had reason to celebrate on Wednesday as one of CMT's Artists of the Year, but the show also served as a stark reminder of a major loss
Last year, Bryan was forced to cancel his scheduled appearance
at the same show in the eleventh hour as he mourned the sudden loss of his brother-in-law. Ben Lee Cheshire, known to family and friends as "Lee," was only 46 years old and had been the widower of Bryan's sister, Kelly, who died in 2007.
"It's certainly been on my mind today," Bryan told ET on the red carpet in Nashville, Tennessee. "It's kinda that time of year, but I take from that night just how supportive country music arists are and the family."
This year, Stapleton was back on the Schermerhorn Symphony Center stage as the first-ever Breakout Artist of the Year honoree.
"It's very exciting that the Nashville community knew about Chris for so many years and we rallied for him, and he's kinda having a coming out party," Bryan gushed to ET. "Everytime that I'm on a show with Chris I'm like, 'Crap! I'm not the best singer in the room,'" he cracked. "That was a joke, 'cause typically I'm like the 20th best singer in the room."
(After a bit of arguing, Bryan concedes to rank himself third.)
But family always comes first for the 39-year-old singer. He and wife Caroline took in their teenage nephew, Til,
after the deaths of his parents. With a big smile, Bryan told ET that "everybody's good."
"The boys are at home, they're just beating the fool out of one another," he laughed. "Tate has a black eye, Til had to have elbow surgery and he's mad ‘cause he can't shoot his bow and arrow, so we're getting through that, and Bo is stuck somewhere in the middle."