It’s practically a law of nature that singers bob their heads when they listen to music with a strong beat. But the bobbing heads of Blake Shelton and girlfriend Gwen Stefani were something to behold on Wednesday night at the CMA Awards show, because they were keeping time to Shelton’s ex-wife, Miranda Lambert, singing her newest single, “It All Comes Out in the Wash.” They even followed her performance with what could be assessed as something more than polite applause.
It’s been more than four years since the couple divorced, which evidently is long enough for an ex to achieve at least normalized celebrity-audience behavior. What’s more, Lambert and her husband, Brendan McLoughlin — seated one section over on the front row — later returned the gesture in kind. Their two heads bobbed along, too, when Shelton took the stage for “God’s Country,” and the two also didn’t sit on their hands. Honestly, does it get any more “bygones” than this?
Of course, let’s not get carried away: Shelton and Stefani didn’t join the majority of the celebrity section, who spontaneously stood during Lambert’s performance, nor did Lambert and McLoughlin join Shelton’s standing ovation.
PEOPLE was inside Bridgestone Arena to observe those remarkable sightings — and here are even more glimpses of what happened during the awards show when the cameras weren’t looking:
FAST FRIENDS: Reese Witherspoon, Kacey Musgraves and her plus-one, model Gigi Hadid, formed an instant sorority on the front row of the arena and spent commercial breaks in lively kibitzing (and it sometimes included Witherspoon’s “Big Little Lies” co-star Nicole Kidman, who was two seats away). Hadid must have taken her “date” role seriously. When the time came for Musgraves to head backstage for her performance, Hadid loyally followed, but who better than a model to help you get ready?
CARRIED AWAY: What did Carrie Underwood, the awards show’s indomitable 12-time host, do when cameras weren’t watching? She happily waved to the crowd while waiting for her cue. At one point, after delivering an intro, she broke into a run toward backstage — perhaps headed off to her next quick wardrobe change. During another exit, she tripped on one especially diaphanous gown. No worries. She quickly caught herself and kept going.
MODEL CHILD: Willa Gray Akins, the oldest daughter of Thomas Rhett and wife Lauren Akins, came to her first CMA Awards show wearing a gold lame dress and her best behavior. How many other 4-year-olds are content sitting still for more than two-and-a-half hours at a grownup event? Granted, most of the time she was either on her mom’s lap or being held by one of her parents, but she exhibited hardly a wiggle. No doubt her favorite performance was her dad’s: Along with hundreds in the audience, she waved a cell-phone flashlight from the first note to the last of Thomas Rhett’s “Remember You Young.” The couple, who are expecting their third daughter, ended Willa Gray’s big night out after Luke Combs was announced male vocalist of the year, which Thomas Rhett also was nominated for. (The couple’s 2-year-old, Ada James, made her first red carpet appearance, by the way, but was nowhere in sight during the show.)
NOT-SO-MODEL CHILD: And then there was Jameson Hart, the nearly 3-year-old son of Pink and her husband, Carey Hart. He acted every bit the rambunctious boy, escaping from his parents’ clutches for some typical toddler horseplay during the show. His appearance on the front row was relatively brief, perhaps to the relief of Dierks Bentley and his wife, Cassidy, who were seated next to the boy.
SWEET CELEBRATION: Shelton had a veritable welcoming committee waiting for him when he returned to his front-row spot after winning CMA single of the year for “God’s Country.” RaeLynn, a Shelton protege on “The Voice,” was there to give him a tight hug, and after he took his seat, girlfriend Stefani was at the ready with her phone for selfies. Jordan Schmidt and Devin Dawson, two of the song’s co-writers, quickly descended on Shelton to celebrate, and once they departed, he and Stefani topped off the moment with a smooch.
MEET AND GREETS: Selfies appeared to be otherwise few and far between — much different from years past. This time around, the celebs seemed content for just old-fashioned conversation during commercial breaks. And there was lots of it. Among the sightings: Cody Johnson chatting with Eric Church; Gabby Barrett and new husband, Cade Foehner, making what appeared to be introductions with the Brothers Osborne; Jimmie Allen introducing his pregnant fiancée, Alexis Gale, to Garth Brooks and wife Trisha Yearwood. Keith Urban showed his reverence for the classics, seeking out Willie Nelson a few row behind him and warmly greeting Crystal Gayle as she passed by his front-row seat. Carrie Underwood’s husband, Mike Fisher, had a lengthy huddle with Lambert and McLoughlin.(Did that chat include thanks for Lambert’s impassioned public endorsement of Underwood for entertainer of the year?)
CROWD NOISE: TV viewers might have thought Luke Combs was getting booed when he bounded up the stage to receive his male artist of the year award. But if you were inside the hall, the loud sound was unmistakably chants of “Luke, Luke, Luke.” Who would have thought, even two years ago, that that name could be a rallying cry for anyone but Luke Bryan? Viewers also missed an audible “aww” from the sympathetic crowd when Shay Mooney announced his grandmother was in the hospital during Dan + Shay’s acceptance speech for duo of the year.
SINGALONGS: Just like the rest of us, a lot of singers enjoy singing along while watching someone else perform. Brooks & Dunn super-fan Combs knew every word to “Hard Workin’ Man.” Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott, who released her own faith album three years ago, obviously is familiar with the genre; she sang along with Dolly Parton’s Christian medley. And Eric Church couldn’t resist mouthing some of the words to Keith Urban’s “We Were.” Of course, Church had no trouble with the intricate lyrics: He co-wrote the song and recently recorded a version with Urban.
Check out PEOPLE’s full CMA Awards coverage to get the latest news on country music’s biggest night.
MUTUAL FAN CLUB: Fellow Texans Kacey Musgraves and Willie Nelson formed a fast friendship years ago, and their mutual affection was touchingly clear once the cameras turned away after their “Rainbow Connection” duet. Viewers could see Musgraves blow Nelson a kiss, but they missed that Nelson blew one back. That still wasn’t enough for Musgraves, who stepped closer to deliver a kiss on Nelson’s cheek.
CROWD-PLEASER: Garth Brooks showed why he is once again entertainer of the year as much off camera as he did on camera with his performance of “Dive Bar” with Shelton. Their sudden arrival on a satellite stage during a commercial break was greeted by a cheering throng in the back of the arena. Shelton was content to pass the break idly strumming his guitar. Not Brooks. He kept the cheers going, waving in every direction, bowing, chatting with an audience member, and grabbing another’s phone and appearing to film a quick video. Viewers may have missed those lighted circle-G Garth logos that rimmed the arena’s two upper decks, as if there was any doubt he owned the joint.
The 53rd annual Country Music Association Awards aired Wednesday night on ABC.