The real winners of the 2016 ACM Awards weren't necessarily those who took home trophies. A few artists stole the show with unexpected performances and appearances. A few fanbases got long deserved recognition, and fans heard new songs from Carrie Underwood, Kenny Chesney, Jason Aldean and more.

A few million at home were treated to a three-hour all-star concert that didn't seem to break for commercial until 90 minutes in. Sure, Chris Stapleton was the night's big winner with six awards, but was he really the big winner?

Real Winner: Dierks Bentley

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When the "Somewhere on a Beach" singer was announced as ACM co-host, more than a few people thought "Really?!" But Bentley was solid. He looked anything but a television newbie as he effortlessly found the camera and his words to deliver jokes with the ease of an onstage veteran. The ACM Awards aren't as comedic as the CMAs, and while one can debate the direction of his monologue with Luke Bryan, it's hard to debate that Dierks Bentley looked and sounded great. Sign him up for 2017!

Real Winners: Carrie Underwood's Drummers

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They looked a little like the twins in the Keanu Reeves' The Matrix, but they were anything but evil. Okay, maybe they were a little evil, as Underwood sang about getting revenge on her character's abusive husband. The dramatic final moments of her "Church Bells" performance were delivered on the best set to be had by any ACMs performance. It was like a comic book brought to life.

Real Winner: Traditional Country Music

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Traditionalists had their night at the 2016 ACM Awards. Chris Stapleton won six (yes six!) ACMs, tying Garth Brooks and Faith Hill for most-ever trophies in one night. Pop and rock shined during some of the best performances, but traditional country music took the most hardware.

Real Winner: Thomas Rhett's Wife

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If anyone is justified in giving a great big "I told you so," it's Lauren Akins, Rhett's wife of three-and-a-half years. Lauren inspired "Die a Happy Man" and co-starred in a romantic video that helped boost the song's profile. She also stole a moment during his stripped-down performance when she was caught beaming with pride as her man sang their song in front of millions at home.

Real Winner: Trombone Shorty

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Trombone Shorty isn't totally new to country fans, as he appeared on Zac Brown Band's most recent Uncaged album. This was his first high-profile country awards show, however, and he and Little Big Town were stars. "Stay All Night" was a highlight performance from the 2016 ACMs. No other collaboration brought nearly as much energy.

Real Winners: Jason Aldean's Fans

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Aldean won the big award and cemented his legacy as one of the greatest of the generation. Sometimes an artist just deserves it based on their total body of work. Aldean falls into that category, but it's difficult to argue his year didn't compare with the ones other Entertainer of the Year frontrunners. His award is also a great win for his record label, Broken Bow Records. Independent labels have additional obstacles to overcome on their way to success. His loyal fans were finally recognized. It was overdue.

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