More Stars Than There Are in the Heavens.
That was the saying about the MGM lot during Hollywood’s golden age in the ‘30s and ‘40s. If there’s an organization in country music that can say the same in this golden age of country music, it is surely BMI. The performance rights organization’s 57th annual Nashville banquet (11/10) positively glittered with stardust.
We entered on the red carpet directly behind twinkling Taylor Swift, who held her red-ribbon medallion award against her form fitting cream-colored sheath for every photographer who asked. It meant that the line moved slowly, but it was fascinating to see how kind and patient she was with the demands of celebrity.
Once inside, we encountered super novas and baby stars alike. Joey + Rory, Jack Ingram, James Otto, Jake Owen, Jeffrey Steele, Jamey Johnson and Jimmy Wayne were mingling. So were Steve Cropper, Ray Stevens, Shawn Camp, Craig Morgan, Gary Chapman, Steve Wariner, Radney Foster, The Band Perry, American Idol’s Danny Gokey (whose debut single had dropped that day), Keith Urban, Lady Antebellum, Suzy Ragsdale, Miranda Lambert & Blake Shelton, Sugarland’s Kristian Bush, Billy Burnette and Keith Anderson.
I am not finished: Trent Tomlinson, Rodney Atkins, Terry McBride, Kid Rock, Patty Griffin, Emmy-winning actress Patricia Heaton of Everybody Loves Raymond fame, Dickey Lee, Luke Bryan, Heidi Newfield, Rodney Crowell, Billy Gibbons of Z.Z, Top and Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame fame, The Zac Brown Band, The Warren Brothers, Brooks & Dunn and such Hall of Famers as Bill Anderson, Vince Gill, Willie Nelson, Phil Everly and (I am told, but never saw) Randy Owen, with Jim Foglesong, Jo Walker-Meador and Harold Bradley sprinkled on top for good measure.
One of the highlights of the evening was the presentation of the BMI ICON award to Kris Kristofferson. BMI’s Del Bryant recounted the Hall of Famer’s bio, noting that Kris moved to Nashville in 1965 after sending his songs to the late Marijohn Wilkin, whose son Bucky Wilkin (of Ronnie & The Daytonas “G.T.O.” fame) was in the crowd. Marijohn escorted Kris to the Opry, where Johnny Cash “took his breath away.” A biographical video began with Rosanne Cash proclaiming, “I love you like a brother, a father and a friend.”
Vince Gill sang “Why Me, Lord” and drew a standing ovation. Patty Griffin sang a super soulful “Help Me Make it Through the Night” and drew a standing ovation. Willie Nelson said, “First of all, I want to say how proud I am to be here tonight to see this man get what he deserves. There is no better writer alive than this man.” Willie then sang “Loving Her Was Easier” and drew a standing ovation. All three pitched in on “Me and Bobby McGee” and drew, yes, a standing ovation.
“I want to thank Vince and Patty and Willie for making me cry at my table,” said a tender and moved Kris. He pointed out and thanked Fred Foster and Bob Beckham in the crowd and recalled such mentors as Roger Miller (whose widow Mary Miller attended), Tom T. Hall, Harlan Howard, Bill Anderson and Hank Cochran. “I better give the mic back, because I’m getting emotional right now,” Kris concluded, his silver ICON bowl in hand.
Bryant also presented the President’s Award to Kix Brooks & Ronnie Dunn. “Superstars are a distinct breed,” he said. “Nobody tells a story, sings a melody and brings us to our feet better than Brooks & Dunn…I couldn’t be prouder to present this to you.”
“This is the reason I came to town, to write songs,” said Kix. “Jody Williams and I were roommates in military school when we were 16 years old. He’s the one who got me to move to Nashville.” Quipped Ronnie, “I’m just thankful that you didn’t show any of those old bad-hair pictures.” Each was given an engraved silver tray.
Speaking of Jody, he and Clay Bradley, assisted by Beth Mason, passed out the 50 BMI Awards for the most performed country songs of the year. Bobby Pinson was named Songwriter of the Year. “Nobody does this for awards,” Bobby said. “This is a really, really big deal. This is the second most fun you can have in a parking garage,” he quipped about the banquet’s location on the transformed fourth floor of the BMI parking facility.
The Song of the Year went to Taylor Swift for “Love Story.” “Every songwriter here, you inspired me to become part of this town,” she said. The Publisher of the Year honor was again claimed by Sony-ATV Music.
Back to that transformed garage: The blue-lit room featured mirrored columns with greenery and clusters of “parachute” lights. The pale gray tablecloths held silver candelabra centerpieces dripping with crystals and holding glowing votives.
Our first course was pear slices and cream cheese with spinach salad drizzled with crumbled walnuts and bacon. The main course was surf & turf with green beans, mashed potatoes and tender carrots.
One could easily be distracted from the food (and many were, despite repeated pleas to “Take your seats”) by the presence of so many blue-chip songwriters. Norro Wilson, Larry Henley, Bob DiPiero, Tom Shapiro, Don Cook, NSAI Songwriter of the Year Wynn Varble, Thom Schuyler, Chuck Cannon, Even Stevens, Dennis Morgan, George Teren, Jim Collins, Bobby Braddock, Kent Blazy and Craig Wiseman were all in the house.
Everyone was garbed to the nines. Looks we liked included Leslie Satcher in her elegant, fringed burnt-velvet green evening poncho and Carla Wallace’s cream-colored formal suit. Lady Goodman/Holly Gleason was in a floor-length black-and-purple gown. Birthday girl Miranda Lambert shined in a vivid, electric-red sheath. Vicky McGehee turned heads in a lovely, simply cut, classic blue frock. Judy Harris chose a purple rhinestoned evening jacket. And you couldn’t miss Aimee Mayo’s encrusted, silver-sequined skinny pants and furry black vest.
Industry titans Mark Bright, Mark Wright, Doug Howard, Tom Collins, Paul Worley, Fletcher Foster, Gary Overton, Pat Higdon, Tony Conway, Dann Huff, Jerry Crutchfield, Clarence Spalding and Joe Galante schmoozed.
I have been loving our table assignments. At SESAC, we had dined with Joe Nichols and his band. At BMI, we had a ball seated with Bill Anderson, Steve & Caryn Wariner and Josh Leo, who was escorting Monique, the lead singer of a New York band he’s producing called Her & King’s County.
The who’s-who crowd also contained Bill Denny, Kurt Denny, Billy Ray Hearn, Bill Ivey, Brent Maher, Dale Bobo, Scott Borchetta, Barbara Orbison, Mickey Raphael, Katie Gillon and John Dorris. Walter’s widow Heidi Hyatt was shepherding the stellar Belleville Outfit, who performed during dinner. The group includes Champ Hood’s nephew and performs several of Walter Hyatt’s songs from Uncle Walt’s Band. Heidi said its third CD will be recorded with Matt Rollings.
Arthur Buenahora, Tracy Gershon & Steve Fishell, Craig & Pamela Brown Hayes, Leslie Tomasino DiPiero (THERE, you finally got your shout-out), Tim Wipperman, Dick Frank, Mike Milom and Jim Free worked the room with such award winners as Tony Martin, Mark Nesler, Tom Douglas, Monty Criswell, Michael Heeney, Bill Luther, Phil O’Donnell, Clint Daniels, Brett Beavers, the recently wed Dallas Davidson, Steve McEwan, Lee Thomas Miller, new-to-BMI Liz Rose, Keith Follese, Luke Laird (who is engaged to BMI’s Beth Mason), D. Vincent Williams, Wade Kirby and Rodney Clawson.
As is the custom, after the awards banquet we returned to the cocktail lobby downstairs for dessert and beverages.