Country music stars returned to Bridgestone Arena in downtown Nashville, Tennessee, on Wednesday night for the 55th annual Country Music Association Awards, hosted by singer Luke Bryan.
While Chris Stapleton was the night's big winner, taking home single, song and album of the year, as well as male vocalist of the year, there were plenty of unexpected moments as well.
Many were surprised when Luke Combs was named entertainer of the year for the first time, besting Stapleton, Eric Church, Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood.
"I'm really kind of at a loss," said the shocked hitmaker. "Every single person that was nominated for this award this year, and every year before, deserves to win this. I don't deserve to win it, but I'm sure as hell glad that I did!"
Meanwhile, Carly Pearce won her first female vocalist of the year trophy and was so emotional that her friend Ashley McBryde got onstage and spoke for her. "What she meant to say was, 'There's a lot of love, respect and admiration in this category,'" McBryde said with a laugh.
"I've had just, had, like a crazy year," Pearce said through sobs. "And I just want you guys to know that this means everything to me. Country music saved me at a time that I needed it and I just hope you guys know that this is all I've ever wanted in the entire world."
Former "Dancing With the Stars" competitor Jimmie Allen gave an emotional speech when he was named new artist of the year, becoming only the second Black performer to earn the honor. Darius Rucker was the first in 2009.
Allen recalled how, five years ago, he spent his last $100 to attend the CMA Awards so he could watch the late Charley Pride perform, and how, last year, he and Pride got to perform on the show together.
"It's been a crazy roller coaster of a year for us in so many ways, especially for me emotionally," he said. "And to have you all support me, it really does feel like love wins tonight."
Later, Brothers Osborne sang their powerful song "Younger Me," which T.J. Osborne introduced by explaining that while growing up watching the CMAs, he never thought he could be a part of it because of his sexuality.
Another powerful moment came when a young Black girl named Faith Fennidy introduced Mickey Guyton's performance of the song "Love My Hair." Fennidy, the inspiration behind the lyrics, was sent home from school for wearing braids and said that with "Love My Hair," Guyton was able to "make sure girls like me feel seen and loved." Guyton sang the song with Brittney Spencer and Madeline Edwards and all three women wore natural hair styles.
And in a moment reminiscent of the 2015 CMAs, when Stapleton and Justin Timberlake brought down the house, the country star took the stage with "Respect" star Jennifer Hudson for a soulful duet of "You Are My Sunshine." Stapleton also played guitar as Hudson sang Aretha Franklin's arrangement of Willie Nelson's "Night Life."
Other highlights of the night included Lambert's medley of hits, including “Kerosene,” "Little Red Wagon" and “Blue Bird"; Combs debuting his new song "Doin' It"; McBryde and Pearce performing "Never Wanted to Be That Girl"; Carrie Underwood and Jason Aldean singing "If I Didn't Love You"; and Deana Carter and Lainey Wilson leading the entire Bridgestone Arena in a singalong of Carter's classic "Strawberry Wine."