The 53rd Annual Academy of Country Music Awards were held Sunday (April 15th) in Las Vegas, marking a huge night for country music fans. Two things made the evening even more memorable than usual ahead of the broadcast.

One, artists and fans were returning to Vegas six months after a gunman killed 58 people at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. Two, Carrie Underwood took to the stage for the first time since her November accident which resulted in multiple injuries, including one requiring dozens of stitches to her face.

Held inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas and broadcast live on CBS, Reba McEntire served as the evening’s host (her 15th time in the saddle!). She made headlines earlier this year by becoming KFC’s first female Colonel Harland Sanders, and she kept viewers on their toes all night, delivering a fun-filled show with plenty of laughter and light to counterbalance some of the more serious moments. The evening kicked off with a somber moment when Jason Aldean, Miranda Lambert, Luke Bryan, Maren Morris and Thomas Rhett opened the show by talking about the healing power of music. “Music helps us remember what really matters in life,” said Bryan. Morris added, “Music does so much more than provide an escape from the pain. It inspires us, it soothes us and it makes us stronger.” Aldean added that in honor of Las Vegas shooting victims and their family and friends, “We celebrate music tonight.” McEntire quickly had the audience laughing through the tears by gently ribbing her previous hosts Bryan and Dierks Bentley and catching everyone up on a year’s worth of baby and marriage gossip. Jason Aldean was named Entertainer of the Year, while Lambert snagged awards for Song of the Year and Female Vocalist of the Year. Chris Stapleton stole the show without even being there, by winning the ACM Album of the Year for “From a Room: Volume 1,” and welcoming twins at the same time (McEntire accepted the award on his behalf and delivered the good news from the stork to a shocked and delighted audience). It’s safe to say Sunday is a day Stapleton will always remember. (It was also his 40th birthday!) It’s been a big year for him in general: he released two top-selling albums last year, and was the top nominee at the ACMs with eight.

WINNERS

Entertainer of the year: Jason Aldean Male vocalist of the year: Chris Stapleton Single record of the year: “Body Like a Back Road” by Sam Hunt Female vocalist of the year: Miranda Lambert Vocal event of the year: “The Fighter” by Keith Urban Vocal group of the year: Old Dominion Album of the year: “From a Room: Vol. 1” by Chris Stapleton Song of the year: “Tin Man” by Miranda Lambert New female vocalist of the year: Lauren Alaina New male vocalist of the year: Brett Young New vocal duo or group of the year: Midland Songwriter of the year: Rhett Akins

PERFORMANCES

Kenny Chesney kicked off the fun with the television debut of the song “Get Along.” Maren Morris gave a spirited performance of “Rich” wearing, aptly, a golden gown. (In front of a larger-than-life lit-up neon sign that also read “Rich.”) With 10 no, 1 singles under his belt, a confident Chris Young brought a soulful, stripped-down version of “Losing Sleep” to the stage, his vocals accompanied only by two guitars. Florida Georgia Line and Bebe Rexha performed a dazzling “Meant To Be,” against a starry backdrop and swaying backup singers. Brett Young, who won for the Award for New Male Vocalist, performed “In Case You Didn’t Know.” Alan Jackson and Jon Pardi had everyone singing with an infectious toe-tapping rendition of “Chattahoochee.” Lady Antebellum delivered a heartfelt “Heart Break.” Dierks Bentley, in all black delivered a rock n’ roll rendition of “Woman, Amen,” against a backdrop of black and white photos of real, strong women (think police officers, doctors, mothers). Then he clinched it by descending from the stage to embrace his wife Cassidy Black. (Bryan attempted to cut in, but Bentley playfully rebuffed him). Blake Shelton performed a thoughtful, nostalgic rendition of “I Lived It.” Kane Brown featuring Lauren Alaina sang “What Ifs” against a blue sky, thrashing ocean, amid swirling mist. Afterwards, they introduced a segment about ACM Lifting Lives, a philanthropic arm of the ACM that has been instrumental in the recovery following the Las Vegas shooting. Keith Urban sang and swayed his way through a theatrical “Coming Home,” with the lyrics written over filmed scenes of life on the road, urban landscapes, a hand strumming a guitar, ocean vistas and embracing friends and family. Julia Michaels joined him onstage. Kelsea Ballerini was lowered down to the stage from the ceiling in a neon heart to perform “I Hate Love Songs,” and stripping off her sparkling pink ball-gown mid-song in favor of a bedazzled jeans, a white tank and white hi-tops as rose petals descended. Jason Aldean sang “You Make It Easy.” Miranda Lambert performs a fiery (in every sense) “Keeper of the Flame” as multiple forms of explosive spark shot forth from the stage. Little Big Town played their eerie, exquisite countrified take on the Elton John classic “Rocket Man,” all while wearing equally compelling and otherworldly sequined suits and furs in front of extraterrestrial scenes. Blake Shelton and Toby Keith kicked it old school with “Should’ve Been a Cowboy.” The audience was definitely there for it, singing along, dancing and guzzling brews. After winning New Vocal Group, Midland got up to sing “Drinkin’ Problem.” Carrie Underwood looked more stunning—and confident—than ever performing “Cry Pretty.” She got a standing ovation. Dan + Shay perform an acoustic “Tequila” with a lot of help from backup singers and the audience. Darius Rucker sang “For the First Time.” Thomas Rhett delivered a heartfelt “Marry Me.” Luke Bryan brought an uplifting “Most People Are Good.” New female vocalist of the year Lauren Alaina performs an enthusiastic “Doin’ Fine.” Kelly Clarkson steps up to introduce mother-in-law Reba McEntire for a mesmerizing rendition of “Does He Love You.” Clarkson then joins her onstage and the pair sing the sultry number, pulling off what could be a weirdly tense duet considering their IRL relationship, with their trademark grace. (And for fans doing a double take … yep, that is the same scandalous red dress McEntire wore in 1993 at the CMA Awards, and yep, it’s still smoking hot). Chris Janson closes out the broadcast with a rocking rendition of “Redneck Life.”

BROADCAST SOUND

In clip one, Ashton Kutcher and Sam Elliott present Vocal Event of the Year.

“As country fans, we're so grateful to all of the artists who have both appeared on our show The Ranch, and allowed us to showcase their great music. This next award is for vocal event. I mean, to be honest, any time Sam Elliott speaks, it's a vocal event. Funny. Now, here are the artists who gave us unforgettable once-in-a-lifetime experiences.”

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