The 2021 CMT Artist of the Year special aired last night from Nashville’s Schermerhorn Symphony Center, celebrating this year’s honorees Chris Stapleton, Gabby Barrett, Kane Brown, Kelsea Ballerini, and Luke Combs.
Randy Travis was also honored as the CMT Artist of a Lifetime, with Garth Brooks on hand to pay tribute to the singing legend declaring, “Randy Travis single-handedly saved country music.” “I wouldn’t be standing here if it wasn’t for Randy Travis,” Garth insisted. “I don’t think any of us would be.” He also said, “every artist in country music that takes the stage over the next 100 years should bow to this man and thank him for his contribution.”
Randy’s presence was felt throughout evening, with even Luke mentioning him in his speech noting, “to be in the same room and just have a small fraction of an impact on country music like you have is incredible.” Kane also told Randy how much of an influence he has been on him, and even sang one of Randy’s songs.
Of course, the night featured some great performances to celebrate this year’s honorees including:
- The show kicked off with Luke performing “Forever After All,” the number one song he wrote for his wife. Eric Church, via video, introduced Luke, sharing how much he admires him, noting “at the core of his success is a love of authentic music.” Eric added that he admires Luke because all his success “hasn’t changed him one bit.”
- Gabby, who was introduced by Michael W. Smith, performed her smash hit “The Good Ones.” “I do not feel like I deserve to be here in this room with all these amazing names,” she said. “It’s been a dream come true.”
- Kane used his performance slot to pay tribute to the night’s Artist of a Lifetime honoree, performing Randy Travis’ “Three Wooden Crosses.” He also gave a shout out to his late drummer, who passed away just before he received his first Artist of the Year award in 2019. Kane also called out Chris Stapleton, and admitted he was nervous singing in front of him, which made Chris laugh.
- Chris, meanwhile, did not perform himself, but he was honored with a performance of his song “Cold” by Boyz II Men and Pentatonix’s Kevin Olosula, and it was pretty apparent that both Chris and his wife Morgane loved it. In his speech an emotional Chris noted he “felt a lot of love in the room tonight,” adding, “that’s what music’s about, love.”