The Country Music Association is well known for its annual CMA Awards, which are coveted by many a country music artist as a symbol of not only commercial success in the music industry, but—as an industry voted award—as a sign of respect among their fellow members in the country music industry.
Last night (Jan. 21), the Country Music Association honored many of the crew members and executives that keep country music’s top artists on the road and playing for fans every night. The eighth annual CMA Touring Awards was held at Nashville’s Marathon Music Works, hosted by a witty, energetic Jon Pardi.
CMA CEO Sarah Trahern introduced the awards show, which honored hard working, impactful music industry members in 15 categories.
“We are excited to honor our touring personnel, the folks who get the show on the road and those who literally keep it on the road,” Trahern said, noting that the CMA represents over 7,600 members. “The largest category is artists and second, touring personnel,” she said.
Dierks Bentley was in attendance as several of his team members were honored during the evening.
Red Light Management’s Mary Hilliard Harrington, who counts Bentley, Tucker Beathard, LANCO, Elle King and Caylee Hammack, among her clients, was named Manager of the Year. Harrington was recently named as Board President for the CMA.
“I decided this year, 2020 was my year of gratitude,” she said. “It’s pretty amazing to be able to stand here in front of all you guys tonight and say thank you in such a public way.” Harrington thanked the CMA staff, saying, “It’s amazing that you guys recognize how hard our guys out on the road work and I know they appreciate it. To my touring family, I love you guys so much. I’m also super grateful for the team at Red Light that supports me and our artists, and the artists themselves. The thing about Dierks is he is the most thoughtful, generous, creative, talented artist that any manager could dream to work with, so I’m so grateful to you. I’m so grateful that when I moved here you believed in me first, that even today you are letting me manage Hot Country Knights,” she said to the applause from the crowd. “That’s a gift, so thanks for that.” She also thanked her six-year-old daughter Scarlett, who attended with her. “I get up every day and want to be a good example for her. I love you.”
Powerhouse publicist, The GreenRoom’s Tyne Parrish, was honored as Publicist of the Year. Bentley’s production manager Jay Ballinger was named Production Manager of the Year. Ballinger noted that it was his fellow nominee in the category, Todd Ortmeier, who originally hired Ballinger as a drum tech for Bentley. Chris Reade, another member of Bentley’s touring team, was honored as Lighting Director of the Year.
WME’s Jay Williams, who counts Bentley, Chris Stapleton, Eric Church, Luke Bryan, Brothers Osborne and many others among his clients, was named Talent Agent of the Year.
Williams said, “One of the things I love about this town—I was just a dinner, and I look over and Marc [Dennis] and Darin [Murphy] and Aaron [Tannenbaum] are sitting at the table across from us. I consider all of you guys friends, yes competitors, but one of the beautiful things about Nashville is it’s a community where we all find ways to work together and get along. Everyone in this category deserves this award. Everyone on our team is so deserving.” He said to fellow WME agent and category nominee Nate Towne, “You’re a badass. You’re going to get nominated for this award every year for years coming. I wouldn’t have this job without Marc Dennis. He convinced the HR person to take a chance on me 22 years ago when I didn’t really know much about the music business. Thanks to my team at WME. You are family and we are going to have a great year this year.”
“They are the dealmakers that get the job done. That’s what we need, right Dierks?” Pardi joked.
Several artists sent in video congratulations to the nominees, including Kenny Chesney, Luke Bryan, Maren Morris and Thomas Rhett.
Several members of Chris Stapleton’s road crew were honored during the evening, including Coach/Truck Driver of the Year winner Larry Phye, Jr. and Front of House Engineer of the Year winner Arpad Sayko.
Tour Manager of the Year went to Todd Bunch, who leads tours for Eric Church. Chris Jones, who handles video for Church, was named Tour Video Director of the Year.
Kenny Chesney bandmember Wyatt Beard, who has spent 23 years on the road with the superstar, was named Touring Musician of the Year, while Bryan “Opie” Baxley was named Monitor Engineer of the Year.
“I know where to put the mic, at least,” Baxley quipped. “Thanks to everybody up here. Thank you to the CMA Awards for recognizing us. Thanks to Kenny Chesney and his entire staff. He is the greatest and it trickles down to the very last person. And who lives like we do?” he asked…with other members of the Chesney touring team yelling in response, “We do!”
Chesney’s tour photographer Jill Trunnell won a newly-added honor this year, Tour Videographer/Photographer of the Year.
“I have to thank my touring family. Without them I wouldn’t be a part of this. I have to thank Kenny Chesney who taught me how to use a camera, because he got me one and said, ‘Here, figure this out.’ And he taught me how there’s a good picture and a bad picture,” Trunnell said. “And Dierks let me practice photography on him for a while. Congratulations to everyone in this category because I’m not a big photographer, I’m really not. I’m not professionally trained, I just learned as I went. I totally respect what all of you pull off and I’m very lucky to be part of this. Most of you have been on a Kenny tour and you know how awesome they all are. Everyone in this room deserves to win.”
Flood, Bumstead, McCready and McCarthy’s Mary Ann McCready was named Business Manager of the Year.
Messina Touring Group’s Louis Messina, who earned a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2019 CMA Touring Awards, was honored this year as Talent Buyer/Promoter of the Year.
Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena was named Venue of the Year.
The evening concluded with the CMA Touring Lifetime Achievement Award going to Tony Conway. Marty Stuart introduced Conway, while Randy Travis and wife Mary Travis were in the audience to show support.
Artists and industry peers including Alabama’s Jeff Cook, Teddy Gentry and Randy Owen, Terry Calonge, John Huie, Joey Lee, John Michael Montgomery, Lorrie Morgan, Ricky Van Shelton, Randy and Mary Travis, and Storme Warren
Conway offered a few humorous stories from his nearly 50-year career in Nashville. Conway moved to Nashville in 1974 and soon joined Buddy Lee Attractions. He recalled that the first artist he brought into the company was a young traditional country upstart named George Strait. In 1985, Conway helped coordinate the first Farm Aid show, and also served as Executive Producer for what was formerly called Fan Fair—and now CMA Fest—for 11 years. During that time, he oversaw the festival’s move from the Nashville Fairgrounds to downtown Nashville.
He was named President of Buddy Lee Attractions in 1987, and promoted to CEO/co-owner in 1998. During his time with the company, Conway repped artists including Willie Nelson, Garth Brooks, The Highwaymen, Bill Monroe, the Dixie Chicks, Roy Orbison, George Jones, Waylon Jennings, Marty Stuart, Ronnie Milsap, Emmylou Harris and more. He then launched Conway Entertainment Group/Entourage Management.
“You know, sometimes when I talk about who I used to represent or who I do represent, they think I’m making all this up because it just sounds like a dream, and it is. It’s true,” Conway said. “I want to thank everybody in this room for what they do on the road. Like everybody says, we are one big family, and it takes professionals and people that love the business as much as I do to pull it off.”
“The beauty of Tony is, his handshake is better than a pile of contracts,” said Stuart. “And that’s the truth. If Tony gives you his word on something, it’s done.”
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