Luke Bryan was named entertainer of the year at the Academy of Country Music Awards in Nashville, Tennessee – but the night belonged to female performers.
Maren Morris won two honours, including song of the year, at an event which featured both live and pre-recorded segments.
Miranda Lambert performed three times and held onto her record as the most decorated winner in ACM history.
Mickey Guyton, the first black woman to host the awards show, also gave a powerful vocal performance.
Another star performer was Carrie Underwood, who was joined by gospel legend CeCe Winans. Underwood performed songs from her recent gospel hymns album My Saviour, kicking off the set with Amazing Grace and Great Is Thy Faithfulness.
Lambert performed three times, first alongside rock-pop singer Elle King for an energetic performance of their new duet Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home). Lambert, who founded pet shelter non-profit MuttNation, also performed alongside album of the year winner Chris Stapleton for Maggie’s Song, a tribute to Stapleton’s dog who died 2019.
Her final performance was with Jack Ingram and Jon Randall.
The performances that aired on Sunday were pre-recorded at various locations in Nashville, including the Grand Ole Opry House, the Ryman Auditorium and The Bluebird Cafe.
Winners, wearing masks, accepted their awards in real time in front of small audiences made up of medical and health care workers.
Bryan was set to perform on Sunday but backed out of the show because he recently tested positive for coronavirus.
“I’m so sorry I could not be there,” he said from Los Angeles.
“And to all my fans out there and country radio, we miss touring. We’ve missed being on the road with everybody that makes me an entertainer. My bus drivers, my band, my crew – what a challenging year. But to all the fans and everybody, we’ll be back out on the road doing what we love.”
Morris spoke about the taxing year without live music when she won female artist of the year.
“Really just happy to be in a category with women that were not able to tour this year, but brought so much heat to the game to country music this year.
“You’ve inspired me so much to no end, and even in a year where no one’s gotten to play shows, I have heard some of the best music out of all of you this past year. So thank you so much for inspiring me,” she said.
Collaborating onstage was the theme of the awards show, and Morris and husband Ryan Hurd sang together, ending the performance with a kiss.
A teary-eyed Morris won song of the year for her Grammy-nominated hit The Bones, which topped the country music charts for months last year.
Morris lost out on single of the year, where all of the nominated songs were performed by female artists. Carly Pearce and Lee Brice’s duet, I Hope You’re Happy Now, took the prize.
“We wrote this song about my story and I guess it resonated with everybody,” Pearce said onstage, also thanking busbee, who produced the song and died in late 2019.
“This is the last song that my producer worked on.”
Another tender moment came when Blanco Brown presented Old Dominion with group of the year. It marked Brown’s first public appearance after suffering significant injuries in a head-on vehicle collision last year.
But the three-hour show was not without mishap. The Grammy-winning duo Dan + Shay performed their latest hit, Glad You Exist, but the pre-taped moment aired out of sync.
“Apparently there was an audio/video sync issue on the television broadcast,” the duo tweeted. “We’re bummed about it, but it happens, especially when performances are happening in multiple locations.”
Another mishap occurred when Martina McBride announced the winner of single of the year. McBride correctly announced I Hope You’re Happy Now, though I Hope by Gabby Barrett appeared on the TV screen.
Pearce and Brice’s I Hope You’re Happy Now also won musical event of the year, while Barrett was named new female artist of the year.
Rhett won male artist of the year and Jimmie Allen was named new male artist of the year.
Morgan Wallen, whose latest album and singles have found major success on both the country and pop charts, was declared ineligible by the ACMs after he was caught on camera using a racial slur earlier this year.