BOBBY KARL WORKS THE ROOM
It was a dark and stormy night.
The weatherman had warned us about Monday evening (Nov. 6), but we donned our finest apparel and headed for the annual country-music ASCAP awards banquet nevertheless.
Traffic was gridlocked at a standstill as we approached the Ryman Auditorium via Commerce Street during rush hour at 5:00 p.m. So we parked at the Public Library and walked the rest of the way. This turned out to be a dud idea.
Inside the Ryman, the event was enlivened by lots of star music makers. The key names to note here are those of Vince Gill, Old Dominion, Dierks Bentley, Keith Urban, Kelsea Ballerini, Brett Young and Jimmy Webb, all of whom serenaded us during the fiesta.
Ashley Gorley set a new ASCAP record by winning his fifth ASCAP Country Songwriter of the Year Award. Warner/Chappell repeated as Country Publisher of the Year for the fifth consecutive time. This made it two-for-two thus far in this year’s Country Music Week celebrations, since Warner/Chappell also claimed the same honor at SESAC’s gala on Sunday.
Penned by Dave Kuncio and Josh Mirenda, Bentley’s hit “Somewhere on a Beach” was named the ASCAP Country Song of the Year. Matthew Ramsey of Old Dominion won the Country Artist-Songwriter of the Year prize. His winning tunes were the hits he co-wrote for the band, “Snapback” and “Song for Another Time,” plus the Sam Hunt hit “Make You Miss Me.”
One unusual aspect of the ASCAP awards was the way in which presentations were shared among various company execs. Nashville VP and all-around good-guy Michael Martin was front and center. But such national honchos as Paul Williams, Elizabeth Matthews, John Titta and John Johnson took turns at the podium, as did such Music City ASCAP figures as Mike Sistad, Beth Brinker, Kele Currier, Evyn Mustoe Johnston and Robert Filhart.
Brett Young kicked the ceremony off energetically with his career launching “Sleep Without You.” Then Williams took the stage. “Welcome to the 55th annual ASCAP Country Music Awards: Give yourselves a hand,” he said in greeting the Ryman crowd of 1,000.
“Tonight is also a celebration of how music can lift us up. And God knows we need it. I believe what you do is holy work. One thing you find in this town is authenticity. It’s in the songs you write, and it’s in the way you treat people.”
Johnson presented the Partners in Music Award to Varnell Enterprises, which has been promoting concerts since 1946, everyone from Roy Acuff to Garth Brooks. The latter offered video greetings from his tour, which has played to six million fans to date. Jim Varnell accepted the honor.
Seth Ennis introduced songwriter Jamie Moore singing “May We All,” which was one of ASCAP’s five most performed songs of 2016. Moore totally nailed his version of the FGL hit.
The prestigious Founders Award went to Rodney Crowell. He was serenaded by Urban with “You Win,” which they co-wrote back in 2001. Gill sang “Oklahoma Borderline,” which was the first song he ever co-wrote with Crowell (and the late Guy Clark). Gill then drew a standing ovation for his prayer-at-twilight rendition of “Til I Gain Control Again.” Steuart Smith made the presentation.
“I’m very grateful; I’m very humbled,” said Rodney. “It’s a gift that we get to do the work that we do. We should all protect it with everything in our hearts.” He then shared with the crowd the fact that he was wearing John Lennon’s suit from the movie It’s a Hard Day’s Night. The place went ape.
LANCO introduced Scooter Carusoe doing a solo version of his top-five ASCAP contender “I Wanna Be That Song” (popularized by Brett Eldredge).
ASCAP CEO Matthews announced that the Vanguard Award was going to Ballerini. Hillary Lindsey made the presentation, saying, “Her innate ability to write a song absolutely blows my mind….She is one of the most loving, kind and infectious spirits I’ve ever met. This is so, so well deserved.”
“This is awesome!” said Ballerini. “Thank you so much!” She particularly expressed gratitude to Sistad for listening to her “bad” songs when she was just 14. Ballerini sang “In Between” from her just-released sophomore CD Unapologetically.
The Sisterhood members Ruby Stewart and Alyssa Bonagura did the introduction for “Lights Come On,” the third of ASCAP’s top-five country contenders. By the way, Ruby is the daughter of Rod Stewart while Alyssa is the daughter of Kathie Baillie and Michael Bonagura of Baillie & The Boys. Songwriters Jimmy Robbins, Jordan Schmidt, Brett Warren and Brad Warren offered a rocking version of their Jason Aldean hit.
Gorley’s ASCAP Songwriter of the Year honor was presented by newly minted Country Music Hall of Fame member Don Schlitz. He has won this ASCAP honor four times in the past.
“The business of songwriting always reminds us that we’re never all alone,” said Don. “This honor is unique because in the history of ASCAP, this songwriter is receiving this for the fifth time. I thought four times was the limit.
“We celebrate him because he celebrates us. For the fifth time, he represents us. How lucky are we?”
Mike Wilson of the charity My Life Speaks talked of Ashley’s commitment to the poor children in rural Haiti. “Thank you for bringing light to a dark place,” Wilson said.
“I have to thank God for many more blessings than I deserve,” said Ashley Gorley in accepting. “There’s been some tragic stuff, [so] first responders…really, really need to be celebrated. For anybody else who goes unnoticed and unrecognized, a medal for you guys.”
Let me interject at this point to say that an hour spent sitting on the wood Ryman pews is like four ordinary hours. As the show passed the 90-minute mark, the balcony emptied and the floor seating had large areas of empty real estate. But on we went.
Midland introduced the fourth top-five contestant, “Snapback.” Old Dominion’s Brad Tursi, Matthew Ramsey and Trevor Rosen co-wrote it and sang it, splendidly. Then Ramsey was announced by Phil Vassar as the winner of his ASCAP award.
“Seventeen years ago, Phil took me out on the road,” Matthew recalled. “Mike Sistad listened to my songs and helped me get going in Nashville….Thank you for helping me get to the moon.”
Williams returned to the stage to say, “Music, which should be a safe haven, has been senselessly violated…by horrific acts.” He asked for a moment of silence for the 58 lives taken in Las Vegas as well as for the members of the Nashville music community we’ve lost during the past year.
Then Jimmy Webb sat at the piano and said, “I love being in Nashville and being around songwriters. It’s like going to a revival and being recharged.” He then paid homage to Glen Campbell, saying, “This man took my songs into the mainstream of American music. He was a great and worthy star.” Webb sang “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” in tribute to the late Campbell.
We’d been there since 5:00 p.m. without dinner. The show was now heading into its second hour. The remaining natives were getting restless.
Carly Pearce introduced “Somewhere On a Beach.” Bentley and the song’s writers Dave Kuncio and Josh Mirenda gave the top award winner a good-natured spin.
“I’d like to thank the city of Nashville for shining a spotlight on songwriters,” said Kuncio. “Thank y’all so much for believing in me,” added Mirenda.
Among the many other songwriters receiving ASCAP accolades during the event were Jon Nite, Chris DuBois, Chris DeStefano, Jerry Flowers, Jeremy Stover, Josh Osborne, Corey Crowder, Craig Wiseman, Marc Beeson, Matt Jenkins, Marla Cannon Goodman, Abe Stoklasa, Ben Hayslip and Zach Crowell.
Twinkling stars in attendance included John & Martina McBride, Dan + Shay, Billy Currington, Desmond Child, Brett James, Buzz Cason, Tyler Hubbard, Brian Kelley, Rudy Perez and Michael Ray.
We headed for the exits around 9:15 p.m. and discovered it was raining. The idea of walking to the after-party at The Stage on Broadway was immediately tossed out. Besides, by then we’d already schmoozed an army of fabulons. Read on.
Tim Nichols, Tim Wipperman, Mark Bright, Mark D. Sanders, Robert Ott, Bobby Rymer, Sally Williams, Herky Williams (ask him about his new TV gig), Dale Dodson, Mary Matthews, Scott & Sandi Borchetta, Ron & Regina Stuve, Rod Essig, Carla Wallace, Celia Froelig, Jimmy Harnen, Terry Wakefield, and Cyndi Foreman worked the room.
So did Ree Guyer, Lisa Harless, Sarah Cates, Leslie DiPiero, Bart Herbison, LeAnn Phelan, John Briggs, Tony Brown, Stuart Dill, Walter Campbell, Andrew Kintz, Ken Levitan, David Crow, Debbie Carroll, Jewel Coburn & Jason Morris, Whitney Daane, Wayland Holyfield, Chris Farren, Connie Harrington, Gary Velletri, Kos Weaver, Kevin Lamb and Blake Chancey
By the time we got to the car, it was pouring a river of water with thunder and lightning as the accompaniment. At 9:30, we pulled into the Broadway McDonald’s. We dined on lukewarm burgers and fries. I was careful not to drip catsup on my tux, since BMI was still to come.