This year’s BMI Country Awards gala bestowed its highest honor on The Storyteller.
Revered tunesmith Tom T. Hall was presented with the BMI Icon Award at the Tuesday night (10/30) event. The organization’s Icon silver bucket will share shelf space with his Country Music Hall of Fame trophy as well as the 31 prior BMI Awards he has won. Hall has six songs that have been broadcast more than one million times apiece, as certified by BMI.
“I have never assumed I was anybody,” the droll star known as “The Storyteller” said during his acceptance speech. “I got a phone call from Del [Bryant] about six weeks ago and found out I was somebody special.
“I thought you might like to know what an Icon looks like,” he said to the crowd. “They’re old, aren’t they?” Hall is 76. “Miss Dixie and I met at this banquet 45 years ago,” he added, referring to his wife. “This might be the second luckiest night of my life.”
Hall was saluted in song by The Avett Brothers singing “That’s How I Got to Memphis.” Dailey & Vincent performed his “Can You Hear Me Now.” Justin Townes Earle essayed “The Homecoming.” Toby Keith and Scotty Emerick did snippets of “Ravishing Ruby” and “I Like Beer,” songs they often perform on the road, then did a full-band romp through “Faster Horses.”
“You’ve influenced everybody in this whole damn room,” said Toby to Tom.
Charlie McCoy, Kenny Vaughn, Dirk Johnson, Harry Stinson and Mike Bubb, dubbed “The Icon Band,” did an instrumental medley of Hall faves.
The other big winners at BMI included Dallas Davidson and Luke Laird, who shared the Country Songwriter of the Year honor. Laird and Rhett Akins co-wrote the Rodney Atkins hit “Take a Back Road,” which was named Song of the Year. Sony/ATV made it a clean sweep of the performance-rights banquets by winning Publisher of the Year, the same honor the company picked up at both SESAC and ASCAP.
This was the 60th annual BMI Nashville celebration. The organization was the first to present country-music awards to songwriters, thanks to the late Frances Preston.
“Sometimes when a woman puts her arms around you, it changes your life forever,” eulogized Layng Martine Jr. Preston died in June. “Frances gave us respect. Frances built this building we’re all in tonight. Frances was all about community, all about inclusiveness. The warmth, closeness and camaraderie that bind the Nashville music community together today are very much in the image of Frances Preston. She was the first person to stand up and wrap her arms around songwriters. Sometimes, there is nothing like a hug.”
“Tonight, we dedicate this awards gala to Frances W. Preston, who will inspire us forever,” added BMI chief Del Bryant. Based in New York, he said that Hurricane Sandy’s devastation there was much on his mind.
Nashville-based Jody Williams, assisted by Clay Bradley, presided over the presentations. Bradley dubbed the banquet, “the greatest party in country music.”
Short of the CMA Awards there is no event where more stars gather on the Nashville social calendar. Tuesday’s attendees included Jake Owen, Randy Owen, Randy Scruggs, Randy Montana, Billy Montana, Billy Currington, Billy Burnette, Billy Dean, Ira Dean, Dean Alexander, Thomas Rhett, Rhett Akins, Lee Roy Parnell and Lee Brice. This is a lucky week for Brice. At this time last year, “Crazy Girl,” the hit he co-wrote for Eli Young Band, was at No. 1. This week, the No. 1 record is Brice’s rendition of “Hard to Love.” He is also newly engaged, with an April wedding date planned.
That’s not all the stars who were there. Not by a long shot. Let’s try an alphabetical run at this: Ashley Monroe, the Avetts, The Band Perry, Brantley Gilbert, Brett Eldredge, Chris Young, Clay Walker, Colt Ford, Dailey & Vincent, Dustin Lynch, Eric Church, Florida Georgia Line, Frankie Ballard, George Strait, Hunter Hayes, J.T. Hodges, Jennifer Hanson & Mark Nesler, Jerrod Niemann, Justin Townes Earle, Kenny Chesney, Kix Brooks, Lari White & Chuck Cannon, Luke Bryan, Martina McBride, Matraca Berg & Jeff Hanna, Miranda Lambert, Pat McLaughlin, Paul Overstreet, Rodney Atkins, Ronnie McCoury, Rose Falcon, Sam Bush, Shawn Camp, Steve Holy, Tanya Tucker, Toby Keith, Tyler Farr and Wynonna & Cactus Moser.
Moser published two hits recorded by The Band Perry. The former Highway 101 member received a standing ovation as he took the stage. He lost a leg in a motorcycle accident several weeks ago.
The room also held a contingent of Country Music Hall of Fame members. In addition to George Strait, Randy Owen and Charlie McCoy, this group included Bobby Braddock, Harold Bradley, Ralph Emery, Jo Walker-Meador, Jim Foglesong and Jimmy Fortune of The Statler Brothers.
TV stars? BMI had those, too. NFL great Terry Bradshaw was in the house, not to mention stars from the ABC drama series Nashville – show creator Callie Khouri, plus Clare Bowen, Eric Close, Jonathan Jackson and Robert Wisdom. “It’s the mayor,” I said in greeting Wisdom. “I’d vote for you!” His character on the show is running for mayor of Music City. Wisdom was also a star on the acclaimed series The Wire.
BMI was the most fabulously decorated of the PRO banquets. Since it is held “at home” in its own building, there’s no venue rental. Instead, attention is paid to transforming an office and parking garage into a party wonderland.
Formal chandeliers were hung over the lobby’s reception desk. Grouped disco balls hung from various spots. Large, stem-like parabolas and curves were topped with white floral arrangements. These same stem structures were repeated in the dining area, as were the massed disco balls. The garage’s columns were covered in mirrors. Tables held exotic floral centerpieces on sequin-covered tablecloths. Some were amaryllis and tulip arrangements, while others featured yellow orchids with poppies or bird of paradise blooms with pink orchids.
Songwriting greats abounded in the crowd. Among such fabulons were Al Anderson, Lewis Anderson, Bob DiPiero, Bobby Pinson, Busbee, Dean Dillon, Luke Laird, Roger Murrah, Dennis Morgan, Norro Wilson, Thom Schuyler, Steve Bogard, Troy Verges, Wynn Varble, Craig Wiseman, John Scott Sherrill, Josh Leo, Keith Stegall, Liz Rose, Casey Beathard, Will Rambeaux and Ed Hill.
Not the least of these was Lamont Dozier. When Doug Johnson offered to introduce the Motown master to Jerrod Niemann and me, we jumped at the chance. I bowed and told the legend that I even have his solo LPs. “That’s the first time I’ve had chills on my legs!” exclaimed Niemann afterwards.
We dined on arugula and beet salad topped with pistachios and blue cheese in a peppery dressing. The main course was tender steak medallions with fingerling potatoes and asparagus.
The music industry throngs to this event. I spotted John Esposito, John Grady, John Ozier, Jon Freeman, Mark Wright, Mark Bright, Mark Brown, Mike Dungan, Sherod Robertson, Michael Knox, Lisa Ramsey, Lisa Konicki, Leslie Tomasina, Bobby Cudd, Bobby Rymer, Jerry Crutchfield and Gerry House.
Not to mention Luke Lewis, Scott Siman, Sarah Skates, Dan Hill, David Crow, David Briggs, Ansel Davis, Jenny Gill, Joe Galante, Allison Jones, Evelyn Shriver, Sarah Trahern, Tom Collins, Pat Finch, Andrew Kintz, Nashville School of Arts principal Greg Stewart, Barry Coburn, Tandy Rice, Charles Sussman, Blake Chancey, Denise Stiff, Eddie Bayers & Lane Brody, Arthur Buenahora, Erv Woolsey, Woody Bomar, Roy Wunsch & Mary Ann McCready, Shannon Houchins and Frank Rogers.
BMI desserts are usually served afterward in the lobby. This year, colorful food trucks were pulled into BMI’s circular driveway. They offered a delectable variety of yums, in addition to the bon-bons, pastry cups and other sweets inside.