"First of all, this is f--king weird," said Eric Church on Wednesday night (Nov. 11) when he stepped in front of the camera in the 2020 CMA Awards' backstage virtual press room, facing a Zoom call full of media outlets.

Church was talking about the CMA ceremony, with its social distancing, face shields, lack of fans in the audience and reporters showing up, Brady Bunch style, in a little gallery of boxes on a computer screen instead of on a red carpet. But he was also talking about 2020 as a whole: all the time he's spent off the road, and how long it's been since he strapped on his guitar and played a show in front of a packed house of strangers who don't have anything in common except for a love of music.

For Church, 2020 has been an unexpected year in a number of ways, and not all of them bad. On the contrary, during Wednesday night's show, he was crowned CMA Entertainer of the Year -- a trophy he's been hoping to win for a long time -- for the first year ever.

Backstage, the singer echoed some of the thoughts that he brought up in his acceptance speech. "It's been a year, to me, of losses. It's been a year of managing those losses," Church reflected.

"So it was really hard for me to accept this award, which I have wanted forever -- not for me," the singer quickly clarifies, "but for the people that work so hard, and they push those carts up and down ramps, and they stay up all night long ... You know, not me or the band, but the guys that put us onstage.

"So the hardest thing was to stand there [on the CMAs stage] in 2020 and understand that you win that award, but this year is more about what the losses are," he adds.

Despite the, in many ways, bleak year that preceded the 2020 CMA Awards, Church says he saw reason to be hopeful when he looked around that ceremony: "We were in a room together as country music on this night, and that's not happened this year. So I think that was a win for country music, and a win for where we're gonna go in the next year or two," he continues.

That's a big deal, and not just for country music fans. Church went on to say that something like music -- something that unites people in a world where there's so much to divide them -- is what will ultimately help people come together to end the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It's gonna be music that brings us out of this, I promise," Church asserts. "It's not gonna be politics, it's not gonna be sports, it's gonna be music. It's gonna be people that can gather their people, whether it's vaccines or masks or however we do this thing.

"That is how we're gonna leave COVID in the dustbin of history," he adds.

See the Best of the 2020 CMA Awards Red Carpet

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