NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tim McGraw was named best entertainer at the Country Music Association awards Wednesday night during a ceremony that pushed patriotism front-and-center.
McGraw added an addendum to his acceptance speech thanking record company executives and his wife, singer Faith Hill. He shouted out his gratitude to U.S. soldiers fighting in the war on terrorism.
"God bless you guys ... taking care of us over in Godforsaken land," McGraw said.
Brooks & Dunn opened the show with their patriotic hit "Only in America" on a stage outlined in red, white and blue. Streamers straight out of a Fourth of July parade were released in the audience near the end of the number. The show ended with a stage full of stars singing "America the Beautiful" before a large American flag.
The Dixie Chicks and Alan Jackson premiered new songs inspired by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Jackson's was titled, "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)."
"Did you go to the church and hold hands with some strangers, or stand in line and give your own blood," Jackson sang about the aftermath of the attacks. "Faith, hope and love are some good things [God] gave us, and the greatest is love."
Lee Ann Womack was named best female vocalist, and Toby Keith won best male vocalist. Brooks & Dunn took home their ninth award for best duo, and Lonestar was named best group.
"We are so proud to be part of country music," said Dean Sams of Lonestar. "Thanks for letting us be a part of what's healing this country right now."
Host Vince Gill said America needed "all the red, white and blue we can get these days."
"In times like these, we need music more," Gill said. "It's always such a huge part of our American heritage. Throughout history, music has always lifted our spirits in times of struggle."
The soundtrack to the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? won two awards, best album and single for "I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow."
Producer T Bone Burnett singled out bluegrass great Ralph Stanley for praise, and paid tribute to two artists on the album who have since died. Those were John Hartford, and James Hill of The Fairfield Four gospel vocal group.
"Too Country" won for best vocal event. Young star Brad Paisley recruited veterans George Jones, Bill Anderson and Buck Owens for his record of Anderson's song, which defends traditional American values and music.
"These are literally my three heroes," Paisley said. "I'm proud to call them my friends, too."
Performances included Garth Brooks teaming up with Jones for their rollicking hit single "Beer Run." Willie Nelson and pop star Sheryl Crow sang a reggae-tinged number, "I'll Be There for You."
Backstage, security was increased over previous years. Rehearsals were taped with an eye to broadcasting some of them if the live event were somehow forced off the air.
About 6,000 CMA members nominate and select the winners.