LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Florida Georgia Line and Justin Moore were early winners at the 49th Academy of Country Music awards, while the genre's biggest names, including Blake Shelton, Lady Antebellum, Eric Church and Keith Urban, sang their hits.
The first award of the night came an hour into the performance-filled show, when Nashville band Florida Georgia Line, formed by Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard, won vocal duo of the year.
"Country music is alive and well baby," Kelley said.
The duo, who won the coveted New Artist of the Year award last year, presented this year's fan-voted accolade in the category to newcomer Justin Moore.
Moore, donning a white cowboy hat on stage, gave an emotional, tear-filled speech accepting his award.
"Country radio, thank you for giving me a voice and taking a chance on a hillbilly from Arkansas," the singer said.
Singers Miranda Lambert and Tim McGraw led the nominees this year with seven nods each. Lambert and Luke Bryan were big winners at last year's Academy of Country Music awards, with Lambert winning four accolades and Bryan winning the night's top prize for Entertainer of the Year.
The Academy of Country Music is an organization of music industry professionals who aim to promote and preserve the tradition of country music, and they vote for the top country music achievers for their annual awards ceremony.
This year, both Lambert and Bryan are nominated for Entertainer of the Year, along with Shelton, George Straight and Taylor Swift.
PERFORMANCES SPAN COUNTRY MUSIC GENRE
The three-hour show televised live on CBS gave out a handful of awards in between performances from artists spanning the spectrum from country music, from Brett Eldredge's summery song "Beat of the Music" to Shelton's intimate performance of "My Eyes" featuring Gwen Sebastian.
Bryan and Shelton took on hosting duties at Sunday's awards ceremony at the MGM Grand hotel in Las Vegas, quipping about their fellow musicians and issues such as marijuana legalization and same-sex marriage.
"If you don't like live music, you need to go down the block and see Britney Spears," Shelton joked in the presence of pop singer Spears' younger sister Jamie Lynn, who is currently trying to carve out a career in country music.
Shelton also took the stage to sing with his fellow judge from NBC's "The Voice" judges panel, Colombian singer Shakira, singing their duet "Medicine." Bryan performed his latest feel-good summer song "Play It Again."
Sibling group The Band Perry kicked off the awards with its hit "Chainsaw," while Brad Paisley entertained the poolside crew with his latest song "River Bank," and singer Stevie Nicks joined Lady Antebellum to sing "Golden" and Nick's classic song "Rhiannon."
Church belted out his anthem "Give Me Back My Hometown," Urban added some rock'n'roll with "Even The Stars Fall 4 U," while veteran singer Strait received a standing ovation after performing his new song "I Got a Car."
(Writing by Piya Sinha-Roy in Los Angeles; Editing by Eric Walsh)