Brad Paisley — who will cohost the awards with Carrie Underwood Wednesday — opened up to PEOPLE exclusively about plans for the telecast, which will pay tribute to those harmed at the Route 91 Harvest Festival. In October, a gunman killed 58 people and injured 527 at the country music festival, making it the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
“It’s very important to use this show as a vehicle to uplift our community and our industry,” says Paisley, 45. “No one wants an entire show that’s negative or dark; that wouldn’t be doing a service, honestly, to what happened.”
Paisley adds: “The best thing we can do is acknowledge it, pay our respects, and then perform this music and use this music for what it’s best at, which is unifying and giving us joy and finding the light here. I think that’s really what we want to do.”
“This year’s show is dedicated to all those lost and all those still healing. We love you and we will never forget you,” Paisley said as they opened the show.
Now in their tenth year of hosting country music’s biggest night, Paisley and Underwood, 34, will continue to use comedy in their monologue and throughout the show.
“Humor is an important aspect,” says Paisley. “It may be more important than ever that we make some people laugh this year.”
The Country Music Association faced backlash last week when the organization released its media guidelines for the 2017 awards, which prohibited press from focusing on questions about “the Las Vegas tragedy, gun rights, political affiliations or topics of the like.” CMA later retracted the restrictions after Nashville stars — including Paisley, Maren Morris and Cam — spoke out against them.
Miranda Lambert, Little Big Town and Keith Urban scored the most nominations for the awards show, where Reba McEntire and Kelsea Ballerini, Niall Horan, Garth Brooks, Thomas Rhett and many more will perform.
The 51st CMA Awards will be held at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville on Nov. 8 at 8 p.m. ET. The show will air live on ABC.