Nashville's Country Music Assn. used its 53rd CMA Awards ceremony Wednesday to go all in to support the genre's female practitioners, who have practically become an endangered species in recent years on male-dominated mainstream country radio.
The three-hour telecast was hosted by a trio of generation-spanning country superstars -- Carrie Underwood, Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire -- and loaded up on a majority of female performers and award presenters. Top awards also landed in the hands of album-of-the-year winner Maren Morris (for "Girl"), female vocalist Kacey Musgraves and new artist Ashley McBryde, among others.
The CMA's preeminent entertainer of the year award, however, went for the seventh time to superstar Garth Brooks, an honor that recognizes musicians' recorded music and live performances.
In collecting her first female vocalist trophy from the CMA, 31-year-old Musgraves said, "I feel that the female energy, the female spirit is really important right now. I think the earth needs it right now."
Sugarland singer Jennifer Nettles, in addition to being one of dozens of women featured in performance segments, further drove the point home on behalf of female artists even before the ceremony began, when she entered the Bridgestone Arena wearing a red cape with the words "Play our F@!!iN Records ... Please & Thank You" handwritten on it, and a female gender symbol on the left leg of her ivory slacks.
Relative newcomer Luke Combs, one of the major success stories in country music this year, was named male vocalist, and Brooks name-checked him when accepting his entertainer trophy, predicting, "Luke Combs, wherever you're at, this has your name on it in the future, I tell you that."
It was indeed a big night for Combs, who also shared the songwriting award with two collaborators when his hit single "Beautiful Crazy" was named song of the year, having rapidly become a contemporary country classic.
"People will come up and tell me that they danced to this song at their wedding," Combs, 29, told The Times in April when he was granted penultimate headliner status at Stagecoach, the world's largest country music festival. "We've had proposals in the crowd during that song. It really struck a chord."
Wednesday's show opened with a nearly nine-minute medley that saluted 87-year-old country queen Loretta Lynn, who looked on from a seat in the audience, as Sugarland singer Jennifer Nettles and Little Big Town's Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman sang Lynn's hit "You're Looking at Country" and the Highwomen quartet delivered "Your Good Girl Is Gonna Go Bad."
Then a series of female artists -- Tanya Tucker, Gretchen Wilson, Crystal Gayle (Lynn's sister), Terri Clark, Sara Evans and Martina McBride -- each offered a snippet of one of their hits over nearly 50 years. The segment was a striking reminder of earlier eras when women's voices were in the mix on country radio far more frequently than they have been lately.