By Kurt Wolff

The three-hour broadcast of the 48th Academy of Country Music Awards is over now, and the winners have been named and honored. At the top of that list is, of course, Luke Bryan, who walked away with Entertainer of the Year.

Luke’s win was certainly a highlight of the evening–he went knocked-over surprised to practically bawling on stage, and finally came round enough to give a speech thanking fans that was probably as genuine as anything an award winner has given to date. This kind of raw emotional reaction is of course exactly what country fans adore in their artists–and what sets this genre apart.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

But Luke wasn’t the only one to show that degree of tearful sincerity during the show. Both Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert battled emotions as they accepted Record and Song of the Year awards for “Over You,” a song they wrote together and that Miranda recorded and turned into a Number One hit. The photo of them embracing on stage is one of the night’s most memorable.

Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

As for the award, Miranda noted that “having your songs and lyrics be recognized by your peers is as good as it gets.” And she also made sure to give a shout out to country music as a whole, saying that she loves being a part of the genre because “every time someone gets nominated, I just cheer.”

You could see that love not only from fans but between artists all night long. Blake Shelton seemed truly excited that his cohost Luke Bryan won Entertainer of the Year, for instance (as did Shania Twain, who presented the award and practically had to hold Luke up when he accepted). Same goes for Jason Aldean’s win for Male Vocalist of the Year–the high fives he got as he took the stage, including the cheers from fellow nominee Eric Church, was impressive.

And speaking of Eric Church, while he wasn’t nominated for Entertainer of the Year, and didn’t win Male Vocalist, he did take home a trophy for Album of the Year for Chief, which is a plenty significant honor. He was handed the trophy by presenter John Fogerty, and noted that he couldn’t believe he just met the Creedence Clearwater Revival bandleader. “We should hang out later,” he said, probably only half joking.

Eric Church also gave one of the night’s most powerful performances with “Like Jesus Does.” Performing completely solo with just an acoustic guitar, it was proof that great songwriting is fully capable of standing on its own–even stripped down to this degree and presented during a fast-paced, prime-time broadcast.

Most of the night’s performances, though, were far bigger in terms of production. Lady Antebellum pulled off “Downtown” with all the sass and swagger intact, despite the fact that lead singer Hillary Scott is six months pregnant (frankly, that just added a whole new dimension to the song’s appeal). Carrie Underwood showcased her knockout vocal chops on “Two Black Cadillacs,” as did Kelly Clarkson on “Don’t Rush” (carrying the song just fine even without her duet partner Vince Gill).

And speaking of big productions, there was no escaping the smashing power of The Band Perry, who pretty much kicked ass on a performance of their current single “DONE.” The Perry siblings are gunning for rock star status with that song, which featured smoke pots as well as some smoking choreography. Faith Hill’s fist pump at song’s end felt genuine and justified.

The Band Perry

The Band Perry (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Jason Aldean veered into goofball territory with the Joe Diffie chorus (not to mention the Diffie caricature that flashed on the screen behind him) during “1994,” but the song is so nutty and lovable that he pulls it off.

Further performances included Brad Paisley (including a duet with John Mayer), Jewel, Blake Shelton (both his “Boys Round Here” opener and a stripped-down “Sure Be Cool If You Did”), Keny Chesney, Luke Bryan (debuting his new song “Crash My Party”), Hunter Hayes (both alone and with Stevie Wonder in a pairing that was one of the most enjoyable of the night), Tim McGraw (paired with Taylor Swift and Keith Urban for “Highway Don’t Care”), and Little Big Town (with a unique backdrop featuring live dancers).

Little Big Town performs

Little Big Town performs during the ACM Awards (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The much-loved Little Big Town, in fact, was one of the night’s notable winners, picking up both Vocal Group of the Year and Video of the Year for “Tornado.”

George Strait took the stage early on to perform “Give It All We Got Tonight,” and in one of the show’s much-touted highlights, he returned later during the broadcast to share the stage with fellow Country Music Hall of Famer Garth Brooks, in a tribute to the late Dick Clark. Garth first performed “The Dance,” before Strait joined him on stage for “The Cowboy Rides Away.”

George Strait and Garth Brooks at the 48th ACM Awards

George Strait and Garth Brooks at the 48th ACM Awards (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The Strait-Brooks pairing wasn’t as surprising as Bryan’s win or as emotional as Miranda Lambert’ acceptance speech. It was more significant for what it represented. But when you talk about performances that really resonated from the core, those belonged to Church, The Band Perry, and the Hunter Hayes/Stevie Wonder duet — all for different reasons.

All told, though, it was certainly a big night for country music, and one that will likely be talked about for weeks, or months, to come.


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