NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Kenny Chesney won entertainer of the year and Brooks & Dunn’s inspirational song “Believe’’ won three trophies, including single and song of the year, at the 40th Annual Country Music Association Awards Monday night.
“This year has in ways been the most emotionally satisfying year and also the most emotionally draining year of my life,’’ said Chesney, who went through a high-profile marriage and split with actress Renee Zellweger last year. “There have been so many ups and downs, it’s been like a huge emotional roller coaster ride.’’
Chesney also won the honor two years ago.
One of the night’s more poignant moments came from a winner who wasn’t even there — Keith Urban. The Aussie country star, who last month entered a rehabilitation center for alcohol abuse, won male vocalist of the year for the second year in a row.
When Urban’s name was announced, he received a standing ovation, and his award was accepted by Ronnie Dunn. Dunn read a letter from Urban in which he thanked his friends and family and actress-wife Nicole Kidman, whom he married earlier this year: “To my wife, Nicole, I love you.’’
“I’m looking forward to coming home and seeing you all soon,’’ Urban said in the letter.
Dunn added: “We love you Keith — good luck, brother.’’
Besides accepting the award for Urban, Dunn was busy accepting awards and also hosting the show along with his partner, Kix Brooks. The pair also won music video of the year for “Believe’’ and opened the night by performing “Building Bridges’’ with guests Vince Gill and Sheryl Crow.
“This has been another huge year for country music,’’ Kix Brooks said. “Tonight, we’re here together to show off what it’s really all about, and that’s the greatest music on the face of the Earth.’’
The gospel-tinged “Believe’’ was co-written by Ronnie Dunn and Craig Wiseman, who also co-wrote Tim McGraw’s smash “Live Like You Were Dying.’’ Both won song of the year honors for “Believe.’’
“Every time it comes on the radio now I have to pull over, like I’m hearing it for the first time,’’ Wiseman said backstage of “Believe.’’ “Ronnie really brought something to that song that’s something beyond.’’
As expected, Brooks & Dunn also won vocal duo award. The group has owned the category since 1992, winning every year except in 2000 when Montgomery Gentry won.
“I’m sincerely shocked the voters haven’t gotten tired of seeing us walk up there,’’ Brooks said backstage.
“American Idol’’ winner Carrie Underwood won female vocalist and the Horizon Award.
“Two years ago I was sitting at home watching these very awards and watching all these other people win and having the best night of their life, and this is the best year of my life,’’ Underwood said through tears.
Backstage, she said she was pleased to be nominated, let alone win two. “I would have taken male vocalist if they had given it to me,’’ she joked.
The multiplatinum band Rascal Flatts took the vocal group award, capping what singer Gary LeVox described as an “amazing year.’’
“I thank God for giving us a stage to stand on and perform on every night,’’ LeVox said.
Brad Paisley, who was shut out last year despite six nomination, won album of the year for “Time Well Wasted.’’
Before Monday’s show, he and Dolly Parton also won musical event of the year for their spiritual song “When I Get Where I’m Going.’’ It was Parton’s first CMA award since 1996.
“I thank her so much for raising the bar on this song,’’ Paisley said of the music icon, who was not there to accept. “Any time Dolly Parton sings on a song it becomes instantly better in every way.’’
The show returned to Nashville after one year in New York City. Brooks & Dunn and Paisley led all nominees with six.
Other multiple nominees included Chesney and Underwood with four each, and Rascal Flatts and Parton with three apiece.
All three of Parton’s nods were for her vocals on Paisley’s “When I Get Where I’m Going.’’ The song was one of three spiritually themed tunes up for awards, the others being Brooks & Dunn’s “Believe’’ and Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel.’’
The evening’s performers included Underwood, Gretchen Wilson, Paisley, Chesney and Martina McBride. Miranda Lambert performed her rocking “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’’ then smashed her guitar at the end of the performance.
Much offstage talk centered on two high-profile nominees: Sara Evans and Urban.
Evans dropped out of the reality TV show “Dancing with the Stars’’ and filed for a divorce a few weeks ago. She and her husband traded charges of infidelity and the estrangement made tabloid headlines.
Evans, 35, was nominated for female vocalist of the year and sang her hit, “Real Fine Place to Start.’’
This year’s show also was notable for superstar George Strait’s induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Strait, 54, broke onto the charts in 1981 with “Unwound’’ and is still having hits. He performed his latest No. 1 single, “Give It Away.’’