By ANDREW DALTON
AP Entertainment Writer
Lainey Wilson took home five trophies including entertainer of the year Wednesday night at the Country Music Association Awards.
The 31-year-old Louisiana-born singer was the undisputed star of the night at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, where she also was named female vocalist of the year, won album of the year for “Bell Bottom Country” and gave a fiery rendition of her song “Wildflowers and Wild Horses” that looked like it came from a classic Hollywood Western.
“This is all I’ve ever wanted to do, it’s the only thing I know how to do,” Wilson said through tears as she accepted entertainer of the year. “It finally feels like country music is starting to love me back.”
Wilson came into the night the top nominee with nine nods, and had won one award before the ABC telecast even started as she and HARDY were named as winners in the musical event of the year category, for “Wait in the Truck.”
It was also another major Nashville night for rapper-turned-singer Jelly Roll, who earlier this year topped the CMT Music Awards.
He opened the show with a performance of his hit “Need a Favor,” along with surprise guest Wynonna Judd, then closed it in a duet with K. Michelle on “Love Can Build A Bridge,” Judd’s classic song with her late mother Naomi.
In between, Jelly Roll won best new artist.
“There is something poetic about a 39-year-old man winning new artist of the year,” he said from the stage. “What’s in front of you is so much more important than what’s behind you.”
Luke Combs, winner of entertainer of the year the previous two years, took home single of the year Wednesday night for his cover of “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman, who became the unlikely winner of song of the year for a tune she wrote in 1988.
“I want to thank Tracy Chapman for writing one of the greatest songs of all time,” the 33-year-old North Carolina singer said as he accepted the award. “It’s the first favorite song I ever had.”
Chapman, who won two Grammys for “Fast Car” in 1989, was not at the ceremony, but said in a statement that it’s “truly an honor for my song to be recognized 35 years after its debut.”
Luke Bryan and Peyton Manning hosted the ceremony, which featured a musical tribute to the late singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett that included Kenny Chesney, the Zac Brown Band, Alan Jackson and Mac McAnally, a longtime member of Buffett’s band.
The group made a beach party of a medley of Buffett’s hits, beginning with “A Pirate Looks at Forty” and ending with “Margaritaville” as Chesney shouted “Thank you Jimmy!” to Buffett, always beloved among country artists.
In what is becoming a series of CMA traditions, Chris Stapleton won male vocalist of the year for the seventh time, Old Dominion won vocal group of the year for the sixth time, and Brothers Osborne won duo of the year for their sixth time.
“We’re shocked, honestly, every year this happens,” T.J. Osborne said.