From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
Talk about having a game plan. At the 35th Annual Country Music Association Awards, security concerns ran so high stars were asked to arrive as early as noon to tape the whole show, except for the announcement of winners (every nominee taped an acceptance speech!)—just in case terrorists disrupted the Nov. 7, 8 p.m., live broadcast. "It's been a long day," said Trace Adkins, who had arrived at Nashville's Grand Ole Opry at 11 a.m. Sara Evans, Trisha Yearwood and Martina McBride, who were all up for the best female vocalist prize, spent the time dishing in their dressing room. "We'd get on our gowns and be like, 'Girl! Girl!' complimenting each other," said a Marc Bouwer-clad Evans, who won music video of the year. "It was like a slumber party." The bonding feel continued during the show as the A-list crowd jumped to its feet at the end of Alan Jackson's patriotic "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)," a Sept. 11 tribute he wrote one sleepless night just days after the attacks.

Postshow some revelers headed downtown to F. Scott's art-deco-style restaurant, where Willie Nelson and Sheryl Crow celebrated the Soggy Bottom Boys' surprise single of the year win for "I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow." "The CMAs have always had a family feel," said Brad Paisley, a three-time nominee. "This year it was even more close-knit."