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55th annual CMA awards - the blow by blow

Jeffrey Remz  |  November 10, 2021

The 55th annual Country Music Awards gets underway.

8 p.m. - Miranda Lambert Lambert kicks things off with some of her old hits, "Kerosene," "Mama's Broken Heart," "Bluebird," "Little Red Wagon" and the older "Gunpowder and Lead." Lambert sounds good though she's rocking it. Not a surprise though.

8:05 p.m. - "We have fans," said host Luke Bryan. May be the best words spoken all night. The CMAs are being held in Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. "As a kid, I grew up watching the CMA awards every year."

"I know it's definitely not all about the nominations because I don't have any," said Bryan. "That's fine. I'm not bitter." Bryan pointed out he did win two Entertainer of the Year honors, the biggest award. "Some even say I've been robbed of a couple or two."

Bryan has a folksy approach, but he's on the milequetoast side. "Whatever makes you country, you are welcome here tonight," said Bryan. That's the huge tent of country music these years, many years.

8:12 p.m. - Chris Stapleton wins Song of the Year with Mike Henderson for "Startin' Over." "When I first got to town, I'd never written a song in my life," said Henderson, who cited Kevin Welch among others who first helped him out. Stapleton's always low key, and he's no different here as he handed the mic over to Henderson right away.

8:18 p.m. - The country upper echelon are at a bunch of tables at the front, giving a feel of the mucky mucks holding sway. It gets corny with Darius Rucker coming out amidst some silly patter with Bryan before introducing Dierks Bentley, HARDY and Breland on "Beers On Me," which actually has a country feel.

8:24 p.m. - Eric Church lights it up. - literally with "Heart on Fire" as flames shoot up at the front of the stage and behind him. Joanne Cotten is one strong singer. Too bad she never had much of her own career, but, hey, she got a damn good gig as evidenced going toe to toe with Church. Great song. Super delivery.

8:32 p.m. - Carly Pearce and Ashley McBryde on "Never Wanted to Be That Girl." I would not have thought they were duet partners, but this song works. McBryde's career has steadily been on the rise. Ditto for Pearce even though they come at the genre from different places. Nice to hear Dobro filling the song in the gaps. The emphasis was pretty much strictly on the vocals though.

8:36 p.m. - Vocal Duo of the Year - Brothers Osborne for the fourth time. "Every time that we have won this award, it never cases to be's been a crazy rollercoaster of a year for us...especially for me emotionally," said singer TJ Osborne. He came out as gay this year, a rarity in country music.

8:39 p.m. - Zac Brown is back in action with "Same Boat," yet another country ditty with nice fiddle work from Jimmy De Martini. It's a perfect song for these times of urging people - in a very easy going way - to get it together. "Wishing on the same stars," Brown sings. Nice job. Nice song.

Interesting that there's definitely a more traditional country bent to the performances thus far.

8:47 p.m. - Gabby Barrett owns such a great voice as demonstrated on "The Good Ones." She certainly can belt it out with the very best of them, but not on this song and no need. And her sidekick, husband/guitarist Cade Foehner, provides nice backing harmonies. The string section makes perfect sense on this song as well. Carrie Underwood was mentioned before she went out to sing and makes sense. Not so sure about her outfit though. Focus on the song, not on the gown.

8:52 p.m. - New Artist of the Year goes to Jimmie Allen. Quite the outfit - pink pants, hat and silver boots. "First I wanna thank my father who's no longer with us to introduce me to country music," he said. He talked about spending his last $100 to see the late Black country star Charley Pride.

Allen gave his speech through tears, in a very heartfelt speech to say the least.

8:55 p.m. - Kane Brown and Chris Young sing "Famous Friends." Real good. The best part of it may have been what popped up on the screen behind them - high school photos of country stars and what they were most likely to do. In the case of McBryde, it was to be a professional country singer. Great prognosticators! Not bad. And a solid delivery of the song by Brown and Young.

9:04 p.m. - Carrie Underwood and Jason Aldean duet on "If I Didn't Love You." I would not have thought of these two dueting either. No bad performances thus far, but more of a pop song than country.

9:07 p.m. - Blake Shelton sings "Come Back as a Country Boy." He may want to, but this isn't a very country sounding song either. More like rock. Good, but nothing great.

9:17 p.m. - Keith Urban rocks out on "Wild Hearts." The song kicks, but it is not the least bit country. Doesn't mean it's a bad song, but hard to figure these kinds of songs on a country awards show.

9:20 p.m. - Deana Carter and Lainey Wilson are presenters but they also did a nice job singing some of "Strawberry Wine," now 25 years old.

9:21 p.m. - Single of the Year goes to Stapleton for "Starting Over." "Incredible," he said. "I don't know what to say." Dave Cobb and Vance Powell also won the award for being producer and sound engineer respectively.

9:25 p.m. - Mickey Guyton with Brittney Spencer and Melinda Edwards on "I Love My Hair." The song was inspired by a true story of a Black girl who was given grief at school over her braids. Three powerful singers with a lot of hair showing tonight. Spencer has come a long way since singing in our Black Country Music Matters Festival last year - and she sang well there too! Congrats on a great pairing.

9:34 p.m. - Old Dominion plays a summertime song "I Was on a Boat That Day." It's a feel good, breezy song probably best played in summer. It just doesn't have the same impact as say "I Love My Hair."

9:36 p.m. - Chris Stapleton belts out "Cold," a bluesy ballad. He always manages to dig down deep with his vocal delivery. He can turn it up and pivot big time. Strings enhance the song. Stapleton isn't flashy, but he knows a thing or two about how to sing.

9:46 p.m. - Russell Dickerson and Utah teen, Sarah Frei, a double amputee, recognize teachers in a touching tribute, mainly due to Frei. Wow.

9:51 p.m - Luke Combs never seems to be afraid to sing new songs, even if they're not on an album. He debuts "Doin' This" tonight. Slower song, although he soon turns it on vocally. he never fails to satisfy vocally. And great job for including pedal steel at the end. hH makes everything sound easy.

9:56 p.m. - Old Dominion wins Vocal Group of the Year. "Isn't this room beautiful," said lead singer Matthew Ramsey. "The first time was a shock. This is really a special thing to be able to stand up another year and be rewarded for what we absolutely love to do. I hope you out there believe in something and chase after it."

10:03 p.m. - Luke Bryan is just too corny in introducing Thomas Rhett with Lady A.

10:03 p.m. - Rhett then sings "Country Again." He gets back to his country roots with this song. He delivers it well with acoustic leading the way musically. Oh my gosh, there's even pedal steel. Now, that's an instrument you rarely hear these days in country music or at least what you se on these shows. Way to go!

10:07 p.m. - Susan Sarandon and Trace Adkins yuk it up on promoting their upcoming show "Monarch." Urgh.

10:09 p.m. - the great night continues for Chris Stapleton as Album of the Year is his for "Starting Over." I ant to say thank you to my wife, again. I can't do this without ever. I want to thank everybody who listened to the record. Everybody who listened to music...There are a lot of great records in this category...we worked really hard to make albums. We believe in albums." Powell and Cobb also took the honors for their roles in engineering and producing the album. Stapelton obviously is deserving.

10:11 p.m. - Dan + Shay reprise "I Should Probably Go to Bed," a big hit for them. Shay Mooney is real good with his soulful vocals, but is this a country song? Me thinks not. And I got to say that they make me nervous on that riser, but I'm projecting. More power to them.

10:21 p.m. - Aretha Franklin, who had nothing to do with country, so I thought, gets tributed by Jennifer Hudson on Willie Nelson's "Night Life." Stapleton joins her, but Hudson dominates. This may be the vocal performance of the night. That woman sure can sing, but like other songs tonight, hard to say that this has anything to do with country. Aretha cut the song about 10 years ago.

Hudson followed it up with "You Are My Sunshine" with Stapleton having a more prominent role. Awesome performance by Hudson. Breland seems to have loved it also.

10:34 p.m. - Marty Stuart with wife Connie smith at his side gets a shout out from Bryan for soon joining the Country Music Hall of Fame. Glad for Marty. So deserving.

10:36 p.m. - Allen is back to sing "Freedom Was a Highway." Not sure where Brad Paisley is. Change of outfit BTW for Allen with a shiny black top and black pants and black and silver boots this time. I'm not big into prognosticating, but I suspect good things are going to go Allen's way.

10:40 p.m. Carly Pearce wins Female Vocalist of the Year. "I never thought this would happen," Pearce said, I think. It was really hard to understand anything she said, before McBryde came up to help out Pearce. "I"ve had such a crazy year," said Pearce referring to her split from ex-husband Michael Ray and her biographical new album. "Country music saved me at a time that I needed it most. This is all I've ever wanted. Thank you. Country music is all I love. So thank you so much." Pearce was overwhelmed with emotion.

10:41 p.m. - Brothers Osborne offers "Younger Me" after TJ talks about his struggles. He came out earlier this year as gay, a major to do in country music. They released the song earlier this year. Osborne offers the lines: "Younger me Hanging out but not quite fitting in / Didn't know that being different / Really wouldn't be the end." Well said and well delivered.

10:51 p.m. - Bryan sings "Up." I can't say as that I've ever gotten excited by Bryan, and he's not doing anything to change my opinion. Easy going, singing is fine, but that's about it.

10:56 p.m. - Chris Stapleton wins Male Vocalist of the Year for the fifth time. No surprise. "Man, amazing," he said. "Amazing. All the guys in this category. A lot of them took me on the road...I don't know what to say. I'm running out of words. What an amazing night."

11:03 p.m. - Entertainer of the Year - Not Chris Stapleton. It's Luke Combs in a shock based on other results tonight. "I'm really kind of at a loss for words. Alan Jackson said my name twice just now, but I honestly don't know what to say. I have never written a speech for something like this which has not served me well...I don't deserve to win this, but I'm sure as hell glad that I did."

11:06 p.m. - Bryan closes out the night with "I Don't Want This Night to End." Fitting of course.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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