Faith Hill, left, and Tim McGraw perform "The Rest of Our Life" at the 51st annual CMA Awards at the Bridgestone Arena on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017, in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
The Country Music Association's (CMA) annual awards on Wednesday blended sombre reflections on recent tragic events including the Las Vegas mass shooting, with show-stopping performances by top music stars and even a dose of political humour.
Eric Church opened the live three-hour broadcast from Nashville, which aired on ABC, with an a cappella rendition of the hymn "Amazing Grace."
Church was joined by Keith Urban and Darius Rucker, who led a roster of A-list country music stars including Lady Antebellum, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, Reba McEntire and Luke Bryan in a stirring group performance of "Hold My Hand."
Veteran hosts Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood took the reins, with Underwood declaring, "This has been a year marked by tragedy impacting countless lives, including so many in our country music family."
Underwood referenced mass shootings in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Texas, fatal car attacks in New York and Charlottesville, Virginia, and deadly storms that hit Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.
"Tonight," she proclaimed, "we're going to do what families do, come together, pray together, cry together and sing together, too."
Paisley then dedicated the 51st CMA Awards "to all those we've lost, and to all of those who are still healing. We love you, and we will never forget you."
Two hours into the show, the CMAs acted on that vow, ending a segment memorialising country stars who died this year by showing pictures and names of the 58 people killed by a gunman in Las Vegas at a country music festival on Oct. 1.
Earlier the hosts lightened things up with banter about the CMA's edicts on avoiding controversial subjects, before launching into jokes about Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
President Trump was not immune, lampooned for his cable news watching and Twitter habits and his personal style as Paisley sang "Before He Tweets," a take-off on Underwood's hit "Before He Cheats."
He sang about Trump tweeting "from a gold-plated White House toilet seat."
"It's fun to watch it that's for sure, 'til little Rocket Man starts a nuclear war. Maybe next time he'll think before he tweets," which drew cheers and applause, but fans' reaction on social media was divided.
Country music legend Garth Brooks was among the big winners, taking home the top award of Entertainer of the Year for a second straight year.
"We're a family," Brooks said, echoing a sentiment repeated often throughout the ceremony.
Female Vocalist of the Year went to Miranda Lambert while Chris Stapleton was again named Male Vocalist of the Year.
Other honourees included Single of the Year, won by Urban for "Blue Ain't Your colour," and Taylor Swift's "Better Man," which won Song of the Year.
Jon Pardi won for New Artist, while Stapleton won Album of the Year for “From a Room: Volume 1."
Little Big Town took Vocal Group of the Year and Brothers Osborne were named Vocal Duo of the Year, both for a second consecutive year.