Two-time CMA Entertainer of the Year winner Luke Bryan, who’s up for the same honor this evening, opened the 52nd annual awards show with a celebration of all things country, delivering a muscular performance of the title track from his album What Makes You Country while also demonstrating that one of country music’s chief assets is having friends with whom to share the experience.
Bryan was joined onstage for the performance by rising country stars Luke Combs (named New Artist of the Year later in the show), Cole Swindell, Lindsay Ell (who played a fiery guitar solo), Chris Janson (pulling double duty by singing and playing harmonica), Jon Pardi and Ashley McBryde. The collaboration was intended to highlight not only, in Bryan’s own words “a few deserving artists who may not otherwise have an opportunity to be a part of the show,” but to also shine the spotlight on the eclectic array of sounds that form the basis of modern country music, drawing not only from its own longstanding traditions but also incorporating other styles and popular genres.
The five-time CMA winner heads to Riviera Maya, Mexico, in January for the fifth annual Crash My Playa festival, with Thomas Rhett, Dustin Lynch and Lauren Alaina among the artists joining him. He’ll also return, along with fellow judges Katy Perry and Lionel Richie, for a second season of ABCs American Idol in 2019.