The speeches were kept to a minimum, and that left more time for music, music, music.
The good folks at Leadership Music are going to be hard-pressed to top the talent parade that performed at this year’s Dale Franklin Award ceremony. Staged Sunday evening (8/29) at the Renaissance Hotel ballroom, the event saluted Fred Foster, Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson and featured tribute songs from Rodney Crowell, Charlie McCoy, Billy Swan, Dolly Parton, Shawn Camp, Lyle Lovett, Lee Ann Womack, Jamey Johnson, Lorrie Morgan and Randy Travis.
Leadership Music executive director Karen Oertley and current board president Jamie Cheek welcomed everyone. Oertley noted that past recipients of this honor have been Tony Brown (2004), Gerry House (2005), Emmylou Harris (2006), Frances Preston (2007), the Bradley family (Owen, Harold, Patsy, Jerry, Connie, 2008) and Jim Foglesong – Allen Reynolds – Garth Brooks (2009). Tony Brown, Patsy Bradley, Harold Bradley and Jim Foglesong were all in the house.
Vince Gill was our able host for the gala. “What three amazing people, and what a legacy they have built,” he noted. “Fred was a true visionary. The motto at Fred’s label was ‘Monument Is Artistry.’”
Foster’s Monument Records was home to not only Kristofferson, Nelson, Swan, Parton and McCoy, but also to Roy Orbison, Boots Randolph, Tony Joe White, Jeannie Seely (who attended), Larry Jon Wilson, Larry Gatlin, Grandpa Jones, Ed Bruce, Henson Cargill and Ray Stevens, among others.
BMI’s Del Bryant recalled the close friendship forged between Foster and his late father, Boudleaux Bryant. “I’m proud to be a part of the night that honors you,” he said.
Then Crowell and McCoy performed a smoking version of Orbison’s “Dream Baby.” McCoy did his 1972 hit harmonica instrumental of “Today I Started Loving You Again.” Swan romped through his 1974 Monument smash “I Can Help.” Parton performed her 1967 breakthrough hit “Dumb Blonde,” which was produced by Foster.
“It’s amazing how far we’ve come and how far we’ve traveled,” she said. “Thank you for believing in me and for helping me to get started. I love you.”
“I love you, too,” Foster responded. “I will always love you.” Hmmm. I think there’s a song in there somewhere.
Added Foster, “I’m so happy to be part of this music family. To have my name mentioned in the same breath as Dale Franklin is honor enough. I’ve had some wonderful experiences with some wonderful people. This might be the Big Time, right here.”
Attendee Bob Beckham was shown on video, reflecting on Kristofferson’s career. Tribute-show bandleader Shawn Camp was up next, with a sensational cover of “Sunday Morning Coming Down.”
“Man, it’s my birthday!” he exclaimed. “Best birthday present I ever got….I can’t tell you what an honor it is to be part of this night.”
Before I go any further, I have to give a shout-out to the rest of the musicians who backed everyone. They were simply superb – Steve Hinson (steel), Bobby Wood (keys), Kenny Malone (drums), Dennis Crouch (upright bass) and Guthrie Trapp (lead guitar), plus Camp (acoustic guitar) and McCoy (harmonica).
Backed by those guys, Lovett turned in a mesmerizing version of “Me and Bobby McGee.” A tearful Kristofferson gave him a standing ovation. “Kris Kristofferson loves and respects music,” said Lovett. “He takes the personal and makes it universal. He takes the universal and makes it personal.”
Following Womack’s “Loving Her Was Easier,” Tamara Saviano did the award presentation. “The selection committee has chosen well,” she said. “All of us would be better leaders if we followed Kris’s example.
“The Kris I know is a reluctant icon. He is genuinely perplexed by the recognition.”
A clearly moved Kristofferson stammered, “I’m kinda speechless. To be up here getting an award along with Fred Foster and Willie Nelson, I kind of feel like I’m dreaming.”
Host Gill said of Nelson, “They ought to put a fifth head on Mt. Rushmore. He’s done more for this country than just about anybody. He’s what America is all about.”
Steven Colbert appeared on video to salute Nelson. Country radio DJ Hall of Famer Lee Arnold stated of Nelson, “He is the most cherished person in country music today. He has touched more lives than just about anybody, in all genres of music.”
Johnson did “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” as a solo with just his own acoustic guitar accompaniment. Backed by pianist Mark Oliverius and the band, Morgan totally nailed the oft-sung “Crazy.”
“I’m such a big fan – This makes me a little bit nervous,” said Travis prior to an excellent rendition of “Funny How Time Slips Away.”
“My, my what a night,” said award presenter Brenda Lee. “Willie Nelson is certainly a rare commodity. You don’t get more ‘real’ than Willie Nelson. I’ve always wondered how somebody that laid back could get so much done.”
“All the nice things people said about me, I almost gave myself a standing ovation,” quipped Nelson.
Gill summoned all the singers to the stage to round out the evening with a spirited “On the Road Again.” To shouts of acclaim, Nelson again left his seat to lead the merry music making of Camp, Lovett, Travis, Johnson, Swan and Kristofferson.
Not surprisingly, the cheering section was liberally sprinkled with major songwriting talents. In the crowd were Bobby Braddock, Dickey Lee, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Eddy Raven, Bob & Leslie Tomasino DiPiero, Gretchen Peters, Randy Houser, Dene Anton, Guy Clark, Dennis Morgan, Fred Knobloch and the legendary Ronnie Hawkins.
Such notable songwriter boosters as Bart Herbison, Erika Wollam-Nichols, Tim DuBois, Tim Fink, Jody Williams and Phil Graham were in attendance, too. Also working the room were Steve Gibson, Steve Fishell & Tracy Gershon, Charles Dorris, John Dorris, John Lomax III, Jonathan Yudkin, Kay Clary, Kay Williams, Kay West, Kerry O’Neil, Kyle Young, Kira Florita, Ken Levitan, David & Carolyn Corlew, Caroline Davis, Jay Frank, Anita Hogin, Denise Stiff, Ben Vaughn, Blake Chancey, Doug Howard, Rod Essig, Evelyn Shriver, Harry Chapman, Michelle Berlin, Peter Collins, Bonnie Garner, Ed Benson and Jo Walker-Meador.