CMAs Awards Offer A Freight-Packed Night Of Music

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
– Maren Morris at CMA
Maren Morris performs “Girl” at the 53rd annual CMA Awards at Bridgestone Arena, Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn.
Carrie Underwood didn’t win Entertainer of the Year. Eric Church didn’t, either. 
Regardless, it was a night of victory for outliers, take-your-own-path followers, women, first timers and country music as Underwood, Reba and Dolly hosted “The 53rd Annual Country Music Association Awards,” live from the Bridgestone Arena.
From the ambitious opening number – designed as a survey course of women in country – that merged the hosts’ reprise of the Parton/Linda Ronstadt/Emmylou Harris Trio’s “Those Memories Of You” through homages to Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette into more recent vintage females including Martina McBride, Sara Evans, Gretchen Wilson and Terri Clark to the phoenix-rising return of Tanya Tucker – it was a freight-packed night of music and ground-breaking. 
Kacey Musgraves, who won Album of the Year last year for Golden Hour, took home her first Female Vocalist of the Year with no significant country radio presence. 
Instead, using smart television, savvy cross-genre touring (moving from opening slots for Katy Perry to Harry Styles, then arena-sized headlining with Yola and Maggie Rogers supporting) and keeping the focus on music, the woman who shared the innocence of embrace without labels on “Rainbow Connection” with Willie Nelson demonstrated the power of musical transcendence.
Earlier, Musgraves’ aesthetic sense prevailed, taking Video of the Year for “Rainbow.” The other “Good Morning America” announced winner was Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus whose genre-defying, debate-instigating “Old Town Road” took Vocal Event. Both defied convention, but also opened up a sense of genuine country music to whole other worlds.
Maren Morris, covered in tears, won Album of the Year for Girl, an evolving album written over time that has been embraced for many of its empowerment themes. Clearly stunned, the young woman who delivered a churchy, torchy performance, dedicated her win – as did many – to the recently deceased songwriter/producer/artist champion busbee.
Blake Shelton threw lightning bolts on the propulsive “God’s Country,” which took Single of the Year. The affable “The Voice” coach tapped into Hank Jr.’s fiery “Country Boy Can Survive” mettle for a song he acknowledged, “sticks out on the radio like a sore thumb. But the meaning and feel are something people really want to hear.”
Luke Combs, another first-time winner, doesn’t look like your typical country hunk and it kept the North Carolinian from initially getting a deal. But his true-to-the-roots take on ’90s country struck a nerve with voters who gave his “Beautiful Crazy” Song of the Year and awarded him his first of what will surely be many Male Vocalist of the Year awards.
The heavily tattooed, sausage-curled Ashley McBryde, nominated a second time for Best New Artist honors, won for her decidedly blue collar take on women’s lives, being counted out and the struggle to cope with losing when you’re barely getting by. A frank songwriter who tours relentlessly, she, too, earned her award with a strong sense of self instead of a massive single and beauty pageant looks
Even the glossy shimmer of Dan + Shay managed to honor the pair’s commitment to who they are. Beyond the ubiquity of “Speechless,” performed unadorned with a grand piano and string section embellishments, the pop crossover friends took their first Duo of the Year for embracing their strengths and staying an often up(main)stream course in a realm of jacked-up dude country.
At a time when much hand-wringing about a woman’s place on country radio, many of this year’s winners – and performers – have built a place for themselves on the road. 
With the all-female tours being staged by Underwood, Lambert and Morris, Kelsea Ballerini’s stark “Homecoming Queen” gave way to the new women showcasing reworking of “Girl Crush” as Lindsey Ell walked up, played guitar and picked up the second section. From there Underwood tourmates Runaway June and Maddie & Tae took the second verse, to be joined by McBryde and New Artist of the Year nominee Carly Pearce.
More cohesive than the opening, Little Big Town joined the next wave females for the final chorus. In what served as almost a benediction, Karen Fairchild proclaimed, “You’re looking at the future of country music right here.”
Certainly country is at a crossroads. Ironically, some of the most compelling performances were the straight up, old school ‘90s bar-room stompers. Whether Combs’ “Beer Never Broke My Heart,” Lambert’s “All Comes Out In the Wash,” Shelton’s hard-hitting (and Single-winning) “God’s Country” and Brooks & Dunn’s “Hard Working Man” redux with Brothers Osborne. After all the 808s, getting back to postmodern honky tonk suggested a vitality to what was.
Ditto Reba McEntire’s return to “Fancy.” If before it was a whirling performance suitable for diva tempo, the Oklahoma firebrand’s years of television and Broadway experience since allowed her to imbue a deeper dynamic and emotional-grounding of a mother forced to turn her daughter out too prostitution, as well as the daughter’s triumph over circumstance.
Brooks, whose own “Dive Bar” performance with Shelton, dedicated much of his Entertainer of the Year acceptance speech to the caliber of McEntire’s performance. He also cited Ballerini and Combs’ in what was his seventh CMA EotY speech.
Recognizing breakthroughs gives Jenee Fleener the honor of being the rare road player to win Musician of the Year. The current fiddler in Blake Shelton’s touring band, she is also the first woman to win the honor.
Entertainer of the Year
Garth Brooks 
Female Vocalist of the Year
Kacey Musgraves 
Male Vocalist of the Year
Luke Combs 
Album of the Year
“Girl,” Maren Morris (Producers: busbee, Maren Morris, Greg Kurstin)
New Artist of the Year
Ashley McBryde 
Song of the Year
“Beautiful Crazy,” Luke Combs (Songwriters: Luke Combs, Wyatt B. Durrette III, Robert Williford) 
Single of the Year
“God’s Country,” Blake Shelton (Producer: Scott Hendricks; Mix Engineer: Justin Niebank) 
Vocal Group of the Year
Old Dominion
Vocal Duo of the Year
Dan + Shay 
Musical Event of the Year
Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus, “Old Town Road (Remix)” (Producers: YoungKio, Michael Trent Reznor, Atticus Matthew Ross) 
Music Video of the Year
“Rainbow,” Kacey Musgraves (Director: Hannah Lux Davis) 
Musician of the Year
Jenee Fleenor