Garth Brooks, Kane Brown Salute Randy Travis at CMT Artist of the Year

Their tribute to a country giant was a true highlight.

Written by Chris Parton
Garth Brooks, Kane Brown Salute Randy Travis at CMT Artist of the Year
Mary and Randy Travis Accept the Artist of a Lifetime honor at the 2021 CMT Artists of the Year special.

Country great Randy Travis was arguably the man of the evening at the 2021 CMT Artists of the Year special on Wednesday night (October 13), receiving the coveted “Artist of a Lifetime” distinction. And in fitting style, he was also given a two-star salute, from Garth Brooks and Kane Brown.

Brooks took the stage to welcome the star himself, presenting the big-voiced ’80s traditionalist with his latest honor. And let’s just say he had a few words about why it was so well deserved.

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Randy Travis single handedly saved country music,” Brooks said with matter of fact conviction. “I wouldn’t be standing here if it wasn’t for Randy Travis — I don’t think any of us would be. This is totally my opinion, it doesn’t have to be yours, but every artist who takes the stage over the next 100 years should bow to this man, and thank him for his contribution to country.”

Strong words from an artist who is a legend in his own right, but Brooks is sincere in his gratitude. Emerging into a mid-’80s country genre that was caught in its “Urban Cowboy” phase, Travis kicked off a rootsy revival that led directly to the so-called “Classs of ’89,” which saw a wave of superstars like Brooks, Alan Jackson, Clint Black and more get their start — all of which shared Travis’ traditional influence.

Meanwhile, Brown showed how Travis’ work is still impacting the latest generation of stars. Taking the stage to show his appreciation in musical style, Brown delivered a rumbling rendition of Travis’ “Three Wooden Crosses,” singing with a smoky baritone vocal that is deeply indebted to Travis’ own style.

Thanking not just CMT but the whole of Nashville, including the songwriters and the musicians who made his iconic hits possible, Travis and his wife Mary took the stage themselves to accept the honor. Since a 2013 stroke robbed Travis of his celebrated singing voice, as well as much of his ability to speak, Mary addressed the crowd of artists and admirers, but it was clearly the the Country Music Hall of Fame member’s moment.

“After listening to all these artists, thank you so much for following in the footsteps,” said Mary Travis. “The stroke … may have taken the voice, but it didn’t take the man. And it didn’t take the heart.”