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CMA Awards show is one for the ages; Garth Brooks wins Entertainer of the Year

November 3, 2016 GMT

Just about everyone who was big in country music during the last 50 years was at Wednesday’s Country Music Association awards.

Starting with an all-star cast singing country hits and continuing through dozens of performances, it was like old home week for folks who have the bullet-shaped trophies on their mantels.

While fans of bro country might not have enjoyed the evening, it was the awards show true followers have been wanting for years. Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood sang classic songs; Alan Jackson offered “Remember When” (while several acceptance speeches rolled by). Barbara Mandrell, Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton provided perspective and Randy Travis, back on stage for the first time after a stroke, tossed in the hook from his hit, “Forever and Ever Amen.”

There were enough tearful moments for everyone.

To reinforce this was the place to be (sorry, World Series), Taylor Swift was there, too, and Beyonce joined the Dixie Chicks for a song that proved, eventually, everyone goes country.

While Garth Brooks won Entertainer of the Year, no one dominated the night. Indeed, for the first two hours plus, it was just a string of solo wins: Thomas Rhett for Single of the Year; “Humble and Kind” for Song of the Year; Maren Morris for Newcomer of the Year; Eric Church for Album of the Year; Brothers Osborne for Best Duo (an upset over Florida Georgia Line); Little Big Town for Vocal Group; Carrie Underwood for Female Vocalist; Chris Stapleton for Male Vocalist.

Interestingly, the newer stuff (particularly Luke Bryan swinging to a dorky “L.O.V.E.”) didn’t hold up to the veterans’ work -- like the Oak Ridge Boys singing “Elvira,” Brooks and Dunn sharing “Brand New Man” (with an off-key Jason Aldean) or Lee Greenwood singing “”Proud to an American” in really high key.

Carrie Underwood and Maren Morris probably moved lots of records with their wowser performances and Tim McGraw’s “Humble and Kind” had the kind of production values that should be remembered when they’re looking for presidential inauguration performances.

A tribute to a veteran star was something the CMAs always used to do (particularly when they were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame) and Monday the producers did it up right when they saluted Dolly Parton with the Lifetime Achievement Award. Reba, Jennifer Nettles, Carrie, Martina McBride and Kacey Musgraves sang a medley of her hits and joined forces for “I Will Always Love You” while Dolly sang along in the audience and cried. It was a moment for the ages.

Co-host Brad Paisley followed with a stirring “Today” that was set to a series of videos of past winners.

Although it’s unlikely the Emmy folks would consider this, Wednesday’s CMA Awards show deserves an award for its ability to capture five decades of thrills in one night. It was, in short, spectacular.