This year’s CMA Awards stand to be among the most emotional in the show’s history. The 51st annual gala will mark the first time that the entire country-music community has gathered together since the October 1st Route 91 Harvest festival tragedy in Las Vegas, and the evening could well serve as a cathartic moment for artists and fans alike.
But the show won’t be all about broken hearts. After all, it’s a celebration of the preeminent songs, albums and artists of the past year, with big time performances from Garth Brooks, Keith Urban, Maren Morris, Pink and others all on tap.
Here’s everything you need to know before the CMA Awards kick off Wednesday night at 8:00 p.m. ET on ABC.
How to watch: Coverage of this year’s event begins on the CMA Awards red carpet 30 minutes before showtime, with ABC carrying arrivals and interviews at 7:30 p.m. ET. The opening number will begin at 8:00 p.m. sharp, and while details are scarce, it could be the night’s first viral moment.
Who’s hosting: Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood return to host for a 10th consecutive time. Normally known for lighthearted comedy (with a few edgy zingers thrown in), the duo’s monologue is especially anticipated this year. Paisley has said it’ll be all about balance. “This is a challenging year in some ways, but at the same time I’m really honored we have the keys,” he recently told Rolling Stone.
Who’s up for awards? Miranda Lambert leads the field with five nominations – she’s up for Female Vocalist, Single, Song, Video and Album of the Year, for her double LP The Weight of These Wings. Urban and Little Big Town are tied with four nods each, while the Entertainer of the Year category features Urban, Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Chris Stapleton and last year’s winner Garth Brooks.
Who will take the stage? The performance lineup features veterans like Brooks and Alan Jackson and contemporary stars such as Eric Church and Thomas Rhett. Pop diva Pink is set to perform, as will former One Direction singer Niall Horan, who joins Maren Morris. Reba McEntire and Kelsea Ballerini are also scheduled to duet.
Who are the new artists to know? First-time nominees include California crooner Brett Young, neo-traditionalist Jon Pardi and Nineties revivalist Luke Combs, who all land in this year’s New Artist of the Year category (along with Old Dominion and Lauren Alaina). Veteran tag team LoCash earn their first nod for Vocal Duo of the Year, and Americana stalwart Jason Isbell earns his first-ever CMA nomination: Album of the Year for his LP The Nashville Sound.
Will Taylor Swift be there? It’s certainly possible. Although she appeared at last year’s milestone 50th CMAs, to present Entertainer of the Year, she’s actually nominated this time: her first nod since 2014, as the songwriter of Little Big Town’s “Better Man,” up for Song of the Year. To boot, the previous two CMAs have featured pop superstars in key performances – Justin Timberlake joined Chris Stapleton in 2015, and Beyoncé ignited controversy in 2016 with the Dixie Chicks. With a new album due Friday, Swift could stage another Nashville homecoming.