Even Backstreet Boys joined in the celebration.

By Annie Reuter

On Wednesday evening (Oct. 18), the 2017 CMT Artists of the Year was held at Nashville’s Schermerhorn Symphony Center. The night honored Chris Stapleton, Florida Georgia Line, Jason Aldean, Keith Urban and Luke Bryan but also served as an evening of hope for country fans and those affected by the devastating events over the past few months.

Related: Florida Georgia Line Donate $10,000 to Vegas Shooting Victims

Andra Day, Common, Lee Ann Womack and Little Big Town set the tone for the evening by opening the show with “Rise Up” and “Stand Up For Something.” Later, the Backstreet Boys honored Florida Georgia Line with a stripped down piano version of “H.O.L.Y.”

During Keith Urban’s performance of his hit “Blue Ain’t Your Color,” he slowed down the song, giving it a jazzy, feel complete with trumpet and piano accompaniment.

Later, American Idol champion Phillip Phillips paid tribute to Sam Hunt’s “Body Like a Back Road.” The song was awarded the inaugural Song of the Year recognition and Phillips’ unique version featured a horn section.

Following the shooting at Route 91 Harvest Festival earlier this month, the event took on a different, more unified tone. Instead of giving awards to artists and recruiting musicians to deliver speeches, organizers strived to help celebrate and uplift the human spirit by filling the program with heartfelt messages from country artists.

“We’ve been tested beyond our worst nightmares the past few months. Heartbroken doesn’t even begin to explain how some of us feel,” said Aldean, who was onstage when the shooting in Las Vegas began. “But we have proven time and again in this country that we have the power to overcome anything that threatens our way of life or our freedom. We dedicate this night to you and to everyone who’s experienced loss or tragedy in the past few months. We will get through this together.”

Aldean closed the 2017 CMT Artists of the Year with a powerful cover of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” alongside Stapleton, Urban and Little Big Town. Aldean previously played the song on Saturday Night Live but it was just as powerful the second time, providing a poignant end to a heartfelt night of music.

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