BOBBY KARL WORKS THE ROOM
It was “Kentucky Night” at the 54th annual ASCAP Country Awards.
Staged at the Ryman Auditorium on Monday (Oct. 31), the gala honored Ashley Gorley as its Songwriter of the Year, Ricky Skaggs with its ASCAP Founders Award and Chris Stapleton with its ASCAP Vanguard Award. All are sons of the Blue Grass State.
“This has been amazing,” said Gorley. “I just want to thank my co-writers and this whole community.” He explained that Nashville’s music folks rallied to his side during this past year when both his mother and his wife battled cancer.
The songwriter is such a Kentuckian that he has a blue University of Kentucky basketball court in his backyard. Accordingly, UK Wildcats basketball coach John Calipari presented Gorley with his award. This was Gorley’s fourth time to win ASCAP’s top country songwriting prize.
“I’m proud to present to a member of the Big Blue Nation,” said Calipari. “If you’re named songwriter of the year four years, you are a champion,” he added. Trace Adkins sang Gorley’s co-written 2008 goldie “You’re Gonna Miss This” in his honor. The songwriter’s new ASCAP award was due to the seven No. 1 hits he co-wrote in 2015.
John & TJ Osborne had just performed a blistering version of their hit “Stay a Little Longer” with Sam Bush and Dave Pomeroy when it was suddenly announced as the ASCAP Country Song of the Year. Both brothers seemed stunned.
“I was over the moon just to be up here playing with Sam Bush,” said TJ. “I can’t believe this just happened.” John offered advice to those aspiring to become successful songwriters: “Keep f—king going! Keep doing it, and it will happen.”
Skaggs was saluted by Gordon Kennedy and Peter Frampton with a rocking “My Cup Runneth Over.” The close-harmony quartet of Alison Krauss, Jamey Johnson, Sydney Cox and Suzanne Cox offered a sublime “Waiting for the Sun to Shine.” Both of these performances drew standing ovations. Garth Brooks rounded out the Skaggs tribute with “Highway 40 Blues,” accompanied by Bush and Justin Moses.
Marty Stuart made the Founders Award presentation, saying, “I followed him as a guiding light. He inspired multiple generations of songwriters and singers. A statesman has evolved. For more than four decades, Ricky Skaggs has been an undeniable force in bluegrass and country music. Give him a hand.”
“Not being a real known, famous songwriter, I never dreamed that I could get an ASCAP award,” said Skaggs. “What an awesome thing. You know, I’m still making music. I came to this town to make music, not to win awards.”
Stapleton apologized in advance for not being good at acceptance speeches. “I don’t know what to say about everything that’s happened over the last year and a half or so,” he began. “When I found out you could have a job being a songwriter, I thought, ‘That’s the greatest job in the world. I gotta figure out how to do it.’
“I’ve learned so much from so many people in this room. It’s an amazing honor to get this award tonight,” added the Visionary winner.
Warner/Chappell won the country Publisher of the Year for the fourth consecutive time. Radio personality Bobby Bones was given the Partners in Music Award for helping to make stars of Stapleton, Kelsea Ballerini and Cam, among others.
“All I do is show people what we already know is fantastic …and give people a place to shine,” said Bones.
The ceremony was embellished with plenty of performances. In addition to Adkins, Brooks and the others cited above, Ballerini offered “Love Me Like You Mean It” to open the show.
Brothers Osborne’s “Stay a Little Longer” was one of the five top ASCAP country songs of the year. The other four were also performed at various points throughout the gala.
Corey Crowder and Chris Young tore into “I’m Coming Over.” Craig Wiseman and Luke Laird offered a lively “Gonna.” Dan + Shay wore outfits meant to imitate Gorley and Chris DeStefano as all four performed “Nothin’ Like You.” That one drew a standing ovation. Old Dominion band mates Matthew Ramsey and Brad Tursi did “Save It for a Rainy Day.” Their band spent most of the year touring with “Save It” singer Kenny Chesney.
A number of record makers took the stage as either presenters or award winners. These included Kip Moore, Canaan Smith, Scotty McCreery, Jonathan Singleton, Frankie Ballard, Billy Currington, John Rich, Randy Goodrum, Maddie & Tae, Cam, William Michael Morgan, Brett Young, Ryan Hurd, J.T. Harding, Matthew West, Brett James, Jaren Johnston of The Cadillac Three and Old Dominion’s Geoff Sprung and Trevor Rosen.
These Country Music Week activities are not for amateurs. They are endurance marathons. We arrived around 7 p.m. and didn’t stumble out of there until after 11:30 p.m. Those who don’t have deadlines go off into the night for after-parties.
The cocktail supper featured mini chicken pot pies, brisket mac & cheese, beef short ribs & mashed potatoes, quinua & kale salad, shrimp cocktail and blue-cheese asparagus. Schmoozers included Mike Dekle, Mike Vaden, Mike Milom, Mike Sistad, Michael Martin, Chris DuBois, Chris Farren, Chris Oglesby, Josh Kear, Josh Osborne, Dan Hodges, Dan Keen, John Ozier, John King, Jon Nite, John Titta, Dave Berg, Dave Pahonek, David M. Ross, Marc Beeson, Mark Ford, Paul Williams, Paul Pointius, Gary Nicholson, Gary Burr & Georgia Middleman, Glen Middleworth, Bill Velez and Billy Paul.
It was Halloween night, so a few folks donned costumes for the occasion. I spotted a can-can girl, a Santa elf, two riverboat dandies, a ladybug with spotted wings, some cowboys (of course) and several witch hats, including one on Ree Guyer-Buchanan. Erika Wollam Nichols wore a sheath with black and orange sequins in a jack-o-lantern pattern.
There were other looks we liked. Celia Froelig was a dish in a white sequined sheath. Mark Bright sported deluxe red leather sneakers. Carla Wallace wore a flowing, floral patterned, floor-length gown. Byron Hill was in a black velvet jacket. Cam’s outfit included a sparkling, multi-colored bodice and a vivid green skirt with a long train. Bones matched the Ryman ushers in his red blazer.
Working the room were Liz Rose, Elizabeth Matthews, Matt Rogers, Frank Rogers, Robert Ott, Bobby Rymer, Terry Wakefield, Teresa George. Pat Alger, Doug Howard, Jewel Coburn & Jason Morris. Wayland Holyfield, Ron Cox, Hank Adam Locklin, Walter Campbell, Tom Long and Buddy Cannon.
Plus, Garth Fundis, Tinti Moffatt, Tony Brown, Kerry O’Neill, Stewart Dill, Vincent Candilora, Herkie Williams, Ralph Murphy, Cheryl White, Desmond Child, Ron Stuve, Lon Helton, Cyndi Forman, Jimmy Robbins, Zach Crowell, Derek George and Hillary Lindsey.
Country Music Week activities continue with the BMI Awards on Tuesday and the CMA Awards on Wednesday. Rock on, fabulons.