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Backstage at the CMA Awards Wednesday night in Nashville, all the talk was about Chris Stapleton‘s surprise sweep.  The singer/songwriter won all three categories he was nominated for, including Male Vocalist, New Artist and Album of the Year for Traveller, and the other winners acknowledged his great night during their comments to the press.

“It’s so fun watching the birth of an artist happen like that,” said Luke Bryan, who took home his second straight Entertainer of the Year trophy.  “[It was] a comin’ out party.”   He added, “I think we in this room know Stapleton…I think a select group of people that really, really, really seek out music…have heard Stapleton through the years. But then when [he] gets that opportunity for it to be launched like it just happened, I think that’s so fun to watch for music.”  Luke knows Chris Stapleton very well: he co-wrote his huge hit “Drink a Beer.”

Little Big Town‘s Karen Fairchild pointed to Chris’ wins, along with the Single and Song of the Year win for their controversial hit “Girl Crush,” as indicating a sea change for country music.  “We want to get to the heart, the substance on our records and we don’t often get to do that,” she told reporters. “And tonight I think it speaks volumes: ‘Girl Crush,’ Chris Stapleton, Kacey Musgraves up there, and yet we’re not always hearing that music on the radio, and I think the tide’s turning.”

Florida Georgia Line had the unenviable task of following Chris onstage after he brought down the house with his duet with Justin Timberlake. Backstage, the duo’s Tyler Hubbard said, “Justin Timberlake and Chris Stapleton: they’re two of the best, vocally. We’ve been to Justin Timberlake shows, we’ve seen Chris perform many times, so, probably the toughest act to follow tonight!”

As for the man himself, backstage, Chris Stapleton was humble about his wins.  “It’s surreal. Very unbelievable,” said the bearded singer. “I don’t have enough adjectives to get there, but it’s a wonderful feeling. I feel very loved. It’s a short answer, but it’s a real one.”  Asked what’s next for him, he told reporters, “I have no idea…I’ve been in the music business for a while but I’ve never done anything like this. It’s a little overwhelming but I’m gonna do my best to handle this with some degree of grace and just keep making music that, hopefully, I think is good and whatever comes out of that, that’ll be fine by me.”

Meanwhile, Luke said he was thrilled to win the CMA’s most prestigious award for a second time.  “It’s just been an amazing year for me on the road. It’s been my most enjoyable year from A to Z. I don’t think I’ve ever sang or performed better on the road than this year and I’ve really enjoyed every night and for this to happen tonight is such a blessing.”  

Noting that, in an almost-unheard-of situation, Entertainer of the Year trophies are the only CMAs he’s ever won, Luke said one day, he’d love to win in one of the lesser categories and won’t see it as some kind of a letdown.   “I think those moments will come,” he said. “I think if I try to grow as a vocalist too I’ll keep being in the running and if it happens for me to win a Male Vocalist one day, it will be a fine night for me. It will be an amazing night.”

Little Big Town said they were thrilled that the despite the controversy over “Girl Crush” — some incorrectly thought it was about a lesbian relationship — the Nashville community pulled together and supported it, and made it a huge success.  “Sometimes we kind of, I think, hang back and don’t speak out about the things we love, and maybe that’s a lesson, that we should just talk about the things we do love, and when we hear something let’s talk about that, and that’s what happened,” said the group’s Jimi Westbrook. “And to me, all of that was short-lived, and quickly the positive things starting happened and we’re just grateful for it.”

Vocal duo Maddie & Tae celebrated their first-ever CMA win for Music Video of the Year backstage, and said their winning clip, “Girl in a Country Song,” represents their point of view.  “We are all about women empowerment and it’s so cool to see how many women are performing tonight and nominated because us women have a lot to say and we’re going to say it,” noted the duo’s Tae Dye. “So it’s cool that people are loving our perspective. You haven’t really heard it in a while and we’re just glad we get to be a part of that torch. We’re bringing back the women and we’re very excited.”

Keith Urban, who won the award for Musical Event of the Year for his duet with Eric Church on “Raise ‘Em Up,” talked about the unique experience he’s had lately watching his wife Nicole Kidman perform live onstage in London in a play called Photograph 51

“I was struck by how extraordinary the feeling was ’cause I sat in the audience for the first night that I went to see the play and she came out and she does the whole opening monologue,” Keith said, noting that usually she’s the one watching him perform. “And I was sitting there going, I’ve never been in this position in my life to be in the audience watching her. It’s incredible. I was nervous for her and proud and all the rest of it. And it’s an incredible play. So it’s been a beautiful run for her.”

By the way, the only winner of the night who didn’t come backstage to talk to the press was Miranda Lambert, who won her sixth Female Vocalist of the Year trophy.  That’s not surprising, given the fact that hours before the ceremony, it was confirmed that her soon-to-be-ex, Blake Shelton, is now dating his Voice colleague, Gwen Stefani.

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