ABCIf you had to wait for several years to finally win your first-ever CMA award, it might as well be for Entertainer of the Year.  That’s what happened to Luke Bryan Wednesday night at the 48th Annual CMA Awards, which aired live from Nashville on ABC.

Luke, who’d been nominated numerous times but had never won, was named the winner of the night’s biggest and most prestigious award, and was handed his trophy by none other than Garth Brooks, making a much-anticipated return appearance to the CMA stage.  “First of all, I’ve never met Garth,” Luke joked. “Hey, Garth!  Can I hug you again?” 

But the singer soon got serious, thanking “everybody in my world that’s put this moment in my life together.”  That included his family, his friends, and, as he said, “all my heroes in the front row” — the other superstar artists he has toured with and learned from over the years.  He also mentioned his late brother and sister as his “angels in heaven, making this night possible for me.”  He finished, though, with a grin, declaring, “We’re gonna have a goood time tonight!”

Luke’s triumph aside, it was a very good night for women in country music — in particular, one woman: Miranda Lambert.  Not only did she take home her second Album of the Year trophy for Platinum and her first-ever Single of the Year award for “Automatic,” she shared the Musical Event of the Year award with Keith Urban for “We Were Us.”  But most significantly, she won her fifth Female Vocalist of the Year award, making her the all-time winner in that category. Martina McBride and Reba McEntire have each won four times.

During her acceptance speech, Miranda said, “I can’t believe this is my life.  This is what I get to do for a living. This is my JOB! Thank you, fans for that.”  Tearing up, she laughed, “Dammit, I cry every time!”  She added, “Thank you for letting me live my dream and for believing in my art. It means the world to me.”

Miranda also performed her new single “Smokinand Drinkin‘” with Little Big Town, and duetted with Nashville-based pop star Meghan Trainor on her #1 smash “All About That Bass.”

But Miranda wasn’t the only female winner: Kacey Musgraves nabbed the Song of the Year trophy for “Follow Your Arrow,” which had initially raised eyebrows for its lyrics, “Make lots of noise/Kiss lots of boys/Or kiss lots of girls/If that’s something you’re into,” as well as its invitation to “Roll up a joint/or don’t.”  At the podium, Kacey marveled, “Do you guys know what this means for country music?  I’m so honored.”  As progressive as her music might be, though, Kacey proved she could be traditional, too, by duetting with the legendary Loretta Lynn on Lynn’s hit “You’re Lookin’ at Country.”

Little Big Town, which is 50 percent female, won their third straight Vocal Group of the Year trophy.  At the podium, Kimberly Schlapman said, “I don’t know why we’re the recipient of all these blessings coming down from heaven, but I tell you, we don’t take it for granted for a second!”  The group also turned in one of the night’s best performances, singing “Day Drinking,” backed up by a huge drum corps while wearing outfits with neon piping that changed color throughout the song, and then duetting with similarly-attired pop star Ariana Grande on her hit “Bang Bang.”

Miranda’s husband Blake Shelton also came out on top, taking home his fifth Male Vocalist of the Year trophy — which means that they each have five in their respective categories…how cute!  “I love you!” yelled Blake at the podium, before revealing that he was convinced Luke Bryan was going to win this year.  He also noted that the artist who he calls his “all-time-hero” — singer Earl Thomas Conley — had never won a CMA Award.  “This one right here’s for you, brother,” he said, dedicating the award to Conley.

As for the men, Florida Georgia Line won their second Vocal Duo of the Year trophy, while Brett Eldredge was named New Artist of the Year.  Dierks Bentley took home the Music Video of the Year Award for “Drunk on Plane.”  Vince Gill was given the prestigious Irving Waugh Award of Excellence, which has only ever been given to one other person: Johnny Cash.  Vince, who hosted the CMA Awards for 12 years, paid tribute to Waugh, a TV and radio executive who was instrumental in putting country music on television.  He also complimented the current generation of country stars, saying that he admired their camaraderie, and how much they all loved and supported each other.  “I’m envious of it,” he admitted. “It’s a beautiful thing to watch.”

Brad Paisley and a pregnant-but-barely showing Carrie Underwood hosted the show once again and turned the revelation that Carrie is expecting a boy with husband Mike Fisher into a comic routine.  The two also poked fun at the Ebola crisis, turning Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” into “Quarantine,” and complaining that President Obama isn’t doing enough to combat PPTSS — Post Partum Taylor Swift Disorder.  “I’m pretty sure that’s why the Democrats lost the Senate,” said Carrie, to loud, enthusiastic cheers.  But Brad invited Taylor back to country music any time she wanted, saying, “There’s always a seat for you right here.  It’s Blake’s — we’ll kick him out.”

The show ended with a big jam session featuring The Doobie Brothers — including Michael McDonald — performing “Takin’ It to the Streets” with Jennifer Nettles, Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellum, Brad Paisley and others.

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