Photos by Rick Diamond and Andrew H. Walker
The 58th annual BMI Country Awards – the first of all the country accolades – mixed young with old like never before.
Taylor Swift, 20, became the youngest person ever to be named the organization’s Songwriter of the Year. Nineteen tunesmiths won their first BMI Awards, including Justin Moore, Eddie Montgomery, Bubba Strait and Jon Mabe.
On the other hand, Sony/ATV won its ninth consecutive and 33rd overall Publisher of the Year honor. And the crowd was full of classic Music Row personalities such as Norro Wilson, Fred Foster, Jerry Crutchfield, Jerry Chesnut, Jerry & Connie Bradley, David Briggs, David Malloy, Dickie Lee, Bucky Wilkin, Larry Henley, Jo Walker-Meador, Jim Foglesong, Tom Collins, Even Stevens, Kenny & Corky O’Dell, Bob Beckham and Layng Martine.
As always, the manically schmoozy cocktail hour set the tone for the evening. Big Al Anderson came bearing news that he’s doing a record with Shawn Camp and Pat McLaughlin next month. I complimented Thom Schuyler on his excellent radio voice as the host of the new Bluebird Café radio series on WPLN. Ashton Shepherd said her sophomore CD is ready to go. Both of Paul Overstreet’s sons are now in the biz. At last year’s banquet, we celebrated Nash Overstreet’s pop band Hot Chelle Ray getting signed to Arista (the record is out now, and it’s a dandy). This year, we’re toasting Chord Overstreet as a new cast member on the TV and music phenom Glee.
As we entered, the Steel Magnolia kids were posing for snapshots with the fans gathered on the other side of the street from the red carpet. So cute. The star-gazing was abundant. Jack Ingram, Kix Brooks, Jamey Johnson, Jeff Hanna, Tim McGraw, Miranda Lambert, Blake Shelton, Keith Urban, Lady Antebellum, Dailey & Vincent, Joey + Rory, Clay Walker, Randy Houser, Billy Burnette, American Idol alumnus Casey James, Little Big Town’s Phillip Sweet, Eric Church, Rodney Atkins, Rhett Akins, Easton Corbin, Jason Aldean, Sugarland’s Kristian Bush, Joe Don Rooney & Jay DeMarcus of Rascal Flatts, The Zac Brown Band, Luke Bryan, Ira Dean and Craig Morgan were all in the house.
Most were dressed to kill. Chris Young was in a gray tailored suit and a black cowboy hat. Suzi Ragsdale wore a black sequined top over pegged black slacks. Butch Baker was garbed in his grandfather’s gold brocade, big-band jacket/uniform. Jake Owen was in a sleek, fitted, sharkskin suit. Tanya Tucker sported silver sequins. Carrie Underwood had upswept hair and a formal, retro black mini dress. Josh Turner chose a trim gray suit. Martina McBride was a vision in a backless, gray, floor-length gown covered in pale blue sequins. Taylor Swift wore a shiny, black shift. Faith Hill was breathtaking in a Grecian-inspired, draped halter dress in tones of beige and taupe.
We entered the banquet room to the lively strains of The Belleville Outfit. Love them. Tables were covered in crimson tablecloths and centered with candelabras dripping with crystals set in piles of red-hots candies. Masses of red, tropical anthurium flowers surrounded mirrored posts with more crystals hanging above. The schmoozing continued during the brie, apple and spinach salad. The main course was surf and turf with asparagus, green beans, tomato and butter-infused mashed potatoes.
“What a lovely night for a party,” proclaimed Del Bryant in greeting the crowd. He introduced special guests Sandra Lee from the show Semi Homemade on TV’s Food Network and Chad Kroeger from the band Nickelback. Here are two people I bet you didn’t know were BMI country songwriters – Titans quarterback Kerry Collins and CBS TV newsman Bob Schieffer. Both were also recognized. Del’s introduction of Frances Preston drew the evening’s first standing ovation.
“Songwriters, this is your night; this is your community; this is your home,” Del concluded. Jody Williams and Clay Bradley ably co-hosted the actual awards presentations, assisted by Beth Laird. Yes, she and winning tunesmith Luke Laird have tied the knot. “Welcome to the greatest cocktail party in country music,” quipped Clay.
Folks like Troy Tomlinson, B.J. Hill, Angelo, Wynn Varble and Lee Thomas Miller took to the centrally situated stage one by one. Around the middle of the evening, Del reappeared to laud Billy Sherrill as this year’s BMI Icon. “Billy Sherrill changed the face of country music,” stated Del. The legendary producer has more BMI country awards than any other songwriter. Following a video tribute, Ronnie Dunn sang “The Most Beautiful Girl,” Martina McBride sang “Til I Can Make it on My Own,” George Strait sang “My Elusive Dreams,” and Faith Hill sang “Stand By Your Man.” Billy, himself, led the well-deserved standing ovations for each.
“Thank you very much,” said Billy. “I’m not a big talker. This is overwhelming to me.” “We couldn’t create an award big enough to show how we feel about you,” said Del. “Most of all, we want to thank you for what you’ve done for this community.” Then Del mistakenly dismissed the audience, apparently thinking the night was over, but quickly recovered asking everyone to turn around and stay.
So after Clay and Jody gave out the other half of the awards, the Song of the Year was proclaimed to be “You Belong with Me,” penned by Taylor Swift and Liz Rose. This was Taylor’s third consecutive year to win this honor. Also: She got a custom Martin D-42 guitar for being named Songwriter of the Year.
“It’s been a really emotional week for me,” said Taylor, who’s new Speak Now CD instantly sold a million. “Yesterday, I sang at the funeral of one of my best friends. He was 21. I always sang my songs first for him. So I dedicate this to Jeff Lang. I want to thank everyone in this room who inspires me every day.”
Songwriting and publishing royalty peppered the banquet. Jim Beavers, Brett Beavers, Bob DiPiero, Bobby Pinson, Bobby Braddock, Bobby Rhymer, Bob Doyle, Bobby Tomberlin, George Teren, George Ducas, Tim Mensy, Tim James, Tom Shapiro, Tom Douglas, Tom Botkin, Dean Dillon, Dallas Davidson, Dennis Morgan, Kent Blazy and Cory Batten were sharing the fellowship. So were Pam Rose, Frank Myers, Randy Scruggs, Kye Fleming, Celia Froelig, Tracy Gershon, John Scott Sherrill, Jeffrey Steele and Stephanie Bentley.
Pat Finch was totally elegant in a white, double-lapel dinner jacket with a pale blue dress shirt. Natalie Hemby turned heads in a red cocktail dress. Scott Siman was in a sporty chapeau and tails-out embroidered shirt. Fletcher Foster was in black velvet. Melissa Peirce rocked a strapless white mini dress. Shawn Camp wore a cream-colored fedora. Casey Beathard was in a black western shirt with white embroidery.
During the lengthy ceremony, Jody paused to praise retiring WSIX radio legend Gerry House and The Grand Ole Opry’s Pete Fisher for his the-show-must-go-on response to May’s flood. He also pointed out the music community’s outpouring of support with many flood-relief club shows and concerts.
At 11:00 p.m., we headed back to the BMI lobby to enjoy desserts and the super sound of the Harold Bradley Band. Power couples working the room at various points during the evening included Lari White & Chuck Cannon, Sherrie Austin & Will Rambeaux, David & Carolyn Corlew, Marcus Hummon & Bekka Stevens, Mayor Karl Dean & Anne Davis, Eddie Bayers & Lane Brody, Steve & Ree Guyer Buchanan, Beverly Keel & Ronnie Steine and Jon Randall & Jessi Alexander.
Other fabulons vogue-ing about included Luke Lewis, Joe Galante, Gary Overton, Bart Herbison, Kay Williams, Larry Fitzgerald, Ron Stuve, Kyle Lehning, Jewel Coburn, Bill Ivey, Jim Free, Chris Horsnell, Mark Wright, Joe Chambers, Michael Knox, Tony Brown, Frank Liddell, Scott Hendricks, Garth Fundis, Ken Robold, John Dorris, Erv Woolsey, Mike Milom, Paul Worley and Whitney Daane.