Nashville, Tenn. • The Country Music Association Awards paid tribute to the past, present and future, giving George Strait his third entertainer of the year trophy on Wednesday while also awarding a quartet of 20-somethings who are helping to stretch the ever-fluid boundaries of the country music genre.
Strait won the CMA's top honor for the first time since 1990 in something of a victory lap as he launches the final leg of his The Cowboy Rides Away tour his goodbye to touring. Taylor Swift, Florida Georgia Line and Kacey Musgraves were among the top winners, as were husband and wife Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert.
"This blows me away," the 61-year-old legend, whose competition included Swift and Shelton, told the audience after a standing ovation. "I just cannot believe it. You guys that are nominated are such powerful entertainers. I'm just thrilled to even be nominated again."
He later joked backstage, "The cowboy might be riding in again."
Swift won two trophies for her "Highway Don't Care" collaboration with Tim McGraw and Keith Urban. Shelton also won two awards, including the prestigious album of the year for "Based on a True Story ..." and male vocalist of the year for the fourth time, matching Lambert, who won her fourth female vocalist of the year award.
Shelton and Lambert have been favorites for the past three years and Wednesday was no different. One or the other has been among top winners at the awards the last three years.
"We have been at the bottom before," Shelton said of a lull that nearly sank his career. "And somehow dug our way out and I'm up here talking about this."
Florida Georgia Line's Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley scored single and vocal duo of the year. Their quick tally was more proof the so-called bro country movement is the sound of the moment in mainstream country. FGL kicked off the show performing a fist-pumping medley with Luke Bryan, and very quickly returned to the stage to take the trophy for single of the year for their "Cruise" remix featuring Nelly. They also played the new song "Round Here."
"It's been a constant thing all year we've been trying to wrap our minds around what's going on," Hubbard said backstage. "It's been a dream come true for us and a huge blessing for us and something we could have never imagined."
Musgraves who, along with Swift, led all nominees with six won the new artist trophy, besting a field that included Florida Georgia Line. With smart songwriting, a progressive bent and a strong sense of self like country's other top women, Musgraves made an auspicious mainstream country debut this year with her album "Same Trailer Different Park." She attended with her grandmother.
"It's amazing what 52 weeks can do to a person," Musgraves said. "... Last year I had really crappy seats. You know, I was just sitting back with my roommate just as a fan. And here I am holding this thing."
Swift, who performed a somber, acoustic version of her hit "Red" with Vince Gill, Alison Krauss and Sam Bush, was given the CMA's Pinnacle Award. The award goes to artists who take country music to a worldwide audience. Garth Brooks is the only previous winner in 2005.