Last night in Nashville, the CMA Awards celebrated their 50th anniversary with tributes to some of the biggest country artists of the past half-century. Carrie Underwood did double duty, singing "Stand by Your Man" for Tammy Wynette in the opening and "I Will Always Love You" when Dolly Parton received the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award toward the end. In between, however, she played her own "Dirty Laundry" on Broadway-style urban set, turning up the guitars and delivering one of the heaviest performances of the night.
"We really just wanted to have a lot of women onstage," Underwood told the pressroom after the show. "Gorgeous, strong, talented, amazing women. Because I feel like our country format could use some more, so lets bring them all up onstage at one time. I called up some friends and asked if they might come be a part of it. We had the Runaway June girls, we had Orianthi, Lindsay Ell, and it was amazing just to have, like I said, beautiful, talented, strong women doing what they do."
Underwood has co-hosted the show with Brad Paisley since 2008. She still didn't learn about one of the other big CMA performances – the collaboration between Beyoncé and the Dixie Chicks – until hours before start-time. "We didn't even know they were gonna be here until like yesterday," she said. "It was all very hush-hush. We'd be reading our scripts and were like, 'Who is this TBD performance in our scripts?'"
For Underwood, moments like these are part of the genre's natural growth. "It's all the rise of country music. There are so many different artists that are influenced by so many different people that are contributing to that. And we're all out there busting our butts on tour and meeting people all over the world along the way. I think having more people that don't even necessarily listen to country music tune in, that just shows how great the music is."
The tributes, meanwhile, charted where country has come so far. "We wanted to just include as many legends as we possibly could in one way or another, whether they were singing little snippets or we had them on the bumpers coming in or being able to acknowledge them in the audience . . . Being able to stand up on that stage in front of all of those legends, clearly I was flabbergasted. It was just an amazing night."