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“It’s a great honor and I’m glad I achieved something,” he said.

McGraw debuted the single “One of Those Nights” from his new album “Two Lanes of Freedom. Lambert, dressed in a multi-colored bustier and leather pants, spun around on stage while playing her rockin’ song “Fastest Girl in Town.” The Band Perry delivered an energetic version of “Better Dig Two,” complete with laser light show.

“Pontoon” was something of a departure for Little Big Town, whose members include Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Schlapman, Jimi Westbrook and Phillip Sweet. Produced by Jay Joyce, who’s career started in the rock world, the song has a sharper groove than LBT’s previous efforts.

That song’s hard edge reflects country’s changing face and fan base.

From Swift’s army of empowered young women to the power-drinking party boys who prefer Church and Jason, country’s audience is much different than it was 10 years ago and that’s reflected in the awards. Church benefited with a leading five nominations, including first-time appearances in the album and male vocalist of the year categories.

Fans held handmade signs aimed at getting Swift’s attention. Rising star Brantley Gilbert rode up on a Harley Davidson motorcycle before greeting fans. Kellie Pickler showed up in a silver dress and ultra-short hairdo after donating her golden locks to cancer victims. Hunter Hayes and Luke Bryan received some of the loudest screams from teenage fans. And art imitated life as Hayden Panettiere and stars from the new show “Nashville” walked the carpet, drawing cheers just like the real-life performers they mimic on the hour-long drama.

Earlier in the day, Toby Keith won video of the year for “Red Solo Cup” and McGraw and Kenny Chesney shared a win in musical event of the year for “Party Like a Rock Star.”

“Kenny asked me to do this with him and we have been friends for over 20 years now,” McGraw said. “… Sitting back in our apartments in the old days, we would have never dreamed of something like this.”


AP writer Kristin M. Hall in Nashville contributed to this report.




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