More Stars Than There Are in the Heavens.
That was the slogan at MGM Studios during Hollywood’s golden age, but for country lovers, it was also true at the BMI Awards on Tuesday evening (11/8). Get this:
Jason Aldean, Gary Allan, Bill Anderson, John Anderson, Rodney Atkins, Hall of Fame Steelers quarterback and country songwriter Terry Bradshaw (!), Kix Brooks, Luke Bryan, Kristian Bush of Sugarland, Kenny Chesney, Billy Currington, Jay DeMarcus of Rascal Flatts, Ralph Emery, Vince Gill & Amy Grant, Lady Antebellum, Miranda Lambert, Little Big Town, Martina McBride, Craig Morgan, Jerrod Niemann, pop star John Oates, Paul Overstreet, Jake Owen, Randy Owen of Alabama, Blake Shelton, Ray Stevens, Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban & Nicole Kidman, Clay Walker, Lee Ann Womack and Chris Young.
And that’s just scratching the surface. I’ll tell you more in a moment.
Georgia Peach Pickers band mates Dallas Davidson and Rhett Akins, who are frequent songwriting collaborators, tied for BMI Country Songwriter of the Year. They held their twin trophies high and were presented with custom Martin guitars.
“Wow, it really actually happened,” said a beaming Dallas. “This is a Big Deal. I thank the writers in this room for teaching me about craftsmanship. This is the best night: I was the worst waiter that Nashville, TN has ever seen. I accept this award representing the State of Georgia. God bless country music.”
“This is unbelievable,” Rhett exclaimed. “I’m a singer and a songwriter, but I’m a fan first of all. I want to thank Joe Nichols, Blake Shelton, Josh Turner, Rodney Atkins and Luke Bryan for recording our songs. Wherever Hank Williams Jr. and George Strait are tonight, you’re the reason I’m standing up here. I love Nashville!”
Sony/ATV Music Publishing was named Publisher of the Year. This is the company’s 10th consecutive win and its 35th time to win through BMI history overall.
The BMI Country Song of the Year was presented for the first time as the Frances W. Preston Award. Frances received a standing ovation when she was introduced as, “the best friend a song ever had.”
The trophy went to “All Over Me,” the Josh Turner hit co-written by Rhett and Dallas. Their other winning songs were “Farmer’s Daughter” (Dallas), “Rain Is a Good Thing” (Rhett) and (together) “All About Tonight,” “Gimmie That Girl” and “The Shape I’m In,” as well as “All Over Me.”
The biggest award of the evening went to new Country Music Hall of Fame member Bobby Braddock, to whom the evening was effectively dedicated. He is the 2011 BMI Icon.
“We will not stop loving him today, or any other day,” said Del Bryant.
“When I was a teenager, I would read Billboard magazine every week and memorize the charts,” Bobby reminisced. “I noticed that all my favorite country and rock ‘n’ roll records were with BMI. I wanted to become a BMI writer. That’s the truth….We are so lucky. We get to earn a living doing something we love, writing songs.”
Throughout the awards show, the certificate presentations paused for performances of Bobby’s gems. Pistol Annies did a super countrified “D-I-V-O-R-C-E.” Blake Shelton, who was discovered and first produced by Bobby, chose a humorous and obscure title, “Same Old Song.”
John Anderson delighted the crowd with “Would You Catch a Falling Star.” LeAnn Rimes and Vince Gill teamed up for the iconic “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” Singing a torchy lead, LeAnn reached down into her lower register and totally nailed it. Martina led the standing ovation.
“To hear these new interpretations of these old songs just thrills me,” said Bobby.
The musical interludes helped the evening move along smoothly. When you’re giving out 50 awards, things can get a mite tedious. Musical punctuations made the extravaganza seem much livelier.
As usual, the BMI garage was utterly transformed for the occasion. Now it can be told: The mastermind behind the opulent décor is BMI’s own Bucky Farnor.
The garage columns were covered in mirrors with glowing, fabric shaded lights clustered above each. Masses of violet hydrangeas, green anthurium blossoms, lime mums, purple winter cabbage heads, greenery and tall peacock feathers were arranged at the bases. The center stage was ringed with amber light strands and greenery. Two giant floral towers topped with tall stuffed peacocks flanked the band stage.
“We’re proud as peacocks,” explained Del. “There’s a theme here. We are proud to represent your works and proud to be your family and your friends.”
Lime green tablecloths held silver candelabras dripping with crystals on elegant beaded chargers as the centerpieces, surrounded by pale blue glass votives. Dazzling guitarist Guthrie Trapp played as we took our seats. He was ear ecstasy.
I promised I’d drop more stellar names. Among those seated at those tables were The Band Perry, Big Kenny, Josh Thompson, James Otto, Mark Collie, Lauren Alaina (it was her 17th birthday, what a party), Brantley Gilbert, Dailey & Vincent, Eden’s Edge, Kip Moore, Scotty Emerick, members of the Zac Brown Band, Sarah Buxton, Jennifer Hanson & Mark Nesler, Gerry House, Terry McBride, Jack Ingram, American Idol alumnus Casey James, Keith Stegall, Hunter Hayes, Del McCoury & Ronnie McCoury, Brett Eldredge, Lee Roy Parnell, Sam Bush, new Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee Thom Schuyler, Deborah Allen, Dickey Lee, Al Anderson, Sandra Lee and The Warren Brothers.
“Welcome to the 59th BMI Country Awards,” Del proclaimed. “This room is beautiful, and you are beautiful in it.”
BMI awards host Jody Williams proposed a toast to all the wives, husbands, girlfriends, boyfriends, parents and pas who support struggling songwriters.
“Welcome to the greatest cocktail party in country music,” said Clay Bradley. He pointed out that 16 writers were winning their first BMI country awards this year: “There is nothing like being embraced by the Nashville songwriting community.”
That night, the community included Michael Kosser, Mike Hollandsworth, Mike Vaden, Mike Milom, Tom Shapiro, Tom Collins, Bob Montgomery, Bob Doyle, Bob Schieffer (yes, the Face the Nation TV star is a BMI country songwriter, too), Bob Beckham, Red Lane, Lane Brody & Eddie Bayers, Scott Hendricks, Sandi & Scott Borchetta (who just won a T.J. Martell Award in New York), Norro Wilson, Wally Wilson and his fellow double-initials Luke Laird, Luke Lewis, Fletcher Foster and Dean Dillon.
Also attending the gala were Mark Bright, Mark Wright, Jim Foglesong, James Stroud, John Wiggins, Jerry Crutchfield, Jeff Stevens, Even Stevens, Frank Liddell, Dick Frank (did you know he is the king of daffodil growers?), Dennis Morgan, Don Henry, Rod Essig, Ron & Regina Stuve, Roy Wunsch & Mary Ann McCready, Lewis Anderson, Sherod Robertson, Cindy Heath, Joe Galante, Jo Walker-Meador, Tim Nichols, Jerry Bradley, Anastasia Brown, Clint Higham, Greg Fowler and the mono monikered Angelo and Busbee.
Former BMI honcho Roger Sovine attended, arriving from L.A. (Lower Alabama, where he is retired). Dale Morris talked about his talented new bi-lingual management client, Andy Gibson. Josh Leo had his new production client with him, singer Morgan Tobias. Kent Blazy, Larry Henley, Walter Campbell, Bruce Hinton (also retired, to both Sun Valley and Mexico), Kyle Young, Ansel Davis, David Wykoff, Becky Harris and Sherman Halsey worked the room.
Looks we liked: Allison Jones wore a ruched eggplant-hued, body-conscious cocktail dress with a plunging bodice. Red-haired Phran Galante donned an eye-popping, red-orange creation with slashed sleeves. Leggy Nicole Kidman was breathtaking in a figure-hugging, floor-length red & white gown with a dramatic, asymmetrical neckline. Ashley Monroe chose a beige mini dress with starburst, silver-sequined designs and long fringe dripping from the hem.
Natalie Hemby looked great in a floor-length, draped evening gown with dramatic alternating red and black panels. Miranda Lambert was in a black ruched cocktail dress with lace bodice, sleeves and back. Carrie Underwood glowed in silver-and-black shiny tiger stripes on a tight mini dress. Butch Baker dusted off his dad’s 60-year-old gold brocade tux jacket. Tall Taylor Swift showed off a plum-purple, patterned, long-sleeved, glittering, sequined mini dress. She’ll be named Billboard’s Woman of the Year in December. Blake Shelton was in a crisp white shirt with rolled sleeves, a red tie, a navy vest and blue jeans. Eternally young Connie Bradley wore a vivid red evening jacket.
Ree Guyer Buchanan was in a clingy, floor-length ebony jersey gown and extra-long, sparkling earrings. Martina McBride was a knockout with her upswept hair and halter-necked, flowing evening gown in autumn tones of umber and ochre. The chiffon creation had a wafting train and was gathered with a jewel clasp at the waist. Hubby John McBride wore a dark velvet corduroy jacket.
The salad was a meal in itself – artichoke, roasted red pepper, Portobello mushroom, baby greens, goat cheese, pumpkin seeds, roasted yellow pepper and zucchini. We dined on beef medallions over mashed potato and excellent crab cake plus asparagus spears, baby carrots and roasted cherry tomatoes.
Desserts were served downstairs in the BMI lobby. We were serenaded there by Hall of Famer Harold Bradley & The All Star Band. The repertoire? Why, BMI country classics, of course. Singer Chuck Mead did the chestnuts proud.
Fun facts to know and tell: With 500-some workers, BMI is the largest employer on Music Row. In 1953, BMI became the first-ever organization to give awards to country writers and publishers.