Plus: Check out the singer channeling Taylor Swift before the ceremony

By Katherine Foreman
Updated September 02, 2015 10:15 AM
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Nancy Kruh

Miranda Lambert isn’t one to shy away from a bold performance.

So when she took to the stage Tuesday at the ACM Honors celebration at the iconic Ryman Auditorium to perform the racy and fiercely independent Loretta Lynn single, “Rated X,” it was in full “Texas born and raised spitfire” fashion, as described by the night’s host Jake Owen.

“She sang songs that were not necessarily appropriate at times – like this for me,” said the recently divorced Lambert, who danced around the stage in a hot pink backless dress. “I’m so thankful for women empowerment.”

It appeared to be a fun night out for the singer, who’s been busy writing new music with her Nashville gal pals. She even channeled Taylor Swift earlier in the night, posting a curling iron rendition of “Bad Blood.”

She later posted a photo of herself with Lynn on Instagram, captioning it, “I had a great time last night singing “Rated X” by this amazing lady! I love you so much Miss Loretta! Thank you for being you. You paved the way.”

Joining Lambert and Owen was a rollicking group of country’s most loved names – Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Jason Aldean and Kacey Musgraves – who combined forces at the 9th Annual ACM Honors in musical celebration of the non-televised winners and honorees from the 50th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards, held in April 2015.

True to Southern form, the night’s tribute-filled events ran much like a family reunion, with both new and old power players in the business embracing the rich cultural history of the pack while leaving space for some good ole fashioned fun.

Owen, who recently split from wife Lacey and walked the pre-show red carpet with his mother, began the intimate show by endearingly referring to his peers as his “country music family.”

Bryan mirrored the sentiment during his Gene Weed Special Achievement Award acceptance speech with a heartfelt “This is family – in this room – it’s family,” right before poking fun at the not-present country singer Blake Shelton.

“It’s kind of exciting, because Blake Shelton isn’t going to come up here and rush me off,” Bryan joked of his banter-prone ACM Awards cohost. “They told me to keep it short, but I’m not going to do that right now.”

Bryan was only one among a long list of inspiring recipients of the night, including big-time industry legends like Alabama, writer and producer Barry Adelman, songwriters Luke Laird, Bob McDill and Felice and Boudleaux Bryant and country music queen Loretta Lynn for an eclectic round-up of the successes both in front of and, most importantly, behind the scenes of country music.

“The special part about tonight is that it goes beyond what people can see on T.V. on the big ACM Awards show,” Bryan told PEOPLE on the red carpet. “The ACMs really make time to award those people who really make this town go around – truck drivers and bus drivers and everybody behind the scenes.”

“You don’t have to speak English to speak music fluently,” said Jim Reeves International Award recipient and “Talladega” singer Eric Church. “It will never be a politician who saves the world, it will be an artist.”

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