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Country's biggest night was full of surprises

The 35th annual CMA Awards were about two T's - Tim and Tradition. Tim McGraw took the coveted Entertainer Of The Year award, and the traditionally minded O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack earned Album and Single Of The Year honors.

After winning his first-ever Entertainer trophy, Tim was ready to celebrate - with visibly pregnant wife Faith Hill keeping an eye on him, of course! "I'm gonna try not to get into too much trouble tonight," he joked after the show. "My wife's gonna be with me, so that shouldn't be too hard!"

He wasn't the only one going home happy. Dan Tyminski was amazed after winning his first CMA Award - for Single Of The Year, O Brother's "I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow." "When they announced it, I thought they were mispronouncing somebody else's name," chuckled the member of Alison Krauss' Union Station band.

Lee Ann Womack also thought there'd been a mistake when her name was called as Female Vocalist Of The Year. "I was afraid they were gonna go, 'I'm sorry, I meant somebody else,'" she said, still fighting back tears backstage after her emotional acceptance speech. "I wanted this so badly, and have for so long. I thought my chance had passed me by."

Toby Keith was likewise stunned at his first-ever Male Vocalist Of The Year award. "This is a very tough one to get, right here," he said, holding the award proudly backstage. "Look at the list of nominees - this is a bad boy!"

There were also some outstanding performances during the three-hour show. Garth Brooks joined the man he called "the king of country music," George Jones, for the first live staging of their duet "Beer Run." "It was like having sex - it was over before you knew it," joked Garth backstage about the experience.

Not surprisingly, several performances carried emotional echoes of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on America. Alan Jackson debuted his moving "Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)," which he wrote only a week before the show. The Dixie Chicks also pulled out a poignant unreleased song, "Travelin' Soldier," a ballad written by Chick Emily Robison's brother-in-law, Bruce Robison, about about a young woman who loses the man she loves to war. Diamond Rio's "One More Day" was movingly performed as a tribute to the country stars -- including Chet Atkins, Johnny Russell, and John Hartford -- who died in the past year, as well as the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Brooks & Dunn, who took back the Vocal Duo Of The Year trophy from last year's winners, Montgomery Gentry, kicked off the show with their flag-waving No. 1 "Only In America." To close the telecast, ten-time CMA host Vince Gill rallied the all-star cast of nominees, presenters and winners in singing "America The Beautiful," a rousing performance that continued a cappella after the telecast cameras had been shut off.

First-time winners dominated many of the categories. Sara Evans won her first CMA award, for Music Video Of The Year for "Born To Fly." Lonestar ended a three-year reign by the Dixie Chicks to take home Vocal Group Of The Year honors for the first time. Guitarist-producer Dann Huff got his first Musician Of The Year award. And the newcomer's Horizon Award went to keith urban.

Last year's Horizon winner, Brad Paisley, shared Vocal Event Of The Year honors with George Jones, Bill Anderson, Buck Owens and Brad Paisley for the song "Too Country," while last year's Vocal Event winner, "Murder On Music Row," earned composers Larry Cordle and Larry Shell 2001's Song Of The Year award.

- Chris Neal