Everything old was new again in Nashville tonight.
While Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles injected a much-needed jolt of femininity into the Entertainer of the Year category, it was still Kenny Chesney who was tippin' his hat to the audience at the end of the 42nd Annual Country Music Association Awards.
"As much as tonight is about awards, I really believe that being able to stand up here is more about great songs, it's more about the fans," said the touring dynamo and now four-time Entertainer of the Year.
"It's more about being onstage every night in front of a lot of people that really make it happen for me and the band out here…I'm really humbled tonight and I really appreciate it."
Former promising newcomer Carrie Underwood, now a veteran of the country scene, shared hosting duties with Brad Paisley, who opened tonight's ceremony by teaming with Keith Urban on their new single, "Start a Band."
"To be here together, actually hosting this show, has got to be the honor of a lifetime," Paisley told the crowd.
"Some of the all-time greats…have hosted this show, so I've got some massive—I mean, huge—boots to fill," he continued and, turning to his cohost, added, "And also I believe Dolly hosted this show, so…good luck."
"That's way too much for me to live up to," Underwood quipped. However, she played the part of the diva quite well, changing no less than seven times Wednesday (highlights: a one-shouldered emerald-green cocktail dress, a pink Grecian-cut gown and the massive bauble she wore while performing "Just a Dream").
In addition to that microphone, she and Paisley also shared second consecutive respective wins for Female and Male Vocalist of the Year.
"Mama, it's real hard to sing when you're in the second row crying," the platinum-selling 25-year-old said. "Thank you, country music. I came here through an unconventional way and you guys didn't have to accept me at all. But everybody in town, everybody in Nashville, everybody in the country music community has been so great."
And while she has moved past thanking American Idol, Underwood wasn't too big for her britches to thank Idol mastermind Simon Fuller.
Starting their own tradition, meanwhile, were Nettles and Kristian Bush of Sugarland, who collected their second consecutive CMA award for Vocal Duo of the Year.
Nettles also proved that she could go it alone, winning Song of the Year for her solo effort "Stay."
No strangers to a repeat trip to the podium, either, was Rascal Flatts, who continued to prove that life is both a highway and a swell place to sell millions of countrified pop records by notching their sixth straight win for Vocal Group of the Year.
Nashville fixture George Strait picked up his 20th and 21st CMAs tonight, winning both Song and Album of the Year with "I Saw God Today" and the disc from whence it came, Troubador.
The performance-riddled evening was made all the more genre-spanning by the second straight appearance by the Eagles, who cracked the country charts last year with Long Road Out of Eden and triumphantly followed up last year's headline-making awards-show debut with a live rendition of "Busy Being Fabulous."
Yes, the Eagles now have a song called "Busy Being Fabulous."
Crossover appeal was also provided by Kid Rock, who brought the audience to their feet with his tale of hot summer nights in Northern Michigan, "All Summer Long"; Hootie and the Blowfish frontman Darius Rucker, who's found new success as a country artist; and Hollywood-type presenters Miley Cyrus (with dad Billy Ray in tow), Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman and Reese Witherspoon.
"It's a true testament to the global power of country music"—not to mention Keith Urban—"that you'd have us Aussies here tonight," said Jackman.
The CMAs featured 21 performances altogether, including solo numbers by Urban and Paisley, as well as hit songs belonging to New Artist of the Year winner Lady Antebellum, last year's best new artist (and this year's tabloid-gracing JoBro ex) Taylor Swift, Miranda Lambert, Sugarland, Chesney, Martina McBride, Jason Aldean, Brooks & Dunn and Alan Jackson.
Here's the complete list of winners from the 42nd Annual Country Music Association Awards:
• Entertainer of the Year: Kenny Chesney
• Female Vocalist: Carrie Underwood
• Male Vocalist: Brad Paisley
• New Artist: Lady Antebellum
• Vocal Group: Rascal Flatts
• Vocal Duo: Sugarland
• Single of the Year: "I Saw God Today," George Strait
• Album of the Year: Troubador, George Strait
• Song of the Year: "Stay," Jennifer Nettles
• Musical Event: Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, "Gone, Gone, Gone"
• Music Video: Brad Paisley, "Waitin' on a Woman"
• Musician: Mac McAnally, guitar