The 2023 CMT Music Awards aired live Sunday night from Austin, Texas, hosted by Kelsea Ballerini and Kane Brown.
Ballerini opened the show with an emotional tribute to the victims of the March 27 shooting at the Covenant School, a private Christian school in Nashville, Tennessee, for students in preschool through sixth grade. Three students -- all of whom were 9 years old -- and three staff were killed in that shooting.
"Tonight's broadcast is dedicated to the ever-growing list of families, friends, survivors, witnesses and responders whose lives continue to forever be changed by gun violence," she said during her speech.
Jelly Roll, a first-time nominee and winner of all three awards for which he was nominated, also hit the stage to perform his song "Need a Favor." He delivered an inspiring message while delivering his acceptance speech for the award for male video of the year.
"I don't know what you're going through and I don't know what you've been through, but I know you can overcome it. I promise you, you can," he said, in part.
Ballerini also made a statement of support for the LGBTQ+ community Sunday night when she hit the stage for "If You Go Down (I’m Goin' Down Too)," bringing out Manila Luzon, Kennedy Davenport, Jan Sport and Olivia Lux from the "RuPaul's Drag Race" series to perform alongside her.
The collaboration comes on the heels of Tennessee passing a bill last month to restrict public drag show performances.
Anthony Allen Ramos, vice president of communications and talent at GLAAD, called the performance "bold allyship" from Ballerini in a statement, adding, "Kelsea's performance at the CMT Music Awards reinforced that drag is not a threat, it's an art."
Other performers of the night included Blake Shelton, Carly Pearce, Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, Lainey Wilson -- who won female video of the year for "Heart Like a Truck" -- and Shania Twain.
Kane and Katelyn Brown also performed their song "Thank God," which won video of the year.
Twain was honored with the CMT Equal Play Award, which recognizes an artist who is an advocate for elevating diverse and underrepresented voices in country music, and began her acceptance speech by harkening back to her hit song "Man! I Feel Like a Woman," saying she had "no idea at the time that it would become an undercurrent of a decades-long career."
"It's amazing how just one statement can empower so many," she continued, saying it brings her "so much joy" that the song has "been adopted by an array of fantastic communities all around the world and become a genuine path of power and progress" for women in country music.
Twain promised to "continue to champion the many outstanding country artists who are not currently played -- they're not streamed, toured, signed or awarded at the level they deserve."
"I believe in an all-inclusive country music. We're a family. This is a genre of music with a rich history that raised and nurtured my own songwriting and performance and recording career from childhood. Currently, the industry standard does a real disservice to this," Twain added, calling on the industry to "close the gap and provide equal workspace for all talent."
Elsewhere, Wynonna Judd and Ashley McBryde delivered a soulful cover of "I Want to Know What Love Is," Gary Clark Jr. performed a tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan, Pearce teamed up with Gwen Stefani to sing No Doubt's "Just a Girl" and a slew of singers performed an all-star tribute to Lynyrd Skynyrd.