The Country Music Association Awards return for the 52nd time on Wednesday night, with this year’s show set to celebrate another fruitful year in country, and also look ahead to what’s next.
The CMAs feature a number of interesting races this year, but as always it’s the performances that generate the most buzz, even outside of Nashville — remember Chris Stapleton and Justin Timberlake’s viral moment in 2015? This time, there’s a pop and country collaboration that has captured fans’ attention for almost a whole year; the return of a powerhouse trio; and a new song from Garth Brooks.
Here’s everything you need to know before the 52nd annual CMA Awards kick off November 14th, live from Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena.
How to watch: Luke Bryan’s performance of “What Makes You Country,” with some still unannounced special guests, opens the show at 8:00 p.m. ET on ABC, with multiple digital outlets carrying live red-carpet coverage prior to the ceremonies.
Who’s hosting: Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood return for the 11th consecutive year as co-hosts, putting them one year behind the all-time leader Vince Gill, who led proceedings for 12 straight years between 1992 and 2003. With some big country moments to highlight, a major election dominating the news and Underwood expecting her second child, there should be plenty of fodder for another mix of wholesome laughs, intentionally awkward medleys, and eye-rolling dad jokes.
Who’s up for awards: Chris Stapleton leads the field with five nominations, including Entertainer of the Year, Male Vocalist of the Year and Album of the Year for From A Room: Volume 2. His closest competition going into this year’s show is actually a producer: Dann Huff has four nods for his work with Midland, Thomas Rhett and Keith Urban. Meanwhile, Jason Aldean, Dierks Bentley, Dan + Shay, Florida Georgia Line, Chris Janson, Miranda Lambert, Midland, Rhett and Urban are each up for three awards. Brothers Osborne look to defend their Vocal Duo of the Year title for a third straight year, Old Dominion hope to snag their first CMA award, and Stapleton is joined in the Entertainer field by a group of established superstars — Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Kenny Chesney and Urban.
Popular on Rolling Stone
Who will take the stage: The 52nd show will be heavy on attention-grabbing performances. Chief among them: a collaboration between Chris Stapleton, Maren Morris and R&B/gospel icon Mavis Staples. There’s also the return of Pistol Annies, the acclaimed trio of Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley, and a performance by Eric Church. Collaborations include pop star Bebe Rexha and Florida Georgia Line, teaming up for their record-breaking hit “Meant to Be” — which still reigns atop Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart after 49 weeks. Lambert will also join Jason Aldean for their twice-nominated “Drowns the Whiskey,” and Dierks Bentley will enlist Brothers Osborne for “Burning Man,” up for Musical Event of the Year. Other performers include Bryan, Underwood, Chesney, Luke Combs, Kelsea Ballerini, Kacey Musgraves, Midland and Brett Young.
Who are the new artists to know: The New Artist of the Year category is much the same as last year’s field, with Lauren Alaina, Luke Combs and Brett Young all returning alongside fresh arrivals Midland and Chris Janson. Combs, however, is a surprise entry in the Male Vocalist of the Year race, and Janson’s first CMA nod is joined by two more – he’s also up for Song of the Year and Music Video for “Drunk Girl.” Meanwhile, Old Dominion are poised to deliver their first full song performance, hitting the stage with the recent Number One “Hotel Key.”
Any big surprises to watch for? With a well-documented flair for the dramatic, Garth Brooks is set to debut a brand new single in honor of his wife, country singer Trisha Yearwood — but he’s keeping the details under wraps until show night. Up until a few weeks ago, Brooks was threatening to not perform at this year’s show at all unless producers allowed him to sing the new track, a tearjerker ballad about the strength of a woman. Unfamiliar ballads are not normally staples of awards shows, as they run the risk of boring viewers into changing the channel, but needless to say, the G Man has prevailed once again.