It is nominally an honors presentation, but the MusicRow Awards ceremony is also one super-duper party.
Staged at BMI on Wednesday (June 29), this year’s 28th annual event attracted a record number of attendees, announced an exceedingly popular slate of awardees and had a fabulously festive vibe. Honorees included Maren Morris as Breakthrough Songwriter, Old Dominion as Breakthrough Artist, Dave Cobb as Producer of the Year and Lori McKenna as the writer of Song of the Year winner “Humble and Kind.” Winners are determined by subscribers to MusicRow and each recipient was greeted with delighted shouts of surprise from the crowd.
BMI’s Jody Williams greeted the 300+ folks in his lobby. He thanked event sponsor Anderson Benson, as “Nashville’s only locally-owned entertainment insurance company.” He then brought on the host, MusicRow’s Sherod Robertson.
“These awards are often predictors of awards to come,” Robertson told the crowd. The magazine has been presenting its accolades since 1989. Taylor Swift, Blake Shelton, Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert are among the stars who won their first industry prizes from MusicRow. Songs such as “Girl Crush,” “I Drive Your Truck,” “The House That Built Me” and “Whiskey Lullaby” all picked up trophies from the mag before going on to wider award acclaim.
The first honors presented on Wednesday were to the musicians behind last year’s biggest hits. MusicRow‘s Craig Shelburne and Eric Parker presented these to engineer Justin Niebank (his 12th win), drummer Shannon Forrest (his 11th), guitarist Ilya Toshinsky (his 7th), bassist Jimmie Lee Sloas (his 6th), keyboardist Charles Judge (his 6th), session vocalist Wes Hightower (his 14th) and steel guitarist Paul Franklin (his 16th). There was a tie between fiddlers Stuart Duncan (his 9th win) and Larry Franklin (his 4th).
“I’m in awe of everybody who plays with me,” said Duncan. “I’ve learned from some of the best players, globally.”
“I’m so proud to be part of this great community of so many great players,” added Toshinsky. “I’m privileged and humbled to be here,” said Sloas. “This town is like a big family, and it’s quite an honor to be included,” commented Judge.
Robertson pointed out that this is the first time that Producer winner Cobb had even been nominated. “It’s a real honor to be honored by my peers,” said Cobb. “We live in the best f—ing music city in the world!”
“I’ve never won anything before,” said Morris. “This has been the craziest month, ever. I released my album. I started a tour. And, now, ending it with this. Thank you to Carla Wallace for giving me a job. This means a lot to me.” In addition to her award, Morris was given a MusicRow Challenge Coin for having a No. 1 hit on the MusicRow CountryBreakout Chart with “My Church.”
Big Yellow Dog publisher Wallace said, “This song has affected people’s careers; it has affected people’s lives.” She presented the singer-songwriter with a framed No. 1 honor for the chart-topping album Hero.
Old Dominion was on tour with Kenny Chesney, but sent a thank-you video to the ceremony. The band’s award was accepted by Morris Higham Management’s Will Hitchcock. “Thanks, MusicRow, and the whole Nashville community for making them your band,” he said. Old Dominion also earned a MusicRow No. 1 Challenge Coin for “Snapback.”
McKenna and Universal Publishing’s Kent Earls accepted the “Humble and Kind” accolade. This is her third song to have won at MusicRow, the other two being 2007’s “Stealing Kisses” and last year’s “Girl Crush.” She couldn’t make last year’s ceremony, so co-writers Liz Rose and Hillary Lindsey accepted and performed on her behalf.
“It’s a magical place that you have here,” said Boston resident McKenna. “Thank you for embracing this song.” She also accepted her MusicRow No. 1 Challenge Coin for “Humble and Kind.”
“Thank you, Sherod, and MusicRow and all your team,” added Earls. “We’re very honored to be here.”
To McKenna, he added, “The elegance and grace of your writing is only matched by the beautiful person you are.” Earls also gave a shout-out to Travis Gordon, who pitched “Humble and Kind” to Missy Gallimore for Tim McGraw to record. The song has now sold more than 700,000 singles.
The high point of the event was unquestionably Lori McKenna’s yearning, soulful rendition of her song. It hushed the room, which erupted in rapturous applause when she concluded.
As guests schmoozed and winners accepted congratulations, the screen showed Maren Morris’s video of “My Church” and Old Dominion’s video of “Break Up With Him.”
That “record number of attendees” I spoke of included Renee Grant Williams, Ree Guyer Buchanan, Beth Raebeck Hall and Preshus Tomes Harris, as well as Sarah Skates, Sarah Lai, Tom Luteran, Tom Roland, Michael Mason, Mike Sirls, Michael Knox, Becky Harris, Becky Hobbs, Elizabeth Lyons, Dave Pomeroy, David Ross, Ronna Rubin, Luke Laird, Corey Crowder, Macy Martin, Maurice Miner, James Elliott and Jaren Boyer.
Not to mention (although we will) such fabulons as Trent Summar, Tim McFadden, Terry Wakefield, Steve Lassiter, Shane Barrett, Susan Collier, Sherrill Blackmon, Barry Coburn, Bart Herbison, Ashley Moyer, Eric Galvin, Garth Shaw, Jill Block, John Ozier, Ralph Murphy, Don Cusic, Ron Huntsman, Chris Keaton, Ann Wilson, Neal Spielberg, Charlie Monk, Mark Brown, Woody Bomar, Katharine Richardson, Patrick Clifford and Shannon Hatch. Making his first appearance in BKWTR is Jerome Pillow, who was hired two weeks ago by Keaton. So this was his first Music Row partay!
We snacked on jumbo meatballs, Mexi-sticks, chips, guacamole, salsa and deep-fried peppers. It was, in short, a blast of a bash.