Bobby Karl Works The Room: The 2019 AIMP Awards

Pictured: Leslie Roberts, Mike Molinar, Shannan Hatch, Robert Carlton, Ree Guyer, John Ozier. Photo: Katie Kauss

If you’re looking for the soul of Nashville music, you might find it at the AIMP awards.

Those initials stand for Association of Independent Music Publishers, the group that staged its fourth honors ceremony at the Ryman on Tuesday evening (April 30). This event captures a lot of the warmth, camaraderie and mutual support that are the hallmarks of the Music City community.

For you younger readers, there was a time when Music Row consisted of independent entrepreneurs and folks who operated tiny outposts of national firms. This was before conglomerates arrived, demanding “class A office space,” which meant constructing big, modern buildings and destroying bungalows.

The AIMP event feels a lot like the way Music Row used to be.

Or, as attendee Paul Worley dubbed it, “The REAL Nashville music awards.”

What he meant was, people with acoustic instruments singing songs with heart, rather than flashy production numbers. Also, friends congratulating friends.

Colleagues in attendance included Mike Molinar, Michael McAnally Baum, Michael Martin, Beth Laird, Luke Laird, David Preston, Dave Pacula, Gilles Godard, Butch Baker, Woody Bomar, B.J. Hill, Walter Campbell, Alicia Warwick and Barry Dean.

The show’s host was TV personality and former Miss Tennessee Ashley Eicher. She proclaimed, “I fell in love with the songwriting community and the stories behind the songs.”

Celia Froehlig. Photo: Katie Kauss

Ashley McBryde presented the Rising Writer/Artist Award to HARDY. “This is cool,” he said. “I think this is the first thing I’ve ever won in my life. I want to thank the Nashville community. Honestly, I couldn’t ask for a better family.”

Josh Thompson presented the Rising Songwriter of the Year to Aaron Eshuis. This was also the first award of Aaron’s career.

The Song Champion Award went to BMI’s gracious Leslie Roberts. The Publisher’s Pick Award was “Made for You,” written by Benjy Davis, Joey Hyde and Neil Medley.

The newly named Jeff Carlton Strong Song Award — presented with the Sarah Cannon Cancer Center — was given to “Love Wins.” Singer and co-writer Carrie Underwood accepted via video.

Matt Jenkins and Chris Van Belkom honored an absent Luke Combs with the Artist/Writer of the Year award. Jeffrey Steele presented the AIMP Songwriter of the Year honor to Jessie Jo Dillon. “I’m gonna get emotional up here,” she said. “I don’t even know what to say. I just want to thank independent publishers as a whole, for being the lifeblood in this town. I’m shocked. I was really not expecting this at all.” She was up against the arguably more prominent Ashley Gorley, Hillary Lindsey, Josh Osborne, Ross Copperman and Shane McAnally.

Perhaps the segment that crystallized the communal vibe of the show was the presentation of the Independent Spirit Award to Celia Froehlig. “She didn’t turn my career around,” said Josh Osborne. “She GAVE me a career.”

“I can’t imagine not having her as my mentor,” said Robin Palmer. “You are what this award personifies,” co-presenter Pat Rolfe said to Celia.

A parade of video testimonials ensued. Testifying were Allen Shamblin, Dale Bobo, Pat Higdon, Steve Bogard, Allison Jones, Frank Liddell, Blake Chancey, Marc Beeson, Kelly Bolton, Forest Whitehead and Kelsea Ballerini, many of whom were “in the house” as well.

“I really don’t know what I have done to deserve this,” said the honoree. “It’s a privilege and an honor for me to be part of this community. I appreciate this more than you guys can ever know.”

HARDY. Photo: Katie Kauss

Ree Guyer and John Ozier presented the Publisher of the Year award to SMACKsongs. Co-owner Shane McAnally took the stage with the firm’s other top execs.

“I don’t feel worthy of being the spokesperson,” he said, referring to the company’s staff. “This is my favorite night, because these are my people, my favorite people.”

Scattered throughout the ceremony, the six AIMP Nashville Song of the Year nominees were performed.

Jimmie Allen sang “Take It From Me” as a soulful ballad, accompanying himself on piano. Travis Denning performed an exciting, acoustic rendition of “Burning Man.” Adam Hambrick delivered “I Lived It.” Teddy Robb offered a hearty “Drowns the Whiskey.” HARDY returned to the stage to perform “Break Up In the End.” Natalie Hemby and her adorable daughter sang “Rainbow,” which she cowrote with McAnally and Kacey MusgravesDallas Davidson announced that “Rainbow” was the winner.

“We wrote ‘Rainbow’ in 2013, when we were all going through a rough time,” commented Natalie. “It just kinda fell out of the sky….If you’re ever going through a rough time, it’s time to let the rainbow shine.”

Doug Johnson, Janie West, Jody Williams, Tim Wipperman, Tracy Gershon, Jon Nite, Luke Dick, Courtney Crist, show producer Tim Fink, Juli Griffith, Abbe Nameche, Jeff Skaggs, Robert Carlton, Ben Hayslip, Stephanie Cox and Steve O’Brien were cheering. Sherod Robertson led a contingent of enthusiastic MusicRow attendees including Alex Kobrick, Haley Crow and LB Rogers.

Here’s another AIMP delight. We headed for home at the divinely early hour of 9:00 p.m.

Jessie Jo Dillon. Photo: Katie Kauss

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