George Strait might be reconsidering his retirement plans after he picked up country music's top honor for the third time in his long career.
Strait, 61, who's midway through his Cowboy Rides Away farewell tour, won entertainer of the year at the 47th annual Country Music Association (CMA) awards in Nashville, Tennessee, a laurel he last won in 1989 and 1990.
“This blows me away. I cannot believe it,” said the down-to-earth Texan singer-songwriter, sporting his trademark 10-gallon hat and putting his hand over his heart.
“I'm so thrilled just to be nominated again... This means the world to me.”
An old-school traditionalist in a genre very much in flux, Strait stunned country music fans last year when he announced his final concert tour, although he intends to continue recording and to make occasional live appearances.
Last year's CMA entertainer of the year Blake Shelton went home with his fourth career CMA best male vocalist award, as well as the album of the year trophy for his latest studio effort, “Based on a True Story...”
His wife Miranda Lambert won best female vocalist, also her fourth at the CMAs.
“Well, hell, thank you,” Lambert told the capacity crowd at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. “I really didn't think this one was going to happen this year."
Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley, better known as Florida Georgia Line, won single of the year for their smash crossover hit “Cruise” and collected best duo of the year to boot.
Fellow newcomer Kacey Musgraves, with six nominations, went home with best new artist, while Little Big Town won for best vocal group.
Winning song of the year, a prize for songwriters, was “I Drive Your Truck” by J essi Alexander, Connie Harrington and Jimmy Yeary. An ode to a US soldier killed in Afghanistan, it was recorded by Lee Brice.
Despite her shift towards mainstream pop, the CMA bestowed a special Pinnacle achievement award on Taylor Swift -- and surprised the 23-year-old chart-topper by assembling on stage all the country stars she once opened for, Strait among them.
“I didn't know there was going to be all this,” she said. “You've made me feel so special right now.”
Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley co-hosted the three-hour gala, telecast live on ABC, for the sixth year running, warming up the crowd with witty swipes at President Barack Obama's troubled health care reforms.
“I started signing up last Thursday and I'm almost done,” said Underwood before joining Paisley in a retooling of Strait's “Amarillo by Morning” that included the lyrics: “Obamacare by morning, over six people served.”