While last year's Entertainer of the Year trophy went to 22-time CMA Award winner and bona fide country music icon George Strait, this year's recipient was a first-time winner. Luke Bryan —who, until tonight, had never landed a CMA Award — brought home the Entertainer title, thanks to the impact made by last year's multi-platinum Crash My Party and this year's near-nonstop That’s My Kind of Night Tour.
"We're gonna have a good time tonight," said Bryan at the conclusion of his acceptance speech. The Entertainer of the Year award was presented to Bryan by four-time winner Garth Brooks, who was returning to the ceremony stage for the first time since 2005. "Thank you so much for pioneering things," said Bryan, gesturing to Brooks, at one point asking the "Thunder Rolls" singer for a hug.
The night's biggest winner in numbers, however, was Miranda Lambert. While she lost the Entertainer race to Bryan, Lambert did win Album of the Year for her LP Platinum, Single of the Year for "Automatic" (which was presented by Steven Tyler, who opined, "I think country is the new rock & roll") and Female Vocalist of the Year. "I don't even know what to say," said Lambert upon receiving the Female Vocalist honor for the fifth year in a row. "I just can't believe that I'm standing here."
Indeed, there were very few upsets at the 48th annual CMA Awards ceremony. Lambert's husband Blake Shelton snagged Male Vocalist of the Year, also for the fifth year in a row. "I really thought Luke [Bryan] was gonna win this thing this year," Shelton said before dedicating the win to his hero, Earl Thomas Conley, who has never received a CMA Award. Afterward in the press room, Shelton remarked, "What the hell, this is beyond a dream come true. I could not be a happier human being with the way this night has gone…. I told my wife when we were walking off the stage, 'Man, you only won four CMAs tonight, I'm really sorry.' It's maybe the biggest night of our lives as far as the music industry goes."
Other repeat winners included Little Big Town, who won their third straight Vocal Group of the Year award, and Florida Georgia Line, who repeated in the Vocal Duo of the Year category.
Less expected were wins for Kacey Musgraves, who brought home Song of the Year for her pro-gay/pro-pot/pro-just-being-yourself anthem "Follow Your Arrow," written with Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally. Brett Eldredge, meanwhile, beat out Clark, Kip Moore, Thomas Rhett and Cole Swindell in the New Artist of the Year race. "We all worked so hard to get to this point, anybody could have won this award," Eldredge told Rolling Stone Country backstage. "It definitely inspires you to keep on climbing that ladder.
Some of the night's biggest "whoa" moments came in the form of cameos and covers. Early in the night, Miranda Lambert was joined by Meghan Trainor for a rendition of the latter's positive-body-image pop hit "All About That Bass." The Band Perry delivered an updated take on Glen Campbell's "Gentle on My Mind," while Little Big Town — decked out in illuminated, Tron-like outfits — played "Day Drinking" with a 20-piece drum line before being joined by pop star Ariana Grande for a version of her song "Bang Bang."
Despite all the pop influence, the evening's ceremonies weren't without their nods to classic country. Perhaps the biggest surprise cameo of the evening came during Kacey Musgraves' performance. Musgraves, shortly after winning Song of the Year, was joined by Loretta Lynn for a rendition of Lynn's "You're Looking at Country." The pair — Musgraves in sequins, Lynn in one of her country-princess gowns — sang the tune in front of the iconic Grand Ole Opry backdrop. LBT also joined Miranda Lambert for her song "Smokin' and Drinkin'," while Eric Church traded vocals with George Strait on "Cowboys Like Us," and legacy act the Doobie Brothers played their classic hit "Listen to the Music" with some assistance from Jennifer Nettles, Hillary Scott, Hunter Hayes and onetime Doobie Michael McDonald.
Twelve-time CMA Award host, Country Music Hall of Fame inductee and skillful orator Vince Gill was the recipient of the night's legacy award, the Irving Waugh Award of Excellence. Gill used his acceptance speech as an opportunity to praise the man for whom the award was named — a "consummate gentleman" who was instrumental in bringing the CMA Awards to television — noting that Waugh once said, "'Vince Gill is a fine specimen of a man,' and straight-up, that made me feel just a little weird." Gill, clearly touched, also praised the current generation of country artists for their camaraderie.
Providing levity throughout the awards ceremony were seven-time hosts Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood, who opened the show with a zing-laden monologue featuring parody songs like the Ebola-themed "Quarantine" (a takeoff on Dolly Parton's "Jolene") and an homage to leaked personal photos set to Johnny Cash's "I Walk the Line." The 21st century lyric? "I keep a close watch on that cloud of mine." The two lamented Taylor Swift's recent rejection of her country-music roots with a bit about "Postpartum Taylor Swift Disorder" — President Obama not caring about "PPTSD" is "why the Democrats lost the Senate," joked Underwood.
Throughout the monologue, Paisley pressed the pregnant Underwood to share the sex of her unborn child. Though the bit was clearly a ruse, Paisley eventually spilled the beans. "We could name him Garth," said Paisley, prompting the hashtag #BradBlewIt.
Here's the full list of 2014 CMA Awards winners:
Entertainer of the Year
*Luke Bryan - WINNER
Female Vocalist of the Year
*Miranda Lambert - WINNER
Male Vocalist of the Year
*Blake Shelton - WINNER
Album of the Year
Crash My Party, Luke Bryan
Fuse, Keith Urban
*Platinum, Miranda Lambert - WINNER
Riser, Dierks Bentley
The Outsiders, Eric Church
Vocal Group of the Year
Eli Young Band
*Little Big Town - WINNER
The Band Perry
Zac Brown Band
New Artist of the Year
*Brett Eldredge - WINNER
Vocal Duo of the Year
Dan + Shay
*Florida Georgia Line - WINNER
Love and Theft
The Swon Brothers
Single of the Year (Award goes to artist and producer)
*"Automatic," Miranda Lambert - WINNER
"Drunk on a Plane," Dierks Bentley
"Give Me Back My Hometown," Eric Church
"Meanwhile Back at Mama's," Tim McGraw featuring Faith Hill
"Mine Would Be You," Blake Shelton
Song of the Year (Award goes to songwriters)
"Automatic," written by Nicolle Galyon, Natalie Hemby and Miranda Lambert
*"Follow Your Arrow," written by Kacey Musgraves, Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally - WINNER
"Give Me Back My Hometown," written by Eric Church and Luke Laird
"I Don't Dance," written by Lee Brice, Rob Hatch, and Dallas Davidson
"I Hold On," written by Brett James and Dierks Bentley
Musical Event of the Year
"Bakersfield," Vince Gill and Paul Franklin
"Meanwhile Back at Mama's," Tim McGraw and Faith Hill
"Something Bad," Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood
*"We Were Us," Keith Urban and Miranda Lambert - WINNER
"You Can't Make Old Friends," Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton
Music Video of the Year
"Automatic," Miranda Lambert
"Bartender," Lady Antebellum
*"Drunk on a Plane," Dierks Bentley - WINNER
"Follow Your Arrow," Kacey Musgraves
"Something Bad," Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood
Musician of the Year
*Mac McAnally - WINNER