Less than a week out from the most contentious election in generations, the stars at Wednesday night’s Country Music Association Awards in Nashville did not take the bait.
None of the night’s performers or presenters used their screen time to make any overt political mentions. The show’s hosts Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood poked fun at and lightheartedly lamented the never ending nature of this year’s campaigns, with a few gentle jabs at Donald Trump.
The only possible nod in an acceptance speech came from Chris Stapleton who used a Hillary Clinton slogan when he said, "I tell you, it takes a village," as he ran down a laundry list of thank yous while being pushed out by exit music.
As close as anything came to controversy was speculation about Beyoncé's appearance with the Dixie Chicks.
The artists have both made bold statements in the past, but Beyoncé just sang the country-tinged deep cut “Daddy Lessons,” a song that the Dixie Chicks have actually been covering on tour.
Beyonce’s appearance is expected to have had a positive impact on ratings but probably wasn't enough to push the 50th Anniversary show to the top spot. The broadcast had the misfortune of going up against the most watched World Series in recent memory, a fact not lost on ESPN analyst, and Middle Tennessee resident, Kirk Herbstreit. When presenting an award, he turned his sportscaster voice on and gave the crowd an update on the score.
For the most part, the CMAs set aside the Vegas-style production of recent years in favor of a focus on pure performance.
The show opener set the tone with an 8-minute musical journey through the decades, featuring everyone from Charlie Daniels to Charley Pride singing the most famous lines from their most famous songs. The medley ended with all of the artists lining up beside Randy Travis. The singer has has had trouble speaking since a near death stroke three years ago but was able to sing the final word of his signature song, "Forever and Ever, Amen."
The touching moment brought some fellow artists, like Miranda Lambert, to tears. That kind of mutual admiration permeated the night, with most of the evening coming off like one big singalong for the fans and the stars. The only people in the audience who didn’t seem to know all the words were the the actors and athletes.
Dolly Parton got a lifetime achievement award and was serenaded with a medley of her most famous songs. Parton was obviously moved but joked that she would have cried, she just didn't want to ruin her signature eyelashes. Her acceptance speech was cut short as the broadcast went far past its allotted prime time slot.
Last year, the show was dominated by a career-making appearance from Chris Stapleton. While nothing quite matched that moment, Maren Morris had what may be a breakout performance as she sang her hit “My Church,” a song that helped her nab New Artist of the Year. Morris began her acceptance speech by noting that she had “amazing seats tonight.” That’s a little different than where she was in 2015.
"So last year, I sat across the street at a bar and watched this show," she said to applause. "I never thought as a songwriter I'd be standing here today."
The final tally of the CMAs saw evenly distributed honors, with only Stapleton nabbing more than one award. All-time great Garth Brooks received the biggest prize, Entertainer of the Year.
"I gotta tell you," he said, lifting his trophy in the air. "We are so damn lucky to be part of this thing called country music."