Eric Church took home the 2016 CMA AwardsAlbum of the Year trophy during the show's 50th anniversary ceremony, held Wednesday night (Nov. 2). Church won for Mr. Misunderstood, the record he, by surprise, released last year on the same day as the 2015 CMA Awards.

"Being a fan of country music, I revere country music and the history of it," Church shared with The Boot and other reporters backstage after his big win. "Part of the reason that this award means so much to me is, I’m a student of it; I’m a student of country music ...

"I’ve always believed that if you put everything into making the best record you can make and release it, and regardless of the press and the hype, that the music wins," he added. "And I think, for me, that was the biggest thing about tonight, is, music wins.

"You don’t need a 12-week add cycle on a bunch of networks to do an album. I think the way we did this was, we let the music lead, and we started with the fans," Church continued. "I didn’t think we’d be here a year later winning Album of the Year, but we made the best album we could, and we just let the music be the music. I think that, for our entire career, that’s what we’ve always tried to do."

During the 2016 CMAs' broadcast, Church performed the Mr. Misunderstood cut "Kill a Word" with Rhiannon Giddens. Their song was part of one of the most performance-driven shows in the history of country music, with artists from the past five decades being recognized for their musical contributions to country music.

"I’ve performed a lot on awards shows; I’ve played a lot of songs. But I don’t know that I ever had a performance that felt more important and timely than this one," Church mused backstage. "With Rhiannon, I was a big fan of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, first of all, and for her to be able to stand up there and be able to put emotion on it is the big thing ... I was honored to share the stage with her."

Few the awards show's few hours, Church admits that he became a fan first, soaking in all of the collaborations he got to watch and singers he got to meet.

"The opening alone was mind-blowing. I was backstage, and I’m sitting there with Oliva Newton-John. It’s all I can do not to go into “Summer [Nights]" ... It’s just surreal," Church recalled. "For me, to be a fan of country music and to have a night like tonight, when we all come together and we honor what it is -- I’m most proud that we did that, that we didn’t just come out here and everybody play their single, that we honored where we came from, and I think it’s important for where we’re going. I think it was the best awards show I’ve been a part of."

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