Kenny Chesney won entertainer of the year and Carrie Underwood took home female vocalist and single of the year honors at the Country Music Association Awards on Wednesday.
Chesney, who also took the association’s top honor last year and in 2004, was humble in his acceptance.
“I can’t believe that I get to stand on the stages that I stand on every summer and get to sing the songs that I sing,” the star said. “I love country music and I love doing what I do.”
“God has blessed me with so many wonderful things,” said Underwood, who gained fame by winning “American Idol.” “If you told me a few years ago I had been nominated with the people I’m nominated with, I would have called you absolutely insane.”
Brad Paisley, who won male vocalist, teared up as he thanked his father, who he said carried amplifiers and ran sound “even though he didn’t know what he was doing.”
“I can’t tell you what this means to me to win this. I always wanted to win this award at least once — this will do,” said Paisley, who also won music video for his hit “Online.”
Rascal Flatts won top vocal group, and George Strait took top album for “It Just Comes Natural.”
“If we’re standing up here, we have this lofty view because we’re standing on the shoulders of giants who’ve come before us,” said Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles.
Brooks & Dunn had won the duo category 14 of the last 15 years, including the last six in a row.
Swift gave a tearful speech in which she joked, “This is definitely the highlight of my senior year.”
Giving thanks to country radio
Rascal Flatts’ Gary LeVox thanked country radio for “being our mouthpiece.”
“What we do means nothing if no one gets to hear it,” said LeVox, who performed a duet, “She Goes All the Way,” with actor-comedian Jamie Foxx.
Strait had said that of his five nominations, which tied him with Paisley for the most of the night, he wanted to win the album trophy the most.
Strait’s hit “Give It Away” won song of the year.
“You all been letting me do this for 50 years, and I love you,” said Bill Anderson, who co-wrote “Give It Away” with Buddy Cannon and Jamey Johnson.
Other winners included Tracy Lawrence, featuring Tim McGraw and Chesney, for musical event for “Find Out Who Your Friends Are”; and dobro great Jerry Douglas of Union Station as musician of the year.
“This was something that we all wanted to sing,” Lawrence said of the hit. “It was something that was in our wheelhouse. I think we all related to it.”
Eagles fly again
Paisley performed “Online” with the Brentwood, Tenn., High School marching band. Other performers were Underwood, Rascal Flatts, Miranda Lambert, Strait, Swift, Alison Krauss & Union Station, Big & Rich, Rodney Atkins, Brooks & Dunn, Sugarland, Martina McBride, Keith Urban, Chesney, Josh Turner, Kellie Pickler and the Eagles.
Vince Gill introduced the Eagles, who played their single “How Long” and received a standing ovation.
“For 35 years or more, these next guys have been writing songs like we wished we could write,” Gill said.
Rascal Flatts opened the show with the title track to its latest album, “Still Feels Good,” while a montage of country stars flashed on large screens behind them, including a photo of Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner. Wagoner died last week of lung cancer.
Dwight Yoakam also paid tribute to Wagoner, calling him a pioneer and a groundbreaker to the end.
The show was broadcast live on ABC and was hosted by James Denton of “Desperate Houswives,” Kate Walsh of “Private Practice” and Kimberly Williams-Paisley — Brad Paisley’s wife — of “According to Jim.”
“I’m like a kid in a candy store here. Lots of good country snacks. I’m all excited and giddy,” Walsh cracked.