The 2017 CMA Awards have come and gone, but it’s certainly not one that will be forgotten. From a special remembrance of Glen Campbell, Troy Gentry and those the country community lost in the tragic Route 91 Harvest festival shooting last month, to rocking performances from some of country’s biggest names such as Keith Urban and Miranda Lambert, the 51st annual CMAs were undoubtedly memorable.
But even with the awesome happenings on TV, Billboard witnessed some other cool moments that couldn’t be seen on the broadcast. Check out some of the things you couldn’t catch at the CMAs without being behind the scenes:
IN THE PRESENCE OF A LEGEND — As Garth Brooks made his way down the red carpet, he of course caught the eye of just about every artist he passed. This was especially true for the three men in Midland, who couldn’t resist snapping a pic with the country superstar — as well as Niall Horan, who wasn’t far behind the country legend.
FANBOYING — Niall Horan admitted to a reporter that his favorite album of the last 18 months was Maren Morris‘ HERO, which was what sparked their collaboration on his Billboard 200 No. 1 album Flicker, “Seeing Blind” (which the singer-songwriter performed with Morris later in the night).
PRE-HONORS — LOCASH‘s Preston Brust and Chris Lucas did a great job hosting the pre-telecast awards which included musician of the year. Mac McAnally took the stage and acknowledged his fellow nominees and then quipped, “I really want to thank God and the IRS for considering what I do a job!” This was McAnally’s ninth win in the musician of the year category.
IT’S SHOWTIME! — Before the show, a female announcer’s voice continually urged the audience to take their seats, and as the kickoff drew closer warned, “Don’t make me go all Southern on you!” Even so, LANco were spotted scurrying to their seats during the opening number.
CASUAL HELLOS — Tim McGraw said “hi” to some familiar faces while hanging out prior to taking the stage with wife Faith Hill for “The Rest of Our Life.” While he was sans the white suit coat he wore for the performance, McGraw was of course sporting his signature leather cowboy hat.
IT’S STILL THEIR TOWN — The crowd was immediately on their feet for “My Town,” the multi-artist tribute to Montgomery Gentry‘s Troy Gentry. There some tears as photos of Troy played on giant screens and the crowd roared when Eddie Montgomery came on stage. Following the performance, Montgomery sat down backstage with Good Morning America‘s Lara Spencer.
MEET THE PRESS — Cohost Brad Paisley was escorted from the front of the arena to the rear of the venue to introduce Garth Brooks. As he made his way back to the stage after the performance, he stopped in the press section of the audience and said hello to Kurt Bardella of the Morning Hangover, Sherod Robertson, owner/publisher of Music Row and Billboard‘s in-house reporter.
SMILE FOR THE CAMERA — After joining Kelsea Ballerini for a duet of the Unapologetically singer’s hit “Legends,” Reba McEntire made her way backstage to pose for a photo shoot with a fancy chair and some roses.
SPECIAL GUESTS — LA Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw and his wife Ellen were seen in the audience, as the couple attended the CMA Awards as guests of Brad Paisley.
THE WINNER’S CIRCLE — “I’ll raise it, a little heavy,” new artist of the year winner Jon Pardi said as he held up his trophy for cameras in a post-win press conference. Later, as he’s made the rounds talking to press, the “Dirt On My Boots” singer asked a friend, “Was my speech good?”
HUMBLE & KIND — Faith Hill thanked her band members for an awesome performance of her duet with husband Tim McGraw, grabbed a quick picture with them and acknowledged an upcoming gig: “See you Friday!”
NEW TO THE SCENE — Apple Valley, California native Brennley Brown, who finished In the top six of Season 12 of The Voice, loved attending her first CMA Awards. “I’ve watched it year after year so to come has been a dream,” she told Billboard from her seat in the audience. The 15-year-old has just signed with Nashville-based MWS Music Group and is working on her debut EP.
A FAMILY AFFAIR — Tracy Lawrence brought his two teenage daughters, Skylar and Keagan, to the CMAs. It was their first time at the awards and Tracy told Billboard they were sitting on the front row with him having a great time. Lawrence has a new album, “Good Ole Days,” coming out this Friday that features duets with Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, Tim McGraw, Justin Moore, Craig Morgan, Big & Rich and others.
MEMORY LANE — During the commercial breaks, members of the audience were treated to vintage clips from 50 years of previous CMA award shows, including Bobby Goldsboro’s “Honey” and Barbara Mandrell and George Jones doing “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool.”
EXPENSIVE GUNS — T.J. Osborne of Brothers Osborne (who were awarded CMA vocal duo of the year for the second year in a row) flashed his heavy crystal awards like guns as the duo made their way around the backstage area. Later, the bros crashed Little Big Town’s GMA interview to clink their trophies.
BUBBLY CELEBRATIONS — After Little Big Town wrapped their chat with GMA, Lara Spencer popped champagne to celebrate their big wins for song of the year (“Better Man,” written by Taylor Swift) and vocal duo of the year.
THE MAN OF THE HOUR — Just minutes after taking the biggest award of the night, Mr. Entertainer of the Year Garth Brooks made his way backstage to chat with press and fellow artists. Soon after congratulating Little Big Town for their epic performance and big wins, Brooks took a picture with Jimmie Webb. And despite being the king of the evening’s awards, Brooks didn’t leave the premises until he stopped for every picture and every interview — further solidifying his worth for the huge honor of country’s biggest night.