From the plaintive a cappella opening of “Amazing Grace” from Eric Church to the last chorus of “Don't Rock the Jukebox” from Hall of Fame inductee, Alan Jackson, the "2017 CMA Awards" conveyed the message that this annual convocation would be about much more than musical success. Even before the November 8 proceedings, producers laid down the law that questions regarding the devastating October 1 Las Vegas shooting would not be treated kindly under the CMA footlights. Instead, country music offered love and honor to lives lost, both in Las Vegas and in their industry, and displayed the power that their genre and artistry can convey.

From hymn to hearts united

The tender and somber hymn to a merciful God flowed into a beautiful stand for unity with the Hootie & the Blowfish version of “Hold My Hand” with Darius Rucker taking command, along with Keith Urban, Lady Antebellum, and the huge chorus from the audience. There was a sensory joy just to experience that kind of authentic exuberance, and it had to be felt from every living room. Countless country luminaries from Reba McEntire, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Chris Stapleton, and more lined themselves in front of the stage at the close as an exclamation point to the statement and togetherness.

Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley brought the calm and soothing comfort of a favorite T-shirt, taking their roles as hosts.

Besides a brilliant, however, stalled, presidential lashing detoured around political correctness, the pair themselves were blasted by Tim McGraw and Faith Hill with their own set of dolls and some loving digs for the decade of pranks centered on the premiere couple in country music. Fans knew they would be in good hands for the night, not to mention the elevating experiences in song.

Reba McEntire could sing the phonebook and somehow make it a number one song, but her duet with Kelsey Ballerini on “Legends” wasn’t so legendary in comparison with her own past history on the "CMA" stage, even with the exuberance added by the now engaged Ballerini. Pink, introduced earlier as “Pank” by Brad Paisley, in contrast, was raw, riveting, and pouring out heart on “Barbies” from her “Beautiful Trauma” album.

She received a roar of applause for her first appearance on the "CMA" stage. Hers was just one of the songs amplifying the woman's perspective from this platform.

Chris Stapleton took home two of the biggest honors of the night, as Male Vocalist of the Year, and Album of the Year, but there is nothing pompous or pretentious in this man. He clearly had no acceptance speech and spoke from his heart about the long-term relationships he has formed with contemporaries like Luke Bryan, Dierks Bentley, and others “who took me out when nobody knew me” as he praised. His performance of “Broken Halos,” accompanied as ever by wife, Morgane, now expecting twins, was as pure a heart cry as a man can muster, echoing that only “in the by-and-by” does any hurting heart come to understand why a loved one is taken, or painfully tainted by the horrors of this world.

The only assurance is that in heavenly realms, those halos are fully restored and golden again, gleaming in the light.

Love, power, and prayer

Despite months on the road with their latest incarnation of the “Soul 2 Soul” tour, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill served up full-powered passion and vocal prowess with “The Rest of Our Life.” Although the song was written for them by Ed Sheeran, the expression of their eyes and harmonies in unison speaks the depths of devotion they have shared through decades of joys and trials. Just as they did months ago at the "ACM" awards, this couple made their audience feel the song in every sinew of their being. Being in their 50s certainly seems to feel good to Tim and Faith, and their talent is timeless.

Keith Urban personified the power of a man with a great song, leading into his new song “Female” with just himself against dark blue, and the cascade of words so often heaped upon women in white. The song is pointed with purpose and takes dead aim at the “culture of silence” amidst the pervasive sexual assaults that have been pushed underground, and now are gushing through headlines like a freshly-dug oil well. The song’s reception has split public opinion in social media, with many in the country music industry calling the song “a game changer,” while other commentators dub it as “mansplaining.” For Keith Urban, the urgency to immediately record the song written by Shane McAnally, Nicolle Galyon, and Ross Copperman was to send a message to his two daughters.

He sings it “from a father’s heart” in hopes that every daughter can embrace and celebrate being female.

The most sweeping, stupendous performance of the night was another hymn, truly an “altar call” of reverence and honor. Carrie Underwood began “Softly and Tenderly” to accompany the names and remembrance of those who passed during the past year. Troy Gentry, Don Williams, and Glen Campbell were each given homage in song, with their family members looking on from the crowd. This moment, though, was so genuine and pleading, even causing Carrie to pause to regain composure as the final segment, featuring photos of the Las Vegas shooting victims, was shown. She was transcended to the years in her Oklahoma church.

Her tears were felt and captured in every heart, much like Scripture relates that God collects every tear. Every note was something called down from heaven, and resounded in comfort that these earthly angels were in eternal peace and love at “home.” Nothing this moving will likely ever happen from an awards stage again, and God willing, there will be no need for mourning like this nation has endured this year ever again. By God's grace and the gifts of the "CMA," there will always be the gift of music.