Go Inside the CMA Awards 2021 Portrait Studio — and Get the Story Behind the Strings

Country music is a community. Behind the headliners of every album and tour are the bands, the guitar techs, the session players, the repair shops, and other vital talents whose work you hear but don't necessarily see — until you take a closer look.  For this year's CMA Awards, I wanted to spotlight the inner workings of the Country Music industry and also celebrate a return to touring. This year's portrait studio is designed entirely out of upcycled guitar strings — more than 3,000 sets — that have been plucked and strummed by the industry's finest musicians. Over the past six months, I've collected approximately 16,500 individual strings from the bands of Luke Bryan, Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood, Ashley McBryde, Darius Rucker, Kane Brown, Thomas Rhett, Blake Shelton, Eric Church, Old Dominion, Brothers Osborne, Jimmie Allen, Dan + Shay, Little Big Town, Luke Combs, Zac Brown Band and Carly Pearce, as well as Grand Ole Opry players. Local guitar shops in Nashville like Gruhn Guitars, Carter Vintage Guitars, Corner Music and Artisan Guitars also graciously contributed used strings. These individual strings were soldered into 10-foot-long strands and arranged into a visually compelling backdrop for artists and other CMA attendees on the red carpet. The resulting portraits echo the experience of listening to your favorite country songs: You'll notice the star right away — but take a closer look and you'll find their hardworking community shining brightly right behind them.

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CAROLINE and LUKE BRYAN

CMA Awards Portraits; Bridgestone Arena; 11/10/21
Katie Kauss
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TJ and JOHN OSBORNE of BROTHERS OSBORNE

CMA Awards Portraits; Bridgestone Arena; 11/10/21
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JIMMIE and ALEXIS ALLEN

CMA Awards Portraits; Bridgestone Arena; 11/10/21
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NICOLE and LUKE COMBS

CMA Awards Portraits; Bridgestone Arena; 11/10/21
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KELSEA BALLERINI and MORGAN EVANS

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JASON and BRITTANY ALDEAN

CMA Awards Portraits; Bridgestone Arena; 11/10/21
Jason and Brittany Aldean. Katie Kauss
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DARIUS RUCKER

CMA Awards Portraits; Bridgestone Arena; 11/10/21
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MAREN MORRIS and RYAN HURD

CMA Awards Portraits; Bridgestone Arena; 11/10/21
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DIERKS and CASSIDY BENTLEY

CMA Awards Portraits; Bridgestone Arena; 11/10/21
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ASHLEY McBRYDE and CARLY PEARCE

CMA Awards Portraits; Bridgestone Arena; 11/10/21
Ashley McBryde and Carly Pearce. Katie Kauss
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THOMAS RHETT and PAIGE LANKFORD

CMA Awards Portraits; Bridgestone Arena; 11/10/21
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HAYLEY and TYLER HUBBARD

CMA Awards Portraits; Bridgestone Arena; 11/10/21
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CHRIS YOUNG

CMA Awards Portraits; Bridgestone Arena; 11/10/21
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DAVE HAYWOOD, HILLARY SCOTT and CHARLES KELLEY of LADY A

CMA Awards Portraits; Bridgestone Arena; 11/10/21
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CHARLES and CASSIE KELLEY

CMA Awards Portraits; Bridgestone Arena; 11/10/21
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CHRIS TYRELL and HILLARY SCOTT

CMA Awards Portraits; Bridgestone Arena; 11/10/21
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KELLI and DAVE HAYWOOD

CMA Awards Portraits; Bridgestone Arena; 11/10/21
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PHILIP SWEET, KIMBERLY SCHLAPMAN, JIMI WESTBROOK and KAREN FAIRCHILD of LITTLE BIG TOWN

CMA Awards Portraits; Bridgestone Arena; 11/10/21
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RUSSELL and KAILEY DICKERSON

CMA Awards Portraits; Bridgestone Arena; 11/10/21
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TENILLE TOWNES

CMA Awards Portraits; Bridgestone Arena; 11/10/21
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SCOTTY and GABI McCREERY

CMA Awards Portraits; Bridgestone Arena; 11/10/21
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MICKEY GUYTON

CMA Awards Portraits; Bridgestone Arena; 11/10/21
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CAMERON DUDDY, MARK WYSTRACH and JESS CARSON of MIDLAND

CMA Awards Portraits
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ELLE KING and DAN TOOKER

CMA Awards Portraits; Bridgestone Arena; 11/10/21
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BRITTNEY SPENCER

CMA Awards Portraits; Bridgestone Arena; 11/10/21
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MADDIE MARLOW and TAYLOR DYE of MADDIE & TAE

CMA Awards Portraits; Bridgestone Arena; 11/10/21
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NAOMI COOKE and MARTIN JOHNSON

CMA Awards Portraits
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ZAC BROWN BAND and CAROLINE JONES

CMA Awards Portraits
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FILMORE and PAIGE FILMORE

CMA Awards Portraits; Bridgestone Arena; 11/10/21
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SHANE McANALLY and MICHAEL BAUM

CMA Awards Portraits
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HARDY and CALEIGH RYAN

CMA Awards Portraits; Bridgestone Arena; 11/10/21
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KRISTEN and CHARLIE WORSHAM

CMA Awards Portraits; Bridgestone Arena; 11/10/21
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LAINEY WILSON

CMA Awards Portraits; Bridgestone Arena; 11/10/21
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JORDAN DAVIS

CMA Awards Portraits; Bridgestone Arena; 11/10/21
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DEANA CARTER

CMA Awards Portraits; Bridgestone Arena; 11/10/21
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LIONEL RICHIE

CMA Awards Portraits; Bridgestone Arena; 11/10/21
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JAZMYN SIMON and DULÉ HILL

CMA Awards Portraits; Bridgestone Arena; 11/10/21
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PAUL DiGIOVANNI and KATIE STEVENS

CMA Awards Portraits; Bridgestone Arena; 11/10/21
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CHELSEA and FREDDIE FREEMAN

CMA Awards Portraits; Bridgestone Arena; 11/10/21
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LAUREN DAIGLE

CMA Awards Portraits; Bridgestone Arena; 11/10/21
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HAYLEY ORRANTIA

CMA Awards Portraits; Bridgestone Arena; 11/10/21
Katie Kauss
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