The televised special opened on an emotional note on Wednesday, with a powerful performance by Andra Day and Little Big Town, who sang a stirring rendition of Day's iconic "Rise Up," as a tribute to all those who have suffered tragedy this year.
Following the rousing performance, some of the night's Artist of the Year honorees -- Luke Bryan, Chris Stapleton, Keith Urban, Jason Aldean, and Florida Georgia Line's Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley -- took the stage to reflect on what the night's show was really all about.
"That performance right there is an example of why music can be so powerful, and we have never needed it more than we do right now," Bryan shared. "We hope music can be a part of the healing."
"From Las Vegas to Puerto Rico, from Florida and Texas to Charlottesville and California, the entire nation is trying to process these devastating events," Stapleton reflected. "On this night, one that we usually celebrate a year of music, we also want to celebrate a year of incredible human spirit."
"During tragedies like Las Vegas, so many people -- from concert goers to first responders who risked their own lives for total strangers -- it's in those moments, those acts of courage and heroism, that bring light to even the darkest times," Hubbard intoned.
"In some small way tonight, we want to thank you for your resolve and perhaps lift your spirits," Urban added. "We hope to remind you that everything we go though, we can get through when we stick together."
Aldean closed out the introduction, somberly sharing, "We’ve been tested beyond our worst nightmares the past few months. Heartbroken doesn't even begin to explain how some of us feel."
"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," he added. "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."
"So many people are hurting... Children, brothers, sisters, parents -- they're all part of our family," Aldean said before the performance. "We're gonna work through these tough times together, all the way."