BOBBY KARL WORKS THE ROOM
The warmth of the NATD Honors gala is surpassed only by the elegant hospitality of its setting.
The sixth annual Nashville Association of Talent Directors banquet took place on Wednesday evening (Nov. 9) at the 1910-era beaux arts masterpiece The Hermitage Hotel. The honorees were new Country Music Hall of Fame inductee Randy Travis, Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame member Leon Russell, Olympic Gold Medal figure skater and philanthropist Scott Hamilton, Nashville Predators hockey hotshot P.K. Subban, CAA’s Rod Essig, manager Doc McGhee and Outback Concert impresario Michael Smardak.
Roughly 150 party goers gathered in the historic hotel’s stunning lobby beneath its stained-glass ceiling to sip cocktails and sample beef-wellington bites. Then they reconvened in the ballroom, surrounded by wood-paneled walls and historic portraits, lit by its breathtaking, turn-of-the-century chandeliers.
“Everybody really seems to love the vibe, so we haven’t moved,” said NATD president Steve Tolman of the gala’s spectacular venue. As always, the presentations were illustrated with video vignettes. This year, the event added musical presentations.
These began with John Cowan offering a spine-tingling rendition of Russell’s “A Song for You.” He recalled that when he was in New Grass Revival, the group spent three years on the road opening for Russell.
“He treated us with so much deference and respect,” said Cowan. “He’s had a gigantic career as a composer, as a pianist, as an entertainer.”
Russell’s daughters Honey and Coco accepted. “If he could be here tonight, he would be honored,” said Honey. “Without you, his family and friends, he wouldn’t be recovering from surgery as well as he is.”
Banquet music was provided by harpist Deanna Loveland. She is also the reigning Mrs. Tennessee. The NATD presented a check for $1,000 to her foundation that aids young women and girls.
John Huie gave Smardak his NATD honor. Outback is regarded as one of the top-five concert companies in the world, and Smardak was the man behind the wildly successful Blue Collar Comedy tour.
“He’s got the biggest heart of anyone you’ll ever know,” said Huie of the honoree. “I want to thank all the hard-working people who work every day at Outback,” responded the modest Smardak.
Charlie Brusco saluted Essig. “I work with agents a lot,” said Brusco. “The relationship that Rod and I have is unbelievable.” Martina McBride presented the NATD accolade.
“I am thrilled to be the one to be presenting Rod with this award,” she said, “to add another memory to our list.”
“It’s so incredible to get up every day and do what you want to do,” said Essig. “As my father always said, ‘Put a song in your heart and a smile on your face, treat people like you want to be treated, and you’re going to have a good life.’”
The next musical presentation came from new Warner hit maker Michael Ray. He said he was nervous singing in front of Travis, but it didn’t show in his masterful delivery of “Three Wooden Crosses,” “Deeper Than the Holler” and “Forever and Ever, Amen.”
“Randy Travis, you’re one of the best country singers this planet has ever seen,” said Ray, who was clearly in awe of his idol.
“Randy Travis, I love you – and that’s the way it is,” said Marty Stuart in making the NATD presentation. “I’m talking about the guy who stole the show at the CMA’s with one word, ‘Amen.’”
“Through it all, Randy has remained quietly dignified,” said the star’s wife Mary Davis Travis. “He doesn’t get discouraged. He doesn’t give up.” The star is slowly recovering his speech lost in a massive 2013 stroke.
Mallory Corzine is a Lipscomb University student who is a brain-tumor survivor. She aims to have a career helping children at St. Jude’s Hospital in Memphis. Tolman and Tony Conway presented her with a $5,000 scholarship check.
Pete Weber, the voice of the Nashville Predators, praised the team’s new star defenseman, Subban, for his many philanthropic endeavors. “I get to come to a city with amazing people,” said Subban, who arrived in June as the result of one of the NHL’s biggest deals in history. “It’s inspiring to be here. I want to win a Stanley Cup and bring it down Broadway.”
Hamilton’s award was presented by Chaz Corzine. The skater, author, speaker, TV personality and humanitarian recently announced the recurrence of his brain tumor. He has long been a champion of cancer charities and is co-hosting a benefit at Bridgestone on Nov. 20 starring Sheryl Crow, Rodney Crowell, Jewel, Ben Rector and Sara Evans, plus a bevy of skating stars.
“I hope you’ll all join me in my dream to change cancer forever,” said Hamilton to the NATD crowd. “Thank you, Nashville, for embracing me so dearly. This is an amazing recognition.”
“It’s universal: The world loves Scott Hamilton,” said Chaz Corzine. “You’ve done more good for more people than anyone I know.”
Legendary, colorful manager McGhee was saluted by John Esposito. “He tells it like it is, no matter who is in the room,” said Espo of his longtime friend. “Doc is a force of nature to be reckoned with.”
“This is a real honor for me, because it comes from Nashville,” said McGhee. “They thought I would never make it here. I love this city.”
The NATD Honors gala was ably co-hosted by radio great Shawn Parr and WKRN Channel 2 news anchor Stephanie Langston. They entertained such attendees as Bebe Evans, Robert Frye, Robert Williams, Randi Perkins, Ray Shelide, Jerry Helper, Terry Crisp, David Corlew, Moore & Moore, Bonnie Sugarman, Scott Brown, Steve Lassiter, Jeff Davis, Rick Diamond, Zach Farnum, Judy Seale, Kirt Webster, Tinti Moffatt and Andrew Harwell.
The Hermitage Hotel hospitality extended to an excellent menu. Beet, carrot and radish salad was followed by medium-rare beef medallions, asparagus spears and whipped potatoes with a finale dessert of coconut cake with a generous dollop of whipped cream topped by coconut sprinkles.