During a night when country music artists typically celebrate one another, this year they instead offered comfort.
The Country Music Television Artists of the Year event is traditionally a celebration for artists who've made a difference, but because of recent events, the show on Wednesday turned into an emotional, heartfelt tribute for both those who have been lost — and a powerful call on the spirit of American resilience.
The special opened with a performance by Andra Day and Little Big Town singing Day's "Rise Up" as a tribute to the many who have experienced tragedy in 2017.
After the moving performance, several of the Artist of the Year honorees, including Luke Bryan, Chris Stapleton, Keith Urban, Jason Aldean and Florida Georgia Line's Tyler Hubbard and Bryan Kelley, spoke from the heart about what the night's show really meant to them.
"From Las Vegas to Puerto Rico, from Florida and Texas to Charlottesville and California, the entire nation is trying to process these devastating events," noted Stapleton. "But on this night, one that we usually celebrate a year of music, we also want to celebrate a year of incredible human spirit."
Urban underscored the need for unity and thanks to everyone who's pitched in. "We hope to remind you that everything we go though, we can get through when we stick together," he noted.
"Music can be so powerful, and we have never needed it more than we do right now," noted Bryan. "Music moves us ... Music brings us together and tonight we hope music can be a part of the healing."
Aldean, whose band was playing onstage during the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas on Oct. 1 when a gunman opened fire on the crowd, killing 58 people and injuring scores more, finished out the show's introduction.
"We've been tested beyond our worst nightmares the past few months," he said. "Heartbroken doesn't even begin to explain how some of us feel. But we have proven time and again in this country that we have the power to overcome anything that threatens our way of life, or our freedom."
Aldean put his tour on hold after the shooting, and appeared on "Saturday Night Live" on Oct. 7. He began performing live again last week.
In addition to the performances (including a tribute to the late Tom Petty), the show also featured honorees in prerecorded video packages speaking to the fans, asking them to contribute to disaster relief.
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Noted Aldean, "We dedicate this night to you and to everyone who's experienced loss or tragedy in the past few months ... we will get through this together."
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