BOBBY KARL WORKS THE ROOM
If you want to make a black-tie awards banquet feel like a comfy evening at home, take a few tips from SESAC.
The smallest of the performance rights organizations used its size to its advantage to craft an event that was short on formality and long on warmth and intimacy. Staged at the Country Music Hall of Fame’s event hall on Sunday (Nov. 10), the ceremony saluted the writers and publishers of its top 16 country and Americana songs of 2018-19.
SESAC’s Songwriter of the Year was Justin Ebach. He was presented with the night’s big honor by singer Dustin Lynch.
“Songwriter of the Year goes down in history,” said Dustin. “It’s Big Stuff.”
“Holy shit,” exclaimed Justin. “You don’t get here by yourself. My wife, Janine, she handles my world….I’m a little caught off guard and not good at speaking, but Thank You So Much.” This is the second time that he has been given this honor.
“Beautiful Crazy” won Song of the Year for its SESAC composer Wyatt Durrette III. Singer Luke Combs congratulated him via video. Warner Chappell Music was named SESAC’s Country Publisher of the Year.
Executives E.T. Brown, Lydia Schultz and Shannan Hatch played tag-team in presenting the awards. During the evening, there were several fond tributes to SESAC veteran Hatch, who is leaving there to become president of the new Fourward Music publishing division.
The casual vibe of the awards banquet was evident from the start. There were no assigned tables or seats. Guest mingled comfortably throughout the cocktail hour, then gathered in informal groups. Dinner was served buffet style, with a wait staff circulating constantly with tasty snacks and glasses of wine.
Working the red carpet were Jenny Tolman, a vision in a fringed ivory mini-dress, alongside Calaway, Keith Burns, Olivia Lane, Jimmie Allen, Blanco Brown, turquoise jacketed Erin Enderlin, Runaway June, Ryan Kinder and the sartorially splendid Seaforth with member Mitch Thompson in a fabulous bejeweled jacket.
Victoria Shaw had Cooper Alan in tow. He is a new artist she is co-producing whose “Climate Change” country single has already garnered half a million streams. Victoria is also hosting the new PBS TV series, Songwriters Under the Covers. I recommend it.
Georgia Middleman was celebrating a new CD that she released last week. Gifted hubby Gary Burr was celebrating repaired knees, as well as enduring songwriting greatness.
Jim Ed Norman confessed that he’s way behind on any Nashville news. He’s been on the road conducting orchestras on The Eagles tour.
Webb Wilder, Steve Bogard, Dallas Davidson, Josh Hoge and Cary Barlowe were working the room, too.
The ceremony began with a bang. Blanco Brown performed a mash-up of “A Change Is Gonna Come” and “Tennessee Whiskey” to illustrate how close classic r&b and classic country are to each other. He was searingly soulful, with stratospheric scatted falsetto notes. Who knew that “The Git Up” chart-topping novelty artist was such a phenomenal vocalist? Blanco’s mini set concluded with the whole crowd on its feet and shaking it to his groove-soaked “The Git Up” dance commands.
“Welcome,” said SESAC chairman & CEO John Josephson. “I’m always honored to be part of an event that honors our songwriters and publishers. We look forward to applauding each of you tonight.”
“Tonight is a party, and I’m so glad that Blanco started it off,” added Shannan Hatch. She pointed out that SESAC writer Jerry Salley had just won his second consecutive Songwriter of the Year honor from the IBMA and that SESAC fiddler Jenee Fleenor is the first woman to be nominated as Musician of the Year by the CMA. Both were present and given hearty rounds of applause.
The first group of awards went to “Not Many Miles to Go,” penned by Rosanne Cash, plus Casey Brown’s “Blue Tacoma” (Russell Dickerson), Kevin Welch’s “Millionaire” (Chris Stapleton), Wyatt Durrette III’s “Beautiful Crazy” (Luke Combs), Cary Barlowe’s “Raised on Country” (Chris Young) and Josh Hoge’s “Hangin’ On” (Chris Young).
Then Jimmie Allen and co-writer Josh London drew a standing ovation for their superb performance of “Best Shot.” Jimmie looked splendiferous in a wide red bolero hat.
Next up in the winner’s circle were Runaway June’s “Buy My Own Drinks,” written by the group’s Naomi Cooke, Hannah Mulholland and Jennifer Wayne, plus the Niko Moon/Cary Barlowe “Back to Life” (Rascal Flatts), Justin Wilson’s “Drunk Me” (Mitchell Tenpenny) and “Rumor,” written, sung, produced and published by Lee Brice. What a guy.
Justin Ebach’s “Good Girl” (Dustin Lynch), the Jason Boyer/Michael Tyler tune “Girl Like You” (Jason Aldean), Alysa Vanderheym’s “Talk You Out of It” (FGL’s so-called “baby making” ballad) and Ebach’s “Here Tonight” (Brett Young) paved the way for Ray Wylie Hubbard to perform “Desperate Man.” He slowed it down to a bluesy drawl, vamping on his own guitar and harmonica. The song’s co-writer and hit maker Eric Church staged a surprise appearance to present Hubbard’s honor. Loved him for that.
All of this took place in serene surroundings. The room was dominated by a massive center lighting fixture with multiple strings of white lumens arranged in a cube. The black-backed stage with pin lights was also lit by rectangular graphics of the award-winning songs. Tables wore black or red brocade cloths centered by arrangements of dark red roses or black-glass columns with tea lights. The room contained seated tables, high cocktail tables and black leather lounging couches. Take your pick.
Terry Wakefield, Terry Hemmings, Charlie Monk, Capucine Monk, Ed Morris, Jason Morris & Jewel Coburn, David & Carolyn Corlew, Dave Brainard, Dave Pacula (who is now working for Liz Rose), Clay Myers, Clay Bradley, Fletcher Foster, Maurice Miner, Susan Stewart, Karen Clark, Gilles Godard, Troy Tomlinson, Tom Luteran, Tom Roland, Tim Fink, Tim Wipperman, plus Ron Stuve, John Huie, Dale Bobo, Woody Bomar, Diane Pearson, Daniel Miller, Erika Wollam Nichols, Allen Brown, Bob Doyle, Shannon McCombs, Larry McCormick, Peyton Hoge, Mark Ford, Amy Smartt, Ree Guyer, Stephanie Langston, Richard Blackstone, Ash Bowers, B.J. Hill,Lori Badgett, Katharine Richardson, Debbie Carroll, Pat Higdon, John Beiter and Cliff Audretch schmoozed.
Our buffet dining featured a roast beef carving station, Asian shrimp and rice, chicken lemon grass dumplings, soba noodles, pork pot stickers, shrimp salad spring rolls and chilled steamed asparagus, squash, cauliflower, red pepper and other veggies. Cookies and candies were offered as desserts.