This was long-awaited recognition for Chesney, who remarked that he's "been making records and been on the road twelve years now, and this is my first CMA award . . . I'm very proud of it." Previous Entertainer of the Year winners include Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson and Loretta Lynn.
Tim McGraw, a hitmaker for more than a decade, won Song and Single of the Year for his album's title track, "Live Like You Were Dying," a song about a man in midlife who learns he does not have long to live. McGraw first heard the song when his father, former major-league pitcher Tug McGraw, was battling cancer (he died in January), and he decided he had to record it. McGraw's album went on to debut at Number One, holding strong in the Top Ten for over two months.
In an unexpected turn of events, Keith Urban won Male Vocalist of the Year, beating out country giants Alan Jackson, George Strait, Chesney and Toby Keith. Martina McBride took home her third consecutive award for Female Vocalist, while Rascal Flatts won best vocal group for the second consecutive year. Gretchen Wilson -- whose debut record, Here for the Party, has sold three million copies so far -- took the Horizon Award for best newcomer.
Kris Kristofferson was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and serenaded by an all-star lineup: Willie Nelson performed "For the Good Times," Faith Hill sang "Help Me Make It Through the Night" and Randy Travis did his own rendition of "Sunday Morning Coming Down."
Kristofferson himself played "Me and Bobby McGee," and thanked the late Johnny and June Carter Cash for supporting him early on and for "standing up for truth and justice and human rights."
To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here
MUSIC 9 Classic Devo Videos
OLYMPICS 18 Epic Opening Ceremonies