CARRIE, RANDY & BRAD
Co-hosts Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley kicked off the evening with a star-studded opening number. To end the set, the pals covered Randy Travis’ classic “Forever and Ever, Amen,” and the country veteran — who suffered a stroke in 2013 — joined the duo to deliver the track’s final line. Travis’ return to the stage left the A-list crowd moved, with Nicole Kidman pumping her hands in applause and Miranda Lambert wiping tears from her eyes.
ELLE & DIERKS
Dierks Bentley and rocker Elle King took the stage to deliver an electric performance of their hit “Different for Girls,” which earlier in the day was named musical event of the year.
Before accepting new artist of the year honors, rising star Maren Morris took Bridgestone Arena to church, offering a soulful rendition of her gospel-tinged breakout hit “My Church” that had everyone in the audience — from Lady Antebellum to the Florida Georgia Line boys — singing along.
GARTH & TRISHA
Garth Brooks and wife Trisha Yearwood shared the stage for a nostalgia-inducing medley of country classics, making their way through iconic cuts like “(I Never Promised You a) Rose Garden” (Lynn Anderson) and “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man” (Loretta Lynn).
LITTLE BIG TOWN
The Alabama quartet made their live debut of new single “Better Man,” the breakup jam penned by pal Taylor Swift.
With an acoustic guitar and her guttural growl, female vocalist of the year nominee Miranda Lambert received a standing ovation for her understated but powerful performance of her new single “Vice.”
BEYONCÉ & THE DIXIE CHICKS
They came to slay! Beyoncé owned the night, making her CMAs debut with a show-stopping rendition of her country-tinged “Daddy Lessons.” On hand to support Queen bey: the Dixie Chicks (Natalie Maines, Emily Robinson and Martie Maguire) on guitar, mandolin, banjo and backing vocals. The crossover collab comes after the Chicks covered the Lemonade cut while on tour in May.
CHRIS STAPLETON & DWIGHT YOAKAM
Last year, newcomer Chris Stapleton made his triumphant CMAs debut, teaming up with Tennessee native Justin Timberlake. And this year, he delivered another memorable duet, performing a cover of Willie Nelson’s “Seven Spanish Angels” with country vet Dwight Yoakam.
DOLLY PARTON TRIBUTE
Female country stars from several eras joined together to honor Dolly Parton, who receieved the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award, with covers of her classics. Jennifer Nettles (with the help of Pentatonix) sang “Jolene,” Reba McEntire worked overtime on “9 to 5” Kacey Musgraves delivered a rendition of “Here You Come Again” before the group — including Carrie Underwood and Martina McBride — lent their voices to “I Will Always Love You,” leaving the icon in tears before she accepted her award.