BOBBY KARL WORKS THE ROOM
MusicRow magazine has been giving awards annually for more than 30 years, but its ceremony took a giant leap forward on Wednesday evening (June 26).
The event moved from the lobbies of BMI or ASCAP to the War Memorial Auditorium. Table sponsorships were offered, and the celebration sold out. Winners’ names were kept secret until they were announced on stage. A cocktail supper was provided. Classy video graphics were added.
There were several new award categories. A new trophy was introduced, designed by artisan Santana Matlock. It is a column of concrete containing earth from the historic sites of Music Row.
One thing that has probably not changed is that the winners are often predictors of what will transpire at the CMA Awards the following fall. Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift, Sam Hunt, Kacey Musgraves, Luke Bryan and more have been honored by MusicRow before ascending to CMA glory.
So keep an eye on Wednesday’s big MusicRow winners Luke Combs, Ashley McBryde, Jimmie Allen, Tenille Townes, Hillary Lindsey and Josh Osborne. By the way, McBryde was a double winner.
Here’s something else that was new this year, a celebrity co-host. TV personality and media coach Alecia Davis proved to be a bright and lively foil for MusicRow’s Sherod Robertson as they zipped through a fast-paced awards event.
Sherod said she gave him advice about the elements that are in play when hosting an awards show. Then they bantered about it.
“Starting tonight, welcome to the Golden Globes of country music,” Sherod quipped. He was referring to the fact that the Globes predict the Oscars and are far more goofy and relaxed. He wants his industry to feel the same about MusicRow’s presentations.
He listed Alecia’s award-show monologue elements, and both of them dismissed most of them. Tell jokes? Nope. Riff on news headlines? Nope. Sing and dance? Nope and nope. Do a selfie? Yes, they did that.
How about roasting people? They listed sponsors CAA, Vaden Group/Elliott Davis, Keller Turner Andrews Ghanem, City National Bank, Ram Trucks and Todd Cassetty. So, no roasting. At least not them.
Sherod and Alecia kept up their light-hearted energy throughout the ceremony. First up was the presentation of the 2019 All-Star Musician honors.
“This is the one we all want,” said guitar winner Derek Wells. “Thank you, MusicRow – this is amazing,” said fiddle winner Jenee Fleenor. Her category was a tie with Stuart Duncan and Alison Krauss. “I am happy to split this, because they are my heroes,” she added.
“I want give a shout-out to all of these up here [on stage] with me and all the other players in the trenches,” said keyboards winner Charles Judge. “We have the greatest gig in the world,” said backup-vocalist winner Russell Terrell. “It’s a blessing beyond belief.”
“It’s amazing to me that I get to stand up here with the greatest musicians in the world,” commented engineer winner Justin Niebank. The other honorees were Nir Z (drums), Jimmie Lee Sloas (bass) and Paul Franklin, plus Russ Pahl (a tie for steel).
Dann Huff returned to the MusicRow stage as 2019 Producer of the Year. He previously won in 2013 and 2006. “I appreciate this very much,” he remarked. “My biggest thanks are to the artists and musicians and Justin and my wife, Sherri, who has put up with my schedule since I started playing guitar at age 18.”
UMG was named Label of the Year. CAA won Talent Agency of the Year. The Breakthrough Songwriter award went to Jordan Reynolds. Publisher Ben Vaughn accepted on his behalf.
“He’s had an amazing year,” said Ben. “He’s had a No. 1 country song (“Tequila,” “Speechless”). He’s had a No. 1 Christian song. He couldn’t be here because he is at a writer’s retreat, and is probably already three songs into it by now.”
At this point, Sherod and Alecia decided they were jealous of the rest of us, making merry and drinking our wine. They asked for somebody backstage to bring them some wine.
Out came surprise guest Kathie Lee Gifford, famous for her wine imbibing on daytime TV. She has moved to Franklin and has been collaborating on songs with attendee Brett James, among others. She shared her own wine brand with the co-hosts.
“I’m happy,” she said. “It’s this place. Everyone is so loving, and they love my wine. I’m blessed beyond belief. My dream job is what I’m doing right now. I can’t thank you enough for the welcome that I’ve received and the warmth.”
“Nashville is built on relationships, and we’re all here because of relationships,” explained Sherod.
“She’s like a dose of sunshine,” said Alecia.
Jimmie Allen won Breakthrough Artist-Writer. Josh Osborne won Male Songwriter. Hillary Lindsey won Female Songwriter.
The Song of the Year went to “Girl Goin’ Nowhere,” by Ashley McBryde and Jeremy Bussey. “I knew when I sat down in a room with her that she was something special,” said Jeremy. “It’s the first song we ever wrote together. Thank you to everyone who ever sat in a room with me.”
Sherod announced that a new award was being created and named for MusicRow’s longest-tenured critic. “What do you look for in a new artist?” he asked Robert K. Oermann.
RKO referred to his many years of reviewing acts. In so doing, he did a shout-out to MusicRow founder David M. Ross. Then he addressed the question.
“If you are a new artist, I expect you to say something to us in your music,” RKO said. “I expect you to be a student of this business. This is a community—get to know it. Most of all, I expect you to be different. Don’t come here as a clone of a star, because we already have that star. I want you to be you.”
RKO then announced Tenille Townes as the winner of the Robert K. Oermann Discovery Artist award. “This is so cool,” she said. “I respect all of the other nominees, and I consider myself so lucky to do this. When I first came to town at age 14, I made my mother drive me up and down Music Row. I was in awe of all the buildings. To now be a part of that is unbelievable.”
Bussey reappeared to accept on behalf of McBryde when she was named Breakthrough Artist. “This is one of my favorite people on the planet,” Jeremy said. “She’s the coolest chick I’ve ever met, an awesome, incredible soul. Thank you guys for this. We all know it’s tough to be a woman [in country music] right now.”
The Luke Combs triumph as MusicRow subscribers’ Artist of the Year capped the eve.
Working the room were nominees Kevin Welch, Scott Hendricks, Caylee Hammack, C.J. Solar, Laura Veltz, Tofer Brown, Brad Clawson, Aaron Eshuis, Will Weatherly, HARDY, Sean McConnell, Hailey Whitters, and Bobby Pinson. Also such enduring fabulons as Tom Luteran, Tim Wipperman, Tim Fink, Charlie Cook, Craig Campbell, Martha Moore, Steve O’Brien, Pat Higdon, R.J. Curtis and Dale Bobo.
Aspiring hit makers Julia Still, Morgan Clark and Brinn Black were there. So were Bob DiPiero, James Elliott, Kos Weaver, Josh Van Valkenburg, Brad Peterson, John Ozier, Preshias Tomes, Victoria Shaw, Suzanne Lee, E.T. Brown, Chris Kappy, Becky Harris, and Mike Sistad.
The catering was quite good. We noshed to our hearts’ content on burger sliders, red-pepper hummus, pita bread, shrimp & grits, melted-cheese toast points, exquisitely dressed pasta salad, veggies, hot-chicken sliders, polenta bites with sun-dried tomato and feta topping and many mini desserts.