For the ninth presentation of the Leadership Music Dale Franklin Awards, they tried a few new things. The Wednesday evening (10/17) event was held at the historic War Memorial Auditorium for the first time. Instead of a sit-down banquet, it was an outdoor cocktail supper on Legislative Plaza. Production values were notched up. War Memorial isn’t noted for its great acoustics, yet the music at this event sounded better than it ever has. In addition, the visual projections and video walls looked good.
Named for Leadership Music’s founding executive director, the awards recognize music industry figures who embody leadership and exemplify leading by example. This year’s honorees were Vince Gill, Charlie Daniels and Randy Owen. In addition, Mayor Karl Dean was presented with the Brian Williams Ambassador Award.
Leadership Music’s Debbie Schwartz Linn and Jeff Gregg welcomed the crowd, the latter noting that there are now more than 900 alumni and calling LM, “a truly unique and remarkable organization.” Debbie introduced our host, radio star Blair Garner, who will be a member of the 2013 Leadership Music class.
“It’s an honor to be with you tonight,” Blair said to Vince. “If Vince was needed, he would just say yes, and that was all there was to it,” Blair added. He listed just a few of the star’s MANY charitable endeavors.
Vince’s bandleader John Hobbs said that Vince is, “incredibly generous with his time, his talent and his heart.” Fiddler Kenny Sears mentioned Vince’s participation as a sideman in the country swing ensemble The Time Jumpers. “Vince insisted, I’m one in 11, no more, no less,” Kenny said. He continued, “I think Vince is one of the most generous men I know, no more, no less.”
With Dawn Sears on lead vocals, the band performed the Vince-penned ballad “The Faint of Heart.” Then Big Al Anderson rocked Vince’s “One More Last Chance.”
“Just with your presence and your humanity and your big heart, you made us all better people,” said Rodney Crowell. He then reminded the crowd of the star’s sense of humor. Rodney romped through “It’s Hard to Kiss the Lips at Night (That Chew Your Ass Out All Day Long).”
Vince’s daughter Jenny Gill and wife Amy Grant presented the award, a crystal vase. “Vince Gill, you are freakishly gifted in the creativity department,” said Amy. Jenny recalled how her father declined his first opportunity to play the Grand Ole Opry because it was on the same night he’d promised to back her on guitar in her first grade talent show.
“Do you know how many peanut M&Ms I can fit in this,” Vince quipped, accepting the vase. “A room together for a common cause is a night well spent,” he added, citing his fellow honorees. “Have a great night, and the M&Ms are on me.”
Blair introduced the house band. Keyboardist John Hobbs led Eddie Bayers, Paul Franklin, Brent Mason, Deanie Richardson, Michael Rhodes, Bobby Terry, Dawn Sears and Terry White. Debbie recognized the event’s sponsors and introduced Lori Badgett.
Lori talked of her late mentor, Brian Williams. Amy Grant presented the award named in Brian’s honor to the Mayor. “Brian built bridges,” noted Karl. “I’m flattered and humbled by this award….The cities that are going to succeed are the cities of education and the cities of creativity.”
I am told that the honorees were asked to keep their acceptance remarks to four minutes. Presenter Storme Warren evidently wasn’t given the same instruction. His lengthy remarks about his relationship with Charlie Daniels were followed by The Grascals performing “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” Then Ronnie Dunn provided the night’s most electrifying vocal performance, “Mississippi.” A nine-voice armed-services chorale sang “How Great Thou Art.”
Tennessee Major General Max Haston presented Charlie’s honor. “I’ve had the ability to recognize leaders by their actions, rather than their words,” he said. “Charlie goes where our troops are.”
“Since I learned my first chords on the guitar, I have wanted to be a part of the music scene here in Nashville,” said Charlie. “We live in the greatest place in the world, the greatest music city. Thank you, Nashville. Thank you, everybody here tonight. Thank you, God.”
Blair returned to the stage, noting that Randy Owen has raised more than $400 million for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. Longtime Alabama friend and colleague Greg Fowler spoke lovingly of his lifelong friend. David Nail performed Randy’s “Feels So Right.”
Little Big Town was up next. “You have no idea what an influence you have been on the four of us,” said the group’s Kimberly Schlapman to Randy. “It’s such an honor being here. We love you.” The group turned in a lovely, harmony-soaked rendition of “My Home’s in Alabama.” “I think the future of country bands is in good hands with those guys,” commented an appreciative Blair.
St. Jude’s exec Rick Shadyac presented the award. He’s the son of hospital founder, actor Danny Thomas. “It’s because of you, Randy, that no family pays St. Jude’s for anything,” Rick said. “You are the ‘Angel Among Us,’” he added, referencing one of Alabama’s finest songs.
A clean-shaven Randy took the stage to accept, noting that he also gives educational scholarships, among his charitable activities. “I’m just a country boy….I appreciate this….Thank you,” he said.
Recent cancer survivor Wade Hayes provided the evening’s finale, a moving rendition of “Angels Among Us” featuring many of the night’s performers, as well as St. Jude’s parents and children.
Taking it all in were Steve Gibson, Steve & Ree Guyer Buchanan, Steve Fishell & Tracy Gershon, Dennis Lord, Tom Lord, Teresa George, George Briner, John Slater, John Beiter, John Van Mol, previous honoree Tony Brown, Tony Conway, Deborah Evans Price, Debbie Carroll, Ron Samuels and Ron Cox, plus Fletcher Foster, Sarah Skates, Chase Cole, Karen Clark, Kevin Lamb, Kathleen & Tim O’Brien, Andrew Kintz, Kira Florita, Ken Paulson and Kay West.
Fabulous pal and fellow balcony attendee Jill Napier snagged me a program book from the downstairs celebration. The throng also included Joe & Phran Galante, Jeff Green, Jody Williams, Jay Frank, Suzanne Gordon, Sherod Robertson, newly short-haired Stacy Widelitz, Sandy & Chuck Neese, Chuck Flood, Liz Thiels, Lynn Morrow, Lisa Harless, Del Bryant, Dan Hill, Doug & Linda Edell Howard, David Corlew, Tim McFadden, Tom Baldrica, Bob & Leslie Tomasina DiPiero, Bo Thomas, Terry Hemmings and Rod Essig.
Our cocktail supper on the plaza was prepared by Daily Dish Catering, and it was far, far better than most hotel banquet meals I have had at such affairs. Buffet tables held a sampling of fruits and cheeses, delicious smoked gouda mac & cheese, roasted vegetables, shrimp & grits, pork tenderloin slices with varied toppings and pita or bread chips with hummus and/or pesto dips.
Inside the auditorium, Gaylord Hotel provided finger-licking good little desserts such as lemon squares, mini chocolate cakes, fruit-and-custard cups and cannolis.
Mingling and munching were Pat McMaken, Hank Adam Locklin, Nancy Shapiro, Woody Bomar, Craig Hayes, Holly Gleason, Randy Goodman, event manager Anita Hogan, Ben Payne, Wayne Halper, Bebe Evans, Paula Szeigis, Allison Jones, Marion Williams, Earle Simmons, Caroline Davis, Judi Turner and more.