Most of the winners at this year’s MusicRow CountryBreakout Awards were repeat honorees, but the party celebrating them was fresher and fizzier than ever. This year’s event was sponsored by The Vaden Group/Elliott Davis.
Jason Aldean won his second consecutive Male Vocalist prize. Winner Kelsea Ballerini previously earned the Female Vocalist MusicRow honor in 2018 and 2016. Florida Georgia Line won the Duo/Group prize for the fifth year in a row. Shane McAnally won his second award in the Songwriter category. Most impressive of all was Capitol Nashville Records. It was named Label of the Year for the 15th time, and 14 of those wins have been consecutive.
“This is amazing,” said Kelsea. “This means you supported a mid-tempo love song (“Legends”) and a ballad (“I Hate Love Songs”). And now you’re playing a song about fighting for my self worth (“Miss Me More”). It’s really empowering….It means the world.”
Host Sherod Robertson responded by saying, “We’ve been fans from Day One, and we’ll always be fans of Kelsea Ballerini.”
Brent Jones accepted on behalf of Capitol. “Thank you, MusicRow!,” he exclaimed. “It’s been awesome every year. I’ve been here for all of the wins. So I’m really f****g old!”
MusicRow publisher Robertson began the event by greeting a capacity crowd at The Listening Room on Wednesday (Feb. 13) by saying, “Welcome to MusicRow’s 17th annual Country Radio ‘Meet & Greet’ and Country Breakout Awards. We’re here to celebrate radio airplay.
“Thanks to The Vaden Group/Elliott Davis, our presenting sponsors. Mike Vaden and I go way back. If you see him or Heather Campbell or Jennifer Love, be sure and give them a big MusicRow ‘Thanks.’”
Guests were given guitar-shaped mouse pads bearing the Vaden logo, as well as the magazine’s glossy, radio-convention print edition.
The entertainment began with a spirited set by CJ Solar. This Sea Gayle Records artist applied the verve and youthful elan of his voice to the rumbling, throbbing “American Girls,” then let fly with the wailing, plaintive “Airplane.”
“It’s great to see so many familiar faces out there, and thank-you for playing those first two tunes,” he told the assembled radio programmers. “It’s also great to write songs for others.”
That was his intro to a punchy treatment of “Up Down,” which featured Solar’s fleet-fingered, “Freebird” guitar ride. His song was a big 2018 hit for Morgan Wallen with Florida Georgia Line.
“I’d like to kick off our awards,” said MusicRow chart director Alex Kobrick. “It’s a full house, and we love it.” She surprised Solar by presenting him with MusicRow’s Independent Artist of the Year Award.
“Wasn’t expecting that,” stammered Solar. “I’m not good at speeches. I just want to thank Sea Gayle, Craig Campbell, Dreamcatcher Management and all the promotion guys. I don’t know how I won this, but thank you so much.”
Alex continued her presentations by announcing Derek Beck of KRGI (Grand Island, Nebraska) as this year’s MusicRow Reporter of the Year. “Beck exemplifies the spirit of our chart,” she said.
“Thank you so much, MusicRow,” said Beck. “You artists are amazing. It’s great to make a difference, especially for the independent artists.”
Smack Songs exec Robert Carlton accepted McAnally’s songwriting award from Alex. Mcanally is in L.A. working on a new NBC songwriting-competition TV show, Songland.
Broken Bow Records execs Lee Adams and Shelley Hargis accepted Aldean’s award from Robertson. “We’d like to thank you for delivering ‘A Girl Like You’ [to No. 1] on the same day as his baby girl,” said Adams. “Thank you for everything you’ve done for him and his career.” She and Hargis introduced the crowd to Matt Holmberg, who is their new secondary radio promo man.
Big Machine exec Matthew Hargis accepted on behalf of FGL. The duo was en route to New York to appear on Jimmy Fallon tonight (Feb. 14) to launch its fourth album. Titled Can’t Say I Ain’t Country, it drops on Friday, Feb. 15.
“This is like Old Home Week,” said Diane Richey of the event. “It feels like one big family, and that means the world. Maybe we don’t say it enough, but, ‘Thank you.’” She heads the most awarded radio-promotion company in Nashville.
Because of “Singles You Up” and “Take It From Me,” handsome, full-bearded Jordan Davis was announced as this year’s Breakthrough Artist award winner.
“This is crazy,” said Jordan. “I woke up this morning thinking about how I moved here in 2012. Music Row wrapped their arms around me in just five years. From the bottom of my heart – to be accepting an award like this – thank y’all very, very much.”
Chance McKinney added to the event’s entertainment value with a catchy set. “Tomorrow morning you’re going to be singing this song,” he promised when introducing the jaunty, sing-along “We Good.” His toe-tapping tune from last summer, “Take It Back” was next, followed by the breezy “Backyard.” His promotion staff handed out Miller Lite longnecks to the whole crowd.
A bevy of indie artists worked the room and sampled the breakfast buffet. Not the least of these was TV superstar John Schneider. I congratulated him on his ambitious, simultaneous, four-CD release, Beginnings, Vagabond, Crossroads and Wanderlust, collectively billed as The Odyssey. They contain 41 songs, but John said that’s only the beginning. He’s actually recorded 72 new sides.
Marty Brown told of writing the smash “I’m From the Country” for Tracy Byrd and of how singing Dylan’s “To Make You Feel My Love” for America’s Got Talent led to his new Plowboy Records contract. Wife Shellie Brown is now his manager. BMI will host his new CD party on May 16.
Katlyn Lowe, Young Fables, Ricky Cook (who wrote a song based on a phrase in his last “DisClaimer” review), J.D. Shelburne, Jesse LaBelle, Shane Owens (last year’s Indie Breakthrough winner), Cherie Brennan, Southern Halo and Christian Davis were among the other artists schmoozing.
Fabulons sharing their space included Mark Logsdon, Susan Niles, Terri Brown, Woody Bomar, Dennis Banka, Traci Peel, Jim Della Croce and Martha Moore. Not to mention the mono-named Toad, of Stoney’s Rockin’ Country in Vegas, which is an exalted, ACM-nominated country nightspot.