CMA Awards recap: The best moments of the night

The big winner at the CMAs on Wednesday night was … the CMAs.

Despite rising coronavirus cases across the country — including the increasing threat of a second wave in New York — the 54th annual Country Music Association Awards felt more like the good old days than any other major awards show since the pandemic hit.

During the ceremony — held at the Music City Center in Nashville — there were no signs of masks, there was an audience and real clapping, and there was a star-studded parade of performances including everyone from Maren Morris and Miranda Lambert to Eric Church and Luke Combs.

Sure, the whole thing felt a lot more intimate this year with a smaller crowd — consisting of nominated artists and their guests — sitting at socially distanced tables (except when some would stand in place). But the sound of real-life music, real-life applause and real-life laughter — even to the awkward stage banter between hosts Reba McEntire and Darius Rucker — was enough to make you cry happy tears in your beer, wine or whiskey.

For once in 2020, this was a good reason to drink.

Before the show went on, strict COVID-19 testing protocols had already sidelined some of the artists scheduled to attend. Lee Brice, Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard and one of the members of Rascal Flatts tested positive for the virus, as did Musician of the Year winner Jenee Fleenor. Meanwhile, Lady A didn’t appear because one of the trio’s immediate family members tested positive, although Charles Kelley did sing with Carly Pearce in a pre-taped performance.

It all made who actually won almost an afterthought, as first-time Entertainer of the Year winner Church made clear when he accepted the biggest award of the night at the end. Morris — the night’s biggest winner with three awards, including Single and Song of the Year for “The Bones,” and Female Vocalist of the Year — seemed increasingly embarrassed to pick up her trophies after each victory. And the losers, for once, appeared truly happy just to be there.

As with any music awards show, it was mostly about the performances, including tributes to Kenny Rogers (by Little Big Town), Mac Davis (by McEntire and Rucker) and a show-opening salute to Charlie Daniels (by Jason Aldean, Brothers Osborne, Dierks Bentley and Ashley McBryde).

And this time around, the remote performances — with Dan + Shay and Justin Bieber singing “10,000 Hours” from the Hollywood Bowl, and Keith Urban crooning “God Whispered Your Name” from his native Australia — were thankfully the exception to the rule.

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