Country Music Week is more than awards ceremonies – it’s a time to reconnect with your peers and pals.
“I see people here that I haven’t seen in months,” said MusicRow Magazine owner/publisher Sherod Robertson as he surveyed the throng during the cocktail reception preceding the SESAC Awards on Sunday evening (Nov. 5).
“That’s the whole point,” I replied.
“I haven’t seen you in ages, where’ve you been?” said Rob Beckham when he greeted me. “Am I just not going to the right parties?” I told him with some guilt that I still have not come to see his new WME offices.
“We are WAY overdue for a dinner party,” said Erika Wollam Nichols. It’s true. We made a pact then and there to get together as soon as awards season and Thanksgiving are behind us. One happy coincidence was that we were assigned the same table at the SESAC banquet.
The gala was staged at the Country Music Hall of Fame’s event space. Justin Ebach won Country Songwriter of the Year. Cary Barlowe picked up a Country Song of the Year honor for “It Don’t Hurt Like It Used To.” Billy Currington was on hand to serenade us with it.
Ben Vaughn and his Warner/Chappell Music team members gathered on stage to accept SESAC’s Country Publisher of the Year award. Special accolades were also presented to Lady Antebellum, to Kenny Rogers and to peermusic’s Michael Knox.
The ceremony began with a bang. Old Crow Medicine Show took the stage unannounced and launched into “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35,” complete with bass drum and accordion. “It’s the 2017 SESAC Awards in Nashville, Tennessee!” shouted lead singer Ketch Secor at the finale.
“We are so proud that Bob Dylan is a member of the SESAC family,” explained SESAC VP Shannan Hatch, adding that Old Crow’s remake of Blonde on Blonde celebrates the 50th anniversary of Dylan recording that historic double LP in Music City.
She added that landmark anniversaries are also being celebrated by the Ryman Auditorium, the Bluebird Café, the NSAI and our host facility, The Country Music Hall of Fame.
The awards presentations kicked off with honors going to Victoria Shaw and the late Kim Williams for writing “Baby Let’s Lay Down and Dance” (recorded by Garth Brooks). Seth Mosley won for “Make You Mine” (High Valley). Craig Campbell won for “Outskirts of Heaven,” which he also recorded and published.
With hurricanes, wild fires, mass shootings and terrorist attacks, this has been a rough year, Shannan stated. But, “in the midst of these catastrophes, we can find hope,” she added. The inaugural SESAC Humanitarian Award was presented to LadyAID, the charity established by Lady Antebellum.
“This is truly an honor,” said the group’s Hillary Scott. “We are just so thankful for the platform that we have. This is just all really emotional,” she added, while briefly choking up. “Sorry: Maybe it’s because I’m bringing two little girls into the world,” said the pregnant-with-twins star.
“There are so many ways we can love each other better. There’s a lot more work to do. Incredibly awful things are happening every day. Let’s just keep doing more [good].”
Next up receiving songwriting awards were Jaron Boyer for “They Don’t Know” (Jason Aldean) and big winner Barlowe for “It Don’t Hurt Like It Used To” (Currington). This was also the segment of the show that saluted peermusic.
By now, it was nearing 9:00 p.m. (10:00 p.m., if Daylight Savings Time hadn’t ended the night before). We were starving. Mercifully, at this point the show took a dinner break.
Salad was baby artisan leaves with a white balsamic vinaigrette, plus roasted butternut squash, pumpkin seeds, cranberries and goat cheese crumbles. Filet of beef with a burgundy wine sauce, honey pecan smoked arctic chard filet, truffled mashed potatoes, roasted carrots and green beans were served as the entrée. A chocolate covered peanut-butter tart topped with whipped cream was the delectable dessert.
Next, Jim Lauderdale hosted the Americana portion of the ceremony. He won for his two 2017 albums, This Changes Everything and London Southern. The other honored Americana albums were Willie Nelson’s God’s Problem Child, which featured contributions by Sam Hunter and an absent Jamey Johnson, and the Band of Heathens disc Duende.
Lee Brice appeared to sing “20 Years Ago,” magnificently. Dustin Lynch offered “The Gambler.” Craig Campbell sang the dickens out of “Lady.” Kim Carnes and Andy Childs did “Don’t Fall in Love with a Dreamer.” All were paying tribute to SESAC Legacy Award recipient Kenny Rogers. The award was presented by Hillary Scott and her mom, Linda Davis, who tours as a singer with Rogers.
“I am so excited about being here, because you guys are truly my heroes,” Kenny said to the songwriting multitude. “I think my gift is this ability to spot great songs. I realize how lucky I was to get those songs. I thank each and every one of you.”
Justin Ebach’s “Sleep Without You” (Brett Young), Steve Bogard’s “Seein’ Red” (Dustin Lynch), Matt McGinn’s “What If’s” (Kane Brown & Lauren Alaina), Caroline Hobby and Runaway June lead singer Naomi Cooke’s “Lipstick” (Runaway June), Brice Long’s “Heartache on the Dance Floor” (Jon Pardi) and Matthew Bronleewe and Jaron Boyer’s “Flatliner” (Cole Swindell) rounded out the song honorees.
“I’m so grateful to be a part of this community,” said Ebach when he was named SESAC Country Songwriter of the Year. “I have never found better friendships in my entire life.”
His collaborations with Brett Young are Ebach’s first hit country songs. He thanked his Word Country publishers for giving him a chance.
“I’m so grateful to this town and all those people who opened doors for me. I love you,” he said.
Daniel Miller, Daniel Hill, Doug Johnson, Doug Howard, Mark Ford, Mark Brown, John Ozier, John Allen, John Marks, Jon Pardi, David Wykoff, David Ross, Ron Stuve, Ron Cox, Jim Zumwalt, Jimmy Carter, Pat Higdon, Pat McMakin, Patrick Clifford, Thom Jutz, Tom Roland, Tom Luteran, Michael Baum, Michelle Goble, Peyton Hoge and Josh Hoge worked the cocktail party.
As we entered the banquet room, we were greeted by massive cloth drum shades over golden glowing, art-deco light bulbs. The stage was decorated with swaths of silver-blue drapery. Silver brocade tablecloths bore centerpieces of clustered white roses and lilies.
Fabulons Becky Harris, Webb Wilder, Jerry Salley, Peter Cooper, Susan Stewart, Christy Walker-Watkins, Debbie Linn, Woody Bomar, Dwight Wiles & Diana Johnson, Dale Bobo, Bob Doyle, Gilles Godard, Charley Stefl, Chris Oglesby, B.J. Hill, Nick Di Fruscia, Tracy Gershon and Terry Hemmings took it all in.