There was a lot of hype and some controversy surrounding this year’s CMA Awards. With the Las Vegas shooting still front and center in everyone’s hearts, and another mass shooting occurring just days before, many across the nation were watching to see how the show would respond.
The producers and stars opted for class and dignity, presenting a message of unity rather than division. The show did include two somber moments of reflection: Eric Church’s brief performance of “Amazing Grace,” and Carrie Underwood’s moving memorial to stars lost and fans who were killed in Las Vegas.
Really though, this year’s show wasn’t much different than previous years.
Here’s our recap of the best and worst moments from “Country Music’s Biggest Night.”
Good: Eddie Montgomery’s Surprise Appearance
Two months after losing his bandmate Troy Gentry in a helicopter crash, Eddie Montgomery returned to the public stage for a surprise tribute to his friend and musical partner. Dierks Bentley and Rascal Flatts joined Montgomery for “My Town.” Eddie, while clearly still reeling from T-Roy’s passing, seemed truly happy to be back on stage.
Good: Little Big Town’s Tribute to Glen Campbell
The best vocal group in modern country delivered a stunning cover of “Witchita Lineman” with the songwriter and Campbell confidant Jimmy Webb. Some critics say this song doesn’t hold up in modern times, but this performance helps show why it’s an all-time classic.
Good: Miranda Lambert Brings Classic Country Back
Authentic, classically-minded country on the CMA Awards stage? Whaddya know! Miranda Lambert gave one of the best performances of the night with her song “To Know Her” featured on her Weight of These Wings album.
Good: Sturgill Simpson Busks Outside
While the show kicked off at the Bridgestone Arena, Grammy Award-winning country artist Sturgill Simpson outside busking and taking questions from passersby. He had his Grammy inside his guitar case, along with two humorous and thought-provoking signs. The world, especially the country world, needs more artists like Sturgill Simpson.
Good: Brad and Carrie Skewer Trump
Co-hosts Brad and Carrie took President Trump to task with a handful of jokes, some for his reckless Twitter habit and another for the recent indictments facing his previous administration members. It seems even country music has grown weary of Trump’s behavior.
The Good: Carrie’s Hymnal for Las Vegas Victims
The Las Vegas shooting was the elephant in the room last night, but the 2017 CMA Awards made it clear from the get-go that this was going to be a celebration of unity and triumphs from the year. Carrie Underwood took the challenging task of memorializing the victims by singing a powerful hymn midway through the show.
Carrie sang while audience members held lights in a vigil and images of country stars and industry members lost were displayed on a screen behind her. Towards the end, the 58 Las Vegas victims faces and names were shown in a grid on the screen. We do wish they had done more, but the performance was dignified and moving.
Bad: Luke Bryan’s “Light It Up”
Luke Bryan’s new song that’s basically a big reference to using your smartphone is, well… not good. And his CMA performance of the new single last night didn’t help to sell it. Pitchy and lackluster, this was one of the stinkers from the show.
Bad: The Opening Number
Millions were waiting to see how the CMA Awards would open. What would they do? It started with Eric Church singing “Amazing Grace” under a cold spotlight. Ok, that seems apropos. Then… a 25-year-old Hootie and the Blowfish song? I mean, we get it — “Hold My Hand” is all about unity and making it through hard times, but if there was going to be an epic country music choir sing along trying to address the elephant in the room, couldn’t they have at least used an actual country song?
Bad: Cutting Off Old Dominion
These guys keep getting the short end of the stick at CMA events while they’re playing the same song. Their performance of “No Such Thing As a Broken Heart” got sliced for an oddly placed promo. The same thing happened with the same song during CMA Fest. C’mon, y’all. These guys have enough notoriety at this point to give them their due.
The Weird: Garth Brooks Lip-Syncs
A lot of viewers were quick to notice that Garth Brooks was lip-syncing last night. Under most circumstances, lip-syncing is an obvious “bad” moment at any type of show, but I empathize with Garth here. The guy plays an insane amount of shows every week. I think he has 10 this week alone. Plus, he’s been going at that clip for a few years nearly non-stop. Give the guy a break.