NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Blake Shelton captured album of the year, Miranda Lambert won female vocalist of the year and Taylor Swift was honored with the Pinnacle award for her achievements, but it was George Strait who won the night's top honor at the Country Music Awards — entertainer of the year.
Strait, who is retiring from the road, won his third entertainer of the year award and his first since 1990 Wednesday night against country music's current hitmakers, 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."
"I had mentioned earlier today that if there was an award that would mean the most to me tonight, it would be album of the year," said Shelton, who won entertainer of the year last year and was in contention for it again this year.
Swift later performed a somber, acoustic version of her hit "Red" with Vince Gill, Alison Krauss and Sam Bush and was given the CMA's Pinnacle Award. The award goes to artists who take country music to a worldwide audience. Garth Brooks is the only previous winner. He won in 2005.
The CMA brought a star-studded welcoming group out of stage for Swift that included George Strait, Rascal Flatts, McGraw, Urban, Faith Hill and 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.
Swift recounted a call she got out of the blue from her Big Machine Records head Scott Borchetta when she was 16.
"He said, 'Can you be on the road in two days to open for Rascal Flatts,' and I immediately started screaming and said, 'This must be a miracle,'" she said. "He said, 'No, it's not a miracle. Eric Church got fired for playing too long."
She added: "You've made me feel so special right now, thank you."
Voters also cast an eye to the future, handing trophies to young stars Florida Georgia Line and Kacey Musgraves, who was a top nominee with Swift.
Florida Georgia Line's Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley scored single and vocal duo of the year. Their quick wins early in the show was more proof the so-called bro country movement is the sound of the moment in mainstream country. Florida Georgia Line kicked off the show performing a fist-pumping medley with Luke Bryan, and quickly returned to the stage to take the trophy for single of the year for their "Cruise" remix featuring Nelly. They also played the new song "Round Here."
"It's been a constant thing all year - we've been trying to wrap our minds around what's going on," Hubbard said backstage of the band's platinum success. "It's been a dream come true for us and a huge blessing for us and something we could have never imagined."
Musgraves won the new artist trophy, besting a field that included Florida Georgia Line.
"It's amazing what 52 weeks can do to a person," Musgraves said backstage. "... Last year I had really crappy seats. You know, I was just sitting back with my roommate just as a fan. And here I am holding this thing."
Lee Brice's "I'd Drive Your Truck," about a fallen soldier whose father still drives his truck, won song of the year, and Little Big Town took its second straight vocal group of the year.
Hosts Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley got the show going on a jovial note as they took the stage with their opening skit, first joking about feuds in music. They also skewered Obamacare to a Nashville audience that roared with approval, and brought out the guys from the hit show "Duck Dynasty" and parodied Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines."
Bryan and FGL weren't the only acts teaming up. Collaboration was the theme of the night as Strait and Alan Jackson joined together to salute the late George Jones with a rendition of "He Stopped Loving Her Today." Hunter Hayes and Jason Mraz took a tour of the Bridgestone Arena while performing "Everybody's Got Somebody But Me." And Brown and his band joined in on a growing hard-rock trend in country as Foo Fighter Dave Grohl joined the band on drums for new song high-powered "Day for the Dead." Eric Church earlier turned things up to 11 with his new song "The Outsiders."
And in one of the night's most anticipated moments, Kenny Rogers received the CMA's Willie Nelson lifetime achievement award and was saluted by Jennifer Nettles, Rucker and Rascal Flatts. Rogers sat on stage and mouthed along as Rascal Flatts sang "Just Dropped In (to See What Condition My Condition Is In)," the crowd helped Rucker sing "The Gambler" and Nettles and Rogers finished the tribute by singing "Islands in the Stream" together.
"It's been a hell of a month," Rogers said. "The (Country Music) Hall of Fame last week, this this week. I can't wait to see what's coming next week."
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
Students in the Academy of Energy and Power at Maplewood are busy getting ready for next week's Project Expo and had the opportunity to show it off some of their projects to Tennessee Congressman Jim Cooper.