NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The entertainer of the year trophy at the Country Music Association Awards is one of the most coveted honors in the genre, but sometimes it’s OK to lose — like, say, when George Strait is a nominee.
Strait won his third entertainer of the year award and his first since 1990 on Wednesday night against country music’s current hit makers, and no one seemed disappointed. Blake Shelton — one of five performers with a leading two victories — was excited to lose to the 61-year-old whose popularity defies his age.
“That’s how it needs to be because he’s not just entertainer of the year, he’s entertainer of the last three decades, I guess, or four decades,” Shelton said. “I don’t know who’s keeping score. I mean, it’s George Strait. He’s King George. I couldn’t be happier with how this turned out.”
Shelton was one of five top winners with two trophies apiece, along with Florida Georgia Line and the trio of Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw and Keith Urban, who won music video and music event of the year for their “Highway Don’t Care” collaboration.
Like Strait, Swift also was going for her third entertainer of the year, which would have been a CMA record for a woman. Like Shelton, she couldn’t have cared less when she lost, instead hugging Faith Hill as they cried tears of joy for Strait. She noted they’ve both opened for Strait in their careers and she recounted a story about how Strait and his wife Norma dropped in to one of her first headlining concerts when she was a teenager just to wish her luck.
The crowd gave Strait a standing ovation as he made his way to the stage, and stayed standing throughout his speech. It wasn’t just a special night for those in the arena. It was also the show’s top trending moment on Facebook.
His retirement from the road has gained lots of attention, but Strait isn’t a relic. He recently earned his record 60th No. 1 and signed a five-album deal with Universal Music Nashville.
Backstage, he shared with reporters how it has felt as he circles the country on his The Cowboy Rides Away tour, his last.
“When I first started out this year, the first few shows, I about lost it every night, you know, leaving the stage … thinking, ‘This might be the last time I ever play on this stage again,’” Strait said.
Strait’s victory capped a show that was simultaneously focused on the past, present and future.
Shelton, his wife Miranda Lambert and Swift all continued their winning ways. Shelton took album of the year for “Based on a True Story …,” and won his fourth male vocalist of the year. Voters supplied some symmetry when they named Lambert female vocalist of the year, also for the fourth time, tying her with friend Reba McEntire.
It was the third straight year in which Lambert or Shelton were among the top winners, and capped a year in which they were dogged by tabloid stories about their relationship. Lambert said she wasn’t sure why the CMA’s 6,000 voters love the couple so much.
“You know, pillow talk, literally, we’re like, ‘Well, our year was last year,’” Lambert said. “It was great, a great run while we had it. We’ll drink tonight and celebrate all of our friends winning, because literally all of my friends won awards tonight.”
Swift, who performed a somber, acoustic version of her hit “Red” with Vince Gill, Alison Krauss and Sam Bush, won her eighth and ninth CMA trophies before being honored with the association’s Pinnacle Award, given to an artist who has taken country to a worldwide audience.
The CMA brought a star-studded welcoming group on stage for Swift that included Strait, Rascal Flatts, McGraw and Hill, Urban and Brad Paisley — all of whom gave Swift a chance to open for them on the road a teenager. A video salute followed with appearances by Justin Timberlake, Julia Roberts, Carly Simon, Ethel Kennedy and Mick Jagger — whose appearance made Swift shout.