By Rich McKay
(Reuters) - Broadcasting before live audiences from country music's hometown, Nashville, Tennessee, the 56th Academy of Country Music awards show brought a star-studded Sunday night.
For the second year, the ACM awards took place in multiple smaller sites around Nashville, including the emblematic Grand Ole Opry House, rather than at the usual Las Vegas venue.
More than two dozen performers, including co-hosts Keith Urban and Mickey Guyton, as well as genre stars Kenny Chesney and Maren Morris, who won two awards, took part in the three-hour show aired by CBS and Paramount+ at 8 p.m. ET (0000 GMT).
Luke Bryan took the top prize for Entertainer of the Year, while Chris Stapelton won Album of the Year for "Starting Over". Morris was awarded Female Artist of the Year and Song of the Year for "The Bones", and Thomas Rhett was named Male Artist of the Year.
The award nominees sat spaced out in the mostly empty front rows of the Opry, all wearing masks, as the audience applauded and cheered from the higher floors.
Bryan was scheduled to perform at the award show but had to bow out after recently testing positive for COVID-19.
"I'm so sorry I could not be there," he said in a video message from Los Angeles, promising his fans he would be back soon.
Morris thanked the talented artists she competed with for inspiring her, saying, "I have heard some of the best music out of you all this past year."
Miranda Lambert, the most nominated female artist in the Academy's history with 35 ACM wins, kicked off the show alongside Elle King with a duet rendition of "Drunk (and I Don't Wanna Go Home)".
Among the performances, Carrie Underwood and Cece Winans stood out for a medley of gospel songs including "Amazing Grace" and "Great is Thy Faithfulness."
Guyton, a nominee for new Female Artist of the Year, and the first Black woman to host the ACM awards, performed her song "Hold On" with a gospel choir accompaniment.
Urban, the 2019 Entertainer of the Year winner, who returned this year after hosting the 2020 ACM show, thrilled the audience with his new song "Tumbleweed."
The other winners included:
Duo of the Year - Dan + Shay
Group of the Year - Old Dominion
New Female Artist of the Year - Gabby Barrett
New Male Artist of the Year - Jimmie Allen
Single of The Year - "I Hope You're Happy Now" by Carly Pearce and Lee Brice
(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Karishma Singh)