The 2018 CMT Artists of the Year ceremony took place at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville, Tenn., on Wednesday (Oct. 18). This year, the annual awards show took a pivotal turn in a new direction by honoring all women. There's an open dialogue happening in the country music industry about the gap women face, particularly at radio, and CMT responded by showing instead of telling.
Pistol Annies' Debut New Song "Sugar Daddy"
It was well worth the five-year wait for new music from the Pistol Annies, the trio consisting of Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley. They've teased their new album, Interstate Gospel, due out Nov. 2, with stellar songs so far, one being "Sugar Daddy," which they took to the Artists of the Year stage to perform. The first of the night's many performances, which only got better and better throughout the night, they kicked things off with sultry vocals and killer harmonies.
Kelsea Ballerini Sings Alison Krauss' "Ghost in This House" ... With Alison Krauss
Honoree Ballerini got a chance to sing alongside one of her personal heroes, 27-time Grammy Awards winner Alison Krauss. They performed one of her originals, "Ghost in This House," with Krauss on violin and both women providing powerhouse vocals. While accepting her award moments later, Ballerini gushed over getting to share a stage with Krauss and saluted CMT for "turning conversation into action."
Brandi Carlile and Maren Morris Cover the Queen of Soul
Carlile has long been a leader in the fight for equity within country and Americana music -- so much so that she's putting on an all-women festival in Mexico at the beginning of 2019, which Morris is booked to play. At the Artists of the Year ceremony, the two covered the recently deceased Franklin's "(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman." The bar was set high, but this performance was the most intriguing of the night. Carlile's bravado blended effortlessly into Morris' powerful pop voice for something extra special.
Hillary Scott, Tori Kelly and Kirk Franklin Mix Country, Pop and Gospel
Country, pop and gospel crossed over when Lady Antebellum's Scott, Kelly, Franklin and a backing choir joined forces. The three performed a medley of each artist's hits: "American Honey," "Never Alone" and "Oh Happy Day." The set was enthralling and passionate, pulling the audience out of their seats to dance along.
Loretta Lynn's Famous Friends Honor an Icon
Lambert introduced a Lynn tribute with grace, stating, "She taught us how to pursue our dreams and speak our minds." The medley dedicated to the honoree was a whirlwind from start to finish, but highlights included Martina McBride's cover of "You Ain't Woman Enough (to Take My Man)" and Sheryl Crow and Dierks Bentley performing "Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man." Their back-and-forth duet in the style of Conway Twitty and the icon herself was stunning.
One of the most emotional moments of the night took place when actress Spacek, who played Lynn in Coal Miner's Daughter, accepted the Artist of a Lifetime honor in her place. Spacek joked that Lynn offered her one of her gowns for the night, soon after choking back tears when speaking about how much Lynn means to her as a mentor.
Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman Sing With Gladys Knight ...
The Empress of Soul joined Fairchild and Schlapman in singing, among other songs, "I Can't Make You Love Me." Knight and the Little Big Town members gave an impassioned show, with Schlapman later saying, "Gladys Knight, you are our hero. In Heaven, we're gonna be your background singers."
... and Then Call Out the Industry
Though CMT did a solid job of honoring some of the greatest women in country music, Karen Fairchild took a moment during her acceptance speech to point out 35 women who aren't played on country radio or being recognized by the mainstream industry. She pointed out that those women, including Margo Price, Lillie Mae, Lucie Silvas and others, "are there for you to support and play on the radio if you want to." It was a warranted and needed statement, and a powerful move on Fairchild's part to use her platform to elevate even more women.
Carrie Underwood, Maddie & Tae and Runaway June Bring the House Down
Closing out the night, Underwood and her future Cry Pretty Tour special guests, Runaway June and Maddie & Tae, performed an all-star medley that spanned decades. They covered classics such as "Stand By Your Man," "Independence Day" and "Man! I Feel Like a Woman!," ending with Underwood's own "Cry Pretty." When accepting her honor, the final issued that night, Underwood recognized all the women watching: "You are not here because you are women; you are here because you are dang good."