Bobby Karl Works The 2017 BMI Country Awards

BMI Vice President Creative, Nashville Jody Williams, 2017 BMI Icon Bob DiPiero and BMI President & CEO Mike O’Neill. Photo: John Shearer/Getty Images for BMI

There was a whole lot of love in the room at the 2017 BMI Awards banquet on Tuesday evening (Nov. 7).

The organization’s top honorees are all widely beloved members of our country-music community. Sweet Ross Copperman won BMI’s Country Songwriter of the Year prize for the second year in a row. Super charitable Keith Urban was presented with the BMI Champion Award.

“More-laughs-than-a-stack-of-comic-books” Bob DiPiero earned a well-deserved BMI ICON Award. Winner-and-still-champion Sony/ATV-Tree picked up its 16th annual Country Publisher of the Year honor with such loved figures as Troy Tomlinson, Terry Wakefield and Tom Luteran taking the stage.

“H.O.L.Y.” was named BMI’s Country Song of the Year. Co-writers busbee and Nate Cyphert received a standing ovation as they took the stage with Florida Georgia Line. In keeping with the love-in-the-room theme of the occasion, the song’s initials stand for “High On Loving You.”

Urban and FGL were hardly the only stars in attendance. If you are a country fan, this event is heaven on earth. Walking the red carpet before the awards banquet were Chris Young, Chris Janson, Chris Lane, Chase Bryant, Lindsay Ell, Larry Gatlin (who has regained his voice), Luke Bryan, LOCASH, Easton Corbin, Aaron Watson, Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer John Oates, Maddie & Tae, Michael Ray, Midland and Cole Swindell.

Brett Eldredge attends the BMI Country Awards. Photo: Getty Images for BMI

Not to mention Dan + Shay, Granger Smith, Scotty McCreery, Robert Earl Keen (his Xmas tour hits the Ryman on Dec. 28), Thomas Rhett, Kane Brown, The Sisterhood, Lauren Alaina, Dustin Lynch, Hillary Williams (Hank Jr.’s daughter has just completed her first CD), Kristian Bush, Tegan Marie, RaeLynn, William Michael Morgan, Frankie Ballard and Brett Eldredge.

My biggest thrill was meeting Ashley McBryde. “You’re my favorite new artist!” I exclaimed. “Well, then, give me a hug,” she replied. She confessed that the hubbub surrounding “A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega” is making her head spin. “I just wanted to move to Nashville to write songs. Everything now is all, ‘What?’ Like, ‘We’re going to do the red carpet.’ ‘What?’”

You didn’t need a red-carpet walk to spot a star. Upstairs in BMI’s Music Row headquarters at the banquet, there was a celeb around every corner. Randy Travis, Randy Owen, Jake Owen, Big Kenny, Lee Roy Parnell, Lisa Stewart, Dickey Lee, Josh Turner, Little Big Town, Jack Ingram, Mac Davis, Rory Lee Feek, Billy Burnette, The Warren Brothers, Shawn Camp and Hunter Hayes were mingling among us. Patty Smyth, the lead singer of Scandal, was in the house with her tennis-celeb hubby John McEnroe.

And then there were the stars who entertained us from the stage. The first of them saluted Keith Urban.

BMI’s Mike O’Neill announced the night’s first awardee. “We honor Keith not only for his spectacular talent, but for what he does behind the scenes…for music education,” said O’Neill, citing Urban’s efforts on behalf of the Country Music Hall of Fame, Grammy Foundation, Mr. Holland’s Opus Fund, ACM Lifting Lives and lobbying for music education in D.C. Maren Morris, backed by students from the Nashville School of the Arts, serenaded Urban with “But For the Grace of God.”

BMI Vice President Creative, Nashville Jody Williams, singer-songwriter Keith Urban, and BMI President & CEO Mike O’Neill. Photo: John Shearer/Getty Images for BMI

“I don’t know what to say about this,” said the honoree, “except I’ve been blessed by the gift of your love.”

Performance and video tributes to DiPiero were interspersed throughout the evening. The former featured Jon Pardi tearing it up on “Daddy’s Money,” Brooks & Dunn romping through “You Can’t Take the Honky Tonk Out of the Girl” and Reba McEntire slaying the crowd with the power waltz “Till You Love Me.”

Among those testifying on video were John Scott Sherrill, Woody Bomar, George Strait, Al Cooley, Vince Gill, Craig Wiseman, Robert K. Oermann, Jeffrey Steele and Gerry House, most of whom were also in the house.

“We are thrilled and honored to welcome Bob DiPiero into our BMI ICON family tonight,” said O’Neill, citing the writer’s four-decade career, 1,000 recorded songs, 50 million radio performances and membership in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.

“Bob’s songs are ingrained in country music….He embodies the spirit of Music Row.”

Luke Bryan attends the 65th Annual BMI Country Awards at BMI. Photo: Erika Goldring/Getty Images for BMI

“BMI has been my rock through real highs and real lows,” said Bob. “You all have saved my life. Music Has saved my life…..Music makes my heart beat.”

“You have set the bar for everybody in this room,” said Jody Williams. Jody, plus BMI Nashville execs Leslie Roberts and Bradley Collins, presided over the songwriter and publisher award presentations.

At several moments, the love in the room bubbled to the surface. Lori McKenna drew cheers and a spontaneous standing ovation when she took the stage with Tim McGraw to accept a BMI Award for her deeply moving “Humble and Kind.”

“Your grandmother, Donna Hilley, would be very proud of you tonight,” said Jody to Mitchell Tenpenny. Mitchell was one of 11 writers getting their first BMI recognition. Others included Jesse Lee, Kelly Archer, Alexander Palmer, Barry Bales and Daniel Tashian.

Two father-son songwriting teams were honored – Rhett Akins and Thomas Rhett, plus Casey Beathard and Tucker Beathard.

BMI Vice President Creative, Nashville Jody Williams, Phillip Sweet, Kimberly Schlapman, Karen Fairchild, and Jimi Westbrook of Little Big Town, and BMI President & CEO Mike O’Neill. Photo: John Shearer/Getty Images for BMI

Other songwriters in the winner’s circle included Ronnie Bowman, Sarah Buxton, Jesse Frasure, Tom Douglas, Natalie Hemby, Tony Martin, Wendell Mobley, Shy Carter, Bryan Simpson, Neil Mason, Blair Daly, Jim Beavers, Rodney Clawson and Barry Dean.

Big winner Copperman had already earned 16 BMI Awards going into the banquet. “I’m so thankful for this town wrapping its arms around me,” he said. “Thank you for taking care of my songs. I love you guys.”

We dined on chicken cordon bleu, filet mignon, asparagus spears, baby carrots and potatoes au gratin. Tables were draped with elegant pale-gray cloths with jumbo autumn roses and hybrid orange mums in massed centerpieces. The dining area’s entries were flanked by tall columns of blossoms and greenery.

Kent Blazy, Kent Earls, Jim Free, Jim McBride, David Pomeroy, David & Karen Conrad, David Ross, Melanie Howard, Doug & Linda Edell Howard, Leslie Fram, Leslie Tomasina DiPiero (“Queen Leslie,” according to Bob), Dane Bryant, Del Bryant, John Huie, John Marks, John Esposito, Bobby Braddock, Butch Baker, Al Anderson, Dean Dillon, Carson Chamberlain, Gilles Godard, Scott Siman and Steve Schnur schmoozed.

Ronnie Dunn and Kix Brooks of Brooks & Dunn perform onstage during the 65th Annual BMI Country Awards at BMI. Photo: Getty Images for BMI

Also working this friendliest of rooms were Beth & Luke Laird, Liz Rose, Jerry Crutchfield, Randy Goodman, T.K. Kimbrell, Roger Murrah, Barry Coburn, Gov. Bill Haslam, songwriter-running-for-Congress Lee Thomas Miller, Diane Pearson, Steve Dorff, Erik Dylan, Clay Myers, Arturo Buenahora, Charlie Monk, Lori Badgett, Pat Finch, Hank Adam Locklin, Biff Watson and Garth Fundis.

More love, plus thoughts and prayers, go out to Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member Whitey Shafer, 83, who suddenly became ill at the banquet and was transported to a hospital.

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