Troy Gentry‘s memory lives on at country’s biggest night.
In honor of the country singer, who died on Sept. 8 at age 50 following a tragic helicopter accident, his longtime Montgomery Gentry bandmate Eddie Montgomery took to the stage at the 2017 CMA Awards in a surprise tribute.
As Dierks Bentley and Rascal Flatts belted out a rendition of “My Town,” one of Montgomery Gentry’s biggest hits, the surviving member of the band walked out onto the stage mid-song to sing his verse and honor his friend.
The crowd responded to the touching moment by standing to their feet as Gentry’s widow Angie and 15-year-old daughter Kaylee looked on, with tears in their eyes.
“He was there, man. He was there,” Montgomery told Good Morning America’s Lara Spencer following the performance. “I’ll tell you right now, he was just there.”
The singer added, “Love you, Brother T.”
Earlier in the night, Angie and Kaylee walked down the red carpet. Before he died, the singer had promised Kaylee he’d escort her to her first awards show this year and his wife made good on that promise in his place.
Gentry, known for his fun-loving free spirit, was gearing up for a performance at the Flying W Airport and Resort in Medford, New Jersey, when he opted to take an impromptu helicopter ride ahead of the show. His bandmate, Montgomery had waited inside the airport.
“Nobody loved life more than Troy Gentry,” music journalist and author Holly Gleason told PEOPLE at the time. “Whatever adventure, all night party or hardcore hillbilly song, he was up for it.”
RELATED VIDEO: Eddie Montgomery Faces the Future in Grief at Troy Gentry’s Memorial
One of country music’s most recognizable duos, Montgomery Gentry was nominated for a Grammy in 2008 and inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 2009. Days after the accident Gentry’s life was celebrated by friends, family and country’s biggest stars during a public memorial in Nashville.
Montgomery Gentry’s new album Here’s to You, featuring unreleased songs recorded by Gentry before his death, will be released February 2018.