Many of the top performers in country music’s touring industry were honored during the CMA Touring Awards, held Monday (Jan. 28) at Nashville’s Marathon Music Works. The longstanding awards show, which launched in 1990 and were formerly known as the SRO Awards, honors the best in country music touring and business. This year’s ceremony celebrated professionals in 15 categories. Partners for the evening included Delta Airlines, while guests sipped on libations from Kenny Chesney’s Blue Chair Bay Rum line.
Members of Kenny Chesney’s touring and business team dominated the award wins for the evening, taking home awards in five categories.
Philip Ealy was honored as Lighting Director of the Year, while Jay Cooper was named Tour Video Director of the Year. Coach/Truck Driver of the Year went to John Stalder.
Ebie McFarland, founder/owner of EB Media PR and publicist for artists including Chesney, George Strait, and more, was named Publicist of the Year. Client Michael Ray made a special appearance to honor McFarland. McFarland was named a MusicRow Rising Women on the Row in 2014.
David Farmer, Chesney’s tour manager, was named Tour Manager of the Year.
“This is an award you don’t win by yourself,” he said, dedicating the honor to Chesney’s late Lighting Crew Chief Allen Gibson, who died in October 2018.
Evening host Jerrod Niemann, and Joe Denim introduced categories with video voice overs. The intros, dubbed “Real Crews Of Genius,” parodied the classic Bud Light “Real Men of Genius” radio spots popular in the 1990s.
“There is a vast spectrum of greatness here,” Niemann said in starting off the evening. “I want to give you an example of who is sitting at these tables. If you go to one really far spectrum there is a group that wakes up every morning, shower, put on their best dress, get in their Mercedes Benz convertible, go to their office in the sky, look out the corner window, have that earpiece in and make the stadium tours roar. On the other spectrum, still greatness, but the other end in this room there’s a group of you that wake up in the morning too, don’t shower, but do slip on your cleanest dirty black tee shirt, cargo pants, cleanest black tennis shoes and radio and you know you have a duty. You know that it’s your job to be the first to find the cleanest sh*ter and the best weed,” he joked. “For that, I commend you.”
The late Mike Kennedy won Touring Musician of the Year at the 7th Annual CMA Touring Awards on Monday, January 28, 2019 at Marathon Music Works in Nashville, TN. He is celebrated here by his friends including Terry Hale (Ace in the Hole Band), wife Margaret Kennedy and friends.
Two members of Keith Urban’s touring entourage were honored, including Kirk Kelsey (Front of House Engineer of the Year) and Randy “Baha” Fletcher (Production Manager of the Year). Kelsey and Fletcher are currently working on Keith Urban’s Graffiti U tour in Australia. Footage was shown of Urban surprising both men with their CMA Touring Award honors. In 2017, Fletcher was honored with the CMA Touring Awards’ Lifetime Achievement honor.
Several more former MusicRow Rising Women on the Row honorees were feted during the event.
WME’s Becky Gardenhire, who was named one of MusicRow’s Rising Women on the Row in 2018, was honored as Talent Agent of the Year.
KP Entertainment’s Kerri Edwards, artist manager for Luke Bryan and Cole Swindell among others, was named Manager of the Year. She was named one of MusicRow’s Rising Women on the Row in 2017.
Julie Boos, who was named a MusicRow Rising Women On The Row in 2014, was honored as Business Manager of the Year. Blake Shelton thanked Boos for her work via a video statement.
The Touring Musician of the Year category proved a bittersweet moment, as the late Mike Kennedy was honored. Kennedy, who died in August 2018 at age 59, had been a member of Strait’s Ace In The Hole band for nearly 30 years. Fellow band members Terry Hale, Mike Anderson and Marty Slayton, as well as Kennedy’s wife Margaret, were on hand to accept the honor on Kennedy’s behalf.
“I want to say how much this means to all of us and to Mike’s family. We miss Mike a lot,” Strait said via video. “We are having to learn to play without him now but thank you, I know how much it would mean to him and how much it means to his family.”
Hale, who has been a bass player as part of the Ace in the Hole band for 45 years, said, “I had the great privilege and immeasurable pleasure of standing next to Mike Kennedy for 30 years,” Hale said. “I would like to thank his wife Margaret for sharing him with us…it is a privilege to do this for a living.”
DEGA Catering was named Tour Caterer of the Year, and Little Big Town offered video congratulations. Monitor Engineer of the Year went to Cam Beachley, who works on Miranda Lambert’s tours.
Live Nation’s Brian O’Connell was named Talent Buyer/Promoter of the Year. Cadillac Three’s Jaren Johnston offered a few congratulatory (and sarcastic) lines via video. “It’s awesome what you are doing for us, especially not having a slot on Tortuga Festival, or Seven Peaks this year, or Watershed. We probably won’t be on the one in Chicago, either, but great job buddy.”
O’Connell used his acceptance time to honor others who have worked with him, including fellow CMA Touring Award nominee Ali Harnell, AEG Presents, and Patrick McDill (Live Nation Nashville) plus Mike Dugan (Messina Touring Group) and David Kells (Bridgestone Arena).
Opry Entertainment Sr. VP, Programming and Artist Relations/Opry General Manager Sally Williams accepted the Ryman Auditorium’s accolade as Venue of the Year. Ronnie Milsap offered a tribute via video.
The evening’s Lifetime Achievement award honored Messina Touring Group CEO Louis Messina. The Messina Touring Group oversaw three of 2018’s largest stadium tours, as Chesney, Swift and Ed Sheeran brought in more than 80 stadium shows in North America. Messina Touring Group promoted tours that grossed nearly $600 million in North America last year.
Video congratulations poured in from several of the artists Messina helped to launch massive touring careers, including Shelton, Eric Church, Chesney, Strait and Taylor Swift. Church’s manager John Peets of Q Prime South was on hand to honor Messina.
Messina recalled receiving the news via surprise phone call from Strait in November.
“This is quite an honor. I’ve been so blessed throughout my whole career,” said Messina. “I’m going to steal an Eric Church line because last year when everything came through, we did over 100 stadium shows. I had a record year. I’ve been doing this for 46 years, but last year was crazy. I’ve always been a dreamer. The first time I saw Elvis I knew this was what I wanted to do. I saw him when I was seven-years-old. My big reward is not only seeing my dreams come true, but the artists I work for, seeing their dreams come true. We help create magic night after night. It’s all about the artists, but it’s all about everybody in this room too because when you put us all together, that’s what magic is. When the artist and the audience connect and we’re just that part of it, that’s magical. I salute everybody in this room for being a part of what you all do. This is a night I’m never going to forget.”
Perhaps it was Coach/Truck Driver of the Year winner John Stalder who summed the evening best.
“Keep on rollin’!”
2019 CMA Touring Awards Winners:
CATEGORY 1 – BUSINESS MANAGER OF THE YEAR
Julie Boos (Flood, Bumstead, McCready & McCarthy, Inc.)
CATEGORY 2 – COACH/TRUCK DRIVER OF THE YEAR
John Stalder (Kenny Chesney)
CATEGORY 3 – FRONT OF HOUSE (FOH) ENGINEER OF THE YEAR
Kirk Kelsey (Keith Urban)
CATEGORY 4 – LIGHTING DIRECTOR OF THE YEAR
Philip Ealy (Kenny Chesney)
CATEGORY 5 – MANAGER OF THE YEAR
Kerri Edwards (KP Entertainment)
CATEGORY 6 – TOUR MANAGER OF THE YEAR
David Farmer (Kenny Chesney)
CATEGORY 7 – MONITOR ENGINEER OF THE YEAR
Cam Beachley (Miranda Lambert)
CATEGORY 8 – PRODUCTION MANAGER OF THE YEAR
Randy “Baja” Fletcher (Keith Urban)
CATEGORY 9 – PUBLICIST OF THE YEAR
Ebie McFarland (Essential Broadcast Media)
CATEGORY 10 – TALENT AGENT OF THE YEAR
Becky Gardenhire (WME)
CATEGORY 11 – TALENT BUYER/PROMOTER OF THE YEAR
Brian O’Connell (Live Nation Nashville)
CATEGORY 12 – TOUR CATERER OF THE YEAR
CATEGORY 13 – TOURING MUSICIAN OF THE YEAR
Mike Kennedy (George Strait)
CATEGORY 14 – VENUE OF THE YEAR
Ryman Auditorium (Nashville, TN)
CATEGORY 15 – TOUR VIDEO DIRECTOR OF THE YEAR
Jay Cooper (Kenny Chesney)
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