Bobby Karl Works The SESAC Awards

SESAC's Tim Fink, Catt Gravitt, Jon Stone, SESAC's Pat Collins and Trevor Gale. Photo by Ed Rode

Chapter 411

SESAC is galloping toward the winner’s circle. Once small and intimate, the organization’s annual country-music awards banquet is now almost as big a schmooze-fest as its larger rivals. Staged on the 21st floor of The Pinnacle downtown, the Sunday night soiree (10/28) was also notable for live music, award surprises and fellowship.

Another measure of its new competitiveness was announced by SESAC president Pat Collins. “I am honored to tell you that in three short days, SESAC will become the first performance rights organization to distribute MONTHLY royalty payments to songwriters,” he stated. “We intend to increase our services to songwriters. Enjoy the dinner, enjoy the show and most of all enjoy each other.”

The night’s big winners included Publisher of the Year Sony-ATV/EMI-Foray, presented by Trevor Gale to Troy Tomlinson and Tom Luteran. The Song of the Year winner was “A Woman Like You,” accepted by Jon Stone. Country Songwriter of the Year went to a delighted Cat Gravitt, who has provided winning numbers to Jake Owen, Edens Edge and Jana Kramer during the past year.

Gravitt described herself as “shocked, grateful and so blessed.” She spoke of her profession as a great gift to her. “Every day I wake up and get to play in the sandbox with my songwriting friends.”

Also among the country-music songwriting award winners were Arlos Smith, Craig Campbell, Ashe Underwood, Phillip Coleman, Anthony Smith, Hillary Scott, Monty Powell, Brice Long, Lance Miller and Rob Hatch. The last-named is married to SESAC’s Shannon Hatch, who assisted John Mullens and host Tim Fink in the presentations despite being quite pregnant with their soon-to-be-son, Henry.

We also paused to remember the recently departed Tim Johnson, a SESAC songwriting stalwart who was a tremendous mentor to younger writers.

SESAC is the only performing rights organization that salutes songwriters in the Americana genre. Dennis Lord presided over this segment of the ceremony. You will recall that he was recently honored by the Americana Music Association for being its founding president.

Americana winners Bob Dylan, Ray Wylie Hubbard and Jim Lauderdale were not present. Nor was the long-deceased Robert Johnson, although his grandson Michael Johnson was there to accept on the blues legend’s behalf. Dustin Welch won for his contributions to the current CD by Justin Townes Earle.

A highlight of the gala was that there was plenty of music, music, music. Indeed, the Americana segment was capped by Seth Avett of The Avett Brothers, who performed a haunting “The Ballad of Love and Hate” and accepted a SESAC Summit Award. Thompson Square (“If I Didn’t Have You”), Monty Powell with Anna Wilson and Mike Vaughn (“For You”) and Lee Brice (“A Woman Like You”) were also terrific.

The 30th anniversary of The Bluebird Café was celebrated with a mini in-the-round featuring Gary Burr (“I Try to Think About Elvis,” “That’s My Job”), Victoria Shaw (“The River,” “I Love the Way You Love Me”), Kim Williams (“Three Wooden Crosses,” “Papa Loved Mama”) and Don Henry (“Where’ve You Been,” “All Kinds of Kinds”). “Close your eyes and imagine yourselves at that little club that has changed so many lives,” said Fink. “Shhhhhh!” Bluebird founder Amy Kurland and manager Erika Wollam Nichols took the stage to a standing ovation.

Celebrity presenters popped up throughout the ceremony. For instance, Nashville TV show cast members Charles Esten, Sam Palladio and Jonathan Jackson took part in the Bluebird salute. Jerrod Niemann, Jana Kramer and the aforementioned Lee Brice and Hillary Scott also greeted the banquet attendees. “This is always such a fun party,” said Lady Antebellum’s Scott.

Speaking of the banquet, you will not find a better repast all week than at the SESAC event. Our first course was baby greens dressed with port-soaked cranberries, clementine orange slices, toasted almonds, blue cheese wedges and cinnamon raspberry vinaigrette. The main course was crab-stuffed filet mignon, herbed gnocchi, tomato gratin and roast corn fennel sauce over spinach and seared shrimp. I don’t usually eat dessert, but who could resist the chocolate-and-butterscotch pot de crème with pumpkin seed brittle and whipped cream?

Miss Mary and I estimated the crowd at 500, and it looked bigger than ever. Merrily mingling were The Roys, Ron Stuve, Rod Essig, Roger Nichols, Steve Moore, Steve Fishell & Tracy Gershon, Charlie Stefl, Charlie Monk, Pat Higdon, Pat McMaken, Tim McFadden, Jon Vezner, John Beiter, John Briggs, Jim Zumwalt, Jim Femino (who has a new alias, “Uncle Sexy”), James Otto, Jamie Johnson of The Grascals & Susanne Mumpower a.k.a. Iodine, Doug Johnson, Ed Morris and Jason Morris.

Also: Georgia Middleman, Kerry O’Neill, Craig Hayes, Nancy Shapiro, Bill Mayne, Paul Worley, Alan Kates, Becky Harris, Neil Spielberg, Sherod Robertson, Lang Scott & Linda Davis, Karen Clark, Tinti Moffatt, Jerry Salley (check out his new Showing My Age country CD), Butch Baker, Fletcher Foster, Caroline Davis, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Bob Doyle, Pete Fisher, Debbie Carroll, David Corlew, Bart Herbison, Woody Bomar, Hank Adam Locklin, Lisa Harless, Drew Alexander, Jewel Coburn and the seen-everywhere trio of Holly Bell, Diane Pearson and Lori Badgett.

This year, the décor was elegantly simple. The dimly lit cocktail area was draped in black. The dining tables were dressed in an autumn motif. Both rooms overlooked clear, crisp views of downtown Nashville or the East Bank and its stadium, where our football team had lost again that very afternoon.



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