The 2023 CMT Music Awards went on the road this year, airing for the first time from Austin, Texas on Sunday night (April 2). It was an excuse to bring some Lone Star State flavor to the fast-paced show, which featured more than 20 performances from such country luminaries as Blake Shelton, Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood, Lainey Wilson and Darius Rucker, and celebrated the top videos of the past year.
The show, which aired live on CBS for the second year in a row after the ACM Awards decamped to Amazon’s Prime Video, opened cold with co-host Kelsea Ballerini addressing the mass shooting at Nashville’s Covenant School last week that left six dead and Music City reeling. The somber moment included Ballerini recalling her own experience in 2008 watching a classmate die from a shooting when she was in high school and calling for “real action.” That then gave way to celebration, as she and Kane Brown, co-hosting for the third time, proved again to be an amiable, nimble pairing.
Shania Twain, introduced by Megan Thee Stallion, accepted the CMT Equal Play award, calling for the country industry to “do our part to close the gap and provide an equal workspace for all talent. Let’s ensure that all our fellow artists get equal play, regardless of gender, age or race.” And the show tried to do just that, relying heavily on girl power throughout the evening. (Jelly Roll was still the night’s biggest winner, taking home all three awards for which he was nominated.)
The evening’s performances heavily relied on collaborations featuring country artists and rock acts performing the latter’s 90s hits. It was a gambit that worked, in large part because many of the rock fans of the ’90s are now country listeners.
Below are the top performances of the night.