Garth Brooks has been named the Country Music Association's entertainer of the year. Brooks accepted the award Wednesday at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee.
He thanked his band, his crew and country music fans, saying, "The most important thing, other than God himself, are you: the people that allow us to be in the greatest music ever, country music."
Eric Church, Keith Urban, Darius Rucker and Lady Antebellum opened the 2017 Country Music Association Awards with a touching performance honoring the 58 people killed at a country music festival last month.
The Wednesday night awards show kicked off with Church singing an emotional version of "Amazing Grace," later joined by the other performers for "Hold My Hand."
At the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, a gunman fired on the crowd from a hotel room while Jason Aldean was onstage. Nearly 500 people were injured.
Reba McEntire, Luke Bryan, Thomas Rhett, Tim McGraw and others joined in to sing along at the Bridgestone Arena, earning a large applause from the crowd.
"This has been a year marked my tragedy ... Tonight we're going to do what families do, come together, pray together, cry together and sing together, too," co-host Carrie Underwood said.
"This show is dedicated to all those we lost," fellow host Brad Paisley said.
Paisley and Underwood are celebrating their 10-year anniversary — as hosts of the CMAs. They joked at the top of the show about CMA sending restrictions to press about what to ask singers on the red carpet, saying they shouldn't ask about politics or guns. They also riffed on politics, taking shots at both President Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
"Maybe next time he'll think before he tweets," they sang to the beat of Underwood's massive hit, "Before He Cheats."
Underwood will wear several hats during the show as host, performer and nominee. Last year, she ended Miranda Lambert's six-year streak as female vocalist of the year. Both singers are nominated for the award this year, along with McEntire, Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini.
Nominees for the show's top prize, entertainer of the year, include Bryan, Chris Stapleton, Urban, Church and last year's winner, Garth Brooks. Stapleton, Urban, Church, Rhett and Dierks Bentley are up for male vocalist of the year.
Sam Hunt's "Body Like a Back Road," which set a record for the most weeks at No. 1 on Billboard's Hot country songs chart with 34, lost single of the year to Urban's "Blue Ain't Your Color."
Urban and Hunt's tracks are also nominated for song of the year, a songwriter's award. In the category they will compete with Taylor Swift, who wrote Little Big Town's No. 1 hit "Better Man."
Little Big Town is among the country stars set to perform during the three-hour show. Others include Brooks, Stapleton, Bryan, Lambert, Rhett and pop singer Pink.
The night will feature a number of collaborative performances, including Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, Ballerini and McEntire, Maren Morris and Niall Horan of One Direction, Paisley and Kane Brown, and Bentley and Rascal Flatts.
Underwood said she's most excited to see Alan Jackson, the artist she first saw live.
"I love it when legendary artists like him perform on the CMAs. I think in our world today and even in country music, it's kind of like ... 'Who's new? Who's hot? Who can we get for the show?' And it's nice when you can have somebody that can go up there and show us how it's all done," she said.
But Paisley said Underwood will have the night's brightest performance.
"I'm telling you if that's not the No. 1 most-talked about thing the next day then I will be as wrong as I've ever been," he said.
Brothers Osborne, Jon Pardi and Old Dominion also will perform. The show is airing live on ABC.