Ten memorable moments from the CMA Awards that made country music history.

The CMA Awards are always the highlight of the year for country music, and this year’s awards ceremony gave audiences a show they will never forget. Though it was hard to beat last year’s 50th anniversary edition show, seasoned host Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley still brought their A-game with their witty back-and-forth banter, amazing live performances, and a superstar line-up of friends.

With additional appearances from legendary artists such as Alan Jackson and Garth Brooks — and some cameos by the likes of pop artists Niall Horan and Pink, audiences were looking all night to see what kind of surprise would come next. They were also appreciative of undeniable, unclassifiable talent: Chris Stapleton once again wowed the crowd with his soulful country-rock, and took home the Album of the Year and Male Vocalist of the year awards. Here are 10 moments from the show that stood out from the rest.

Welcome to the Show

Nice, grand opener with Darius Rucker, Lady Antebellum, Keith Urban, Eric Church, and a choir of superstars, all performing the Hootie and the Blowfish tune “Hold My Hand.” An understated message of hope to kick off an emotional show, and Rucker sounded as good as he ever has.


A Night of Tributes

It was heartwarming enough when Dierks Bentley and Rascal Flatts’ Gary LeVox sang the first few verses of Montgomery Gentry’s “My Town,” but when Eddie Montgomery suddenly appeared to sing in honor of his lost bandmate, Troy Gentry, many tears flowed in the audience.

Another subtle but beautiful tribute came when the duo of the night, The Brothers Osborne, moved from their own single into the late Don Williams’ “Tulsa Time.” One of the purest performances of the evening.

The late, great Glen Campbell got his due with a stunning performance of “Wichita Lineman” by the Vocal Group of the Year, Little Big Town. We’ll be returning to that clip.

The most touching moment of the whole broadcast had to be the In Memoriam segment that honored both industry vets and those lost in the Las Vegas shooting tragedy. Co-host Carrie Underwood brought her church chops to “Softly and Tenderly,” taking the notes higher and higher until no eye was dry. Intense.


McEntire and Ballerini Dream Team

Kelsea Ballerini and Reba McEntire complemented each other well when duetting the song “Legends,” but we did catch Ballerini with an “is this real life?” look on her face. She shook it off fast and matched Reba’s inherent dynamism nicely.


New Artist of the Year

Up-and-comer Jon Pardi charmed us all with his aw-shucks, respectful speech after winning New Artist of the Year. That suave American Hat Co. feathered topper didn’t go unnoticed, either. And he proved he deserved his award when he took to the stage to sing “Dirt on My Boots.”


Standout Performances

Eric Church is always surprising in a good way. We loved his back-and-forth with the backup singer at the end of his performance of “Chattanooga Lucy.”

Alan Jackson showed ’em all how it’s done near the end of the show, standing tall and singing “Chasing That Neon Rainbow” as all the stars sang along from their seats. And then, after Reba presented Garth with Entertainer of the Year, Jackson returned for a “Don’t Rock the Jukebox” encore, flanked by hosts Underwood and Paisley.

Jackson was, of course, a reminder of country’s often-unsung traditionalists, but Female Vocalist of the Year Miranda Lambert also held up the time-honored twang of the genre when she sat and sang “To Learn Her.” She’s never sounded better, and she more than earned the standing ovation.

For more information on the CMA Awards, visit their website.