Rather than placing its date next to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame banquet—or anybody else—the organization elected to stage a stand-alone ceremony. Which is fine with those of us who face multiple deadlines. For the first time, the event was held at War Memorial Auditorium and on its plaza. For this 48th annual celebration, drinks and dinner were served in a (somewhat warm) plaza tent. The meal was done buffet-style, featuring pasta dishes, seasonal vegetables, chicken, beef, breads, olives and a cheese course. Then, in reverse order of recent ASCAP fetes, came the music and the awards.
We were herded inside the War Memorial and given Fiji Water bottles. Goody, it’s the brand I already drink.
The gala featured fine musical performances. The Joe Robinson Band kicked things off with a spirited set of blues rock. “Joe has taken Nashville by storm,” said Paul Williams. “We’re glad he’s joined the ASCAP family.”
During the awards presentation, the five most-played country songs were performed by their writers. Chris Young sang “Gettin’ You Home” with flawless honky-tonk vocal phrasing. Darius Rucker and Frank Rogers did “Alright.” Dierks Bentley and The Traveling McCourys performed an acoustic arrangement of “Sideways.” David Lee Murphy sang “Big Green Tractor.” Josh Kear and Lady Antebellum drew a standing ovation for a harmony-drenched “Need You Now.”
To celebrate the ASCAP Founders Award presentation to Alan Jackson, Chris returned to do a killer version of “Wanted,” and Dierks returned to do “Midnight in Montgomery.” Then Steve Earle appeared to perform “Here in the Real World.”
“Steve Earle made me sound cool for a minute there,” said Alan. He also mused that he should have saved “Wanted” to pitch to Chris, who sang it so well. “I’m very honored and very humbled,” added Alan.
“I don’t feel worthy,” Alan said earlier on the red carpet. “I don’t feel any different than when I first moved to Nashville.” He asked for Steve to be there, he added. “I didn’t think he’d do it, but there he was.”
The Global Impact Award was given to Jessi Alexander for her massive Miley Cyrus hit “The Climb.” Connie Bradley, who recently left ASCAP, was surprised to learn that the Nashville office’s conference room is being named The Connie Bradley Board Room in her honor. She served ASCAP for 34 years. “You couldn’t work for a better organization or better people,” she said. “ASCAP and its people have been a blessing in my life.”
Dierks won Artist-Songwriter of the Year. Publisher of the Year went to an indie, Sea Gayle Music, instead of a multi-national corporation. So that was cool. Josh won Song of the Year for “Need You Now.” “Thanks for letting me be a part of it,” he said, “an amazing, amazing ride.”
Brett James earned a standing ovation when he was announced as Songwriter of the Year. “It’s amazingly humbling to be standing in front of you people,” he said. “I just feel luckier than heck to be in this business.”
Brett was dressed in a stylish black velvet jacket. As is customary, this gala had glamour. Invitations read, “creative black tie,” and many were garbed just that way. Richard Young chose a dark denim shirt with a beaded bolo tie. He says he has seven songs ready for the next Kentucky HeadHunters CD. The group still tours constantly. Gary Burr and Wayland Holyfield wore black-on-black shirts and jackets. Angelina Presley was a dish in a roses-print frock. Tom Roland wore pin stripes. Erika Wollam-Nichols was fetching in floor-length ebony. Joey + Rory arrived in cowgirl boots and overalls, respectively.
Bucky Covington chose a pale blue t-shirt, jeans and a trim black jacket. Kellie Pickler wore a scalloped and sequined cream-and-black mini cocktail dress with a wide black belt and sky-high stilleto heels. Love & Theft were colorfully garbed. Hillary Lindsey was in a white, Grecian-draped, off-the-shoulder cocktail dress. Craig Wiseman wore a black sequined shirt instead of a Big Loud one. Jonathan Singleton was in a dressy vest with sporty tennis shoes. Darrell Brown chose worn blue jeans and a gray jacket. Jason Sellers had on a sleek silver shirt.
Carla Wallace was eye catching in a figure-hugging crimson satin, knee-length dress. Chris Stapleton’s beard and long hair were topped with a tan cowboy hat. Brett Jones was in a white, tails-out western shirt. Barry Coburn wore a metallic blue tux jacket. Turning heads everywhere was Liz O’Sullivan in a floor-length, strapless shimmering blue evening gown.
Others arrived with news rather than fashions. Robert Ellis Orrall, for example, has the farewell Judds single. Pat Alger is being inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame next month. Don Schlitz is being presented with the ACM’s Poet’s Award next week. Jerry Bradley is back on the scene, looking remarkably well.
Victoria Banks was fresh from the Canadian Country Music Awards, having won both the Female Vocalist and Songwriter prizes. Marc Beeson has a new CD, as does pop princess Alyssa Bonagura. Steve Williams was celebrating his new FAME job. Beverly Keel was freshly minted as a Universal exec, and it was kind of fun watching her having to introduce herself to her own artist, David Nail.
Merrily mixing and mingling were fabulons Radney Foster, Gloriana, John David Souther, Will Byrd, Jimmy Webb, Tree Paine, Roger Murrah, Amy Kurland, David & Carolyn Corlew, David & Karen Conrad, David & Susana Ross, David Ewing & Alice Randall, Doug Johnson, Doug Howard & Linda Edell, Denise Stiff and Garth Fundis.
We gabbed in the evening air alongside and/or with Bobby Rymer, Ron Stuve, Rivers Rutherford, Kay West, Ronna Rubin, Jo Walker-Meador, Bob Doyle, Katie Gillon, Adam James, Barbara Cloyd, Deanna Bryant, Ken Levitan, Mark Ford, Hal David, Roger Greenaway, Trent Willmon, Chris DuBois and Anita Hogin.
Co-host Tim DuBois introduced Mayor Karl Dean and Nashville First Lady Ann Davis in the audience. “Thank you for coming,” Tim said to us. “I’ve worn a number of different caps, and I’m proud to be wearing the ASCAP.”