning all the time…That’s what this business is all about: the people we get to learn from but get to know,” she praised. “I am very blessed to have so many friends” To end the show, Sam Hunt delivered an excellent rendition of McEntire’s “Fancy”.
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