“This is becoming my favorite industry awards show.” That statement was shared among throngs of songwriters, publishers and other industry members at last night’s (Sept. 26) sixth annual Nashville Songwriter Awards, put on by Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) with presenting partner City National Bank.
And for good reason. The night was full of epic performances, tender speeches and shared congratulations. As it has been since the beginning: it was a love fest.
Throughout the night, the winning songs in the “10 Songs I Wish I’d Written” category were performed, as were tributes to some of the night’s esteemed honorees, Bobby Braddock, David Israelite and Tim McGraw.
The show opened with talented vocalists Jimmy Yeary and Sonya Isaacs singing a medley of “Golden Ring,” “The Jet Set” and “D-I-V-O-R-C-E,” as one of many musical moments tributing the incomparable Braddock.
Later in the show, Garth Brooks appeared to a hooping and hollering house. He was tasked with presenting Braddock with the Kris Kristofferson Lifetime Achievement Award, but he wasn’t alone. Tracy Lawrence soon joined the stage to perform the Braddock-penned classic, “Time Marches On.” A highlight of the evening was when Blake Shelton, whom Braddock discovered, appeared to perform the iconic “He Stopped Loving Her Today” that Braddock penned alongside Curly Putman for George Jones. Toby Keith got a huge applause when he appeared to sing “I Wanna Talk About Me,” on which he sounded as stellar as ever.
When Braddock made his way to the stage, he insisted that the award was an honor to all of the songwriters who had written with him over the years. The songwriter—who has had chart-topping hits in five decades—was incredibly humble, thanking his family, publishers and the Nashville community.
“I love country music. I’m fortunate to play a small part in it,” Braddock shared. “Long live country music!”
Lori McKenna was on hand to honor McGraw, who was being presented with the NSAI President’s Keystone Award. She played her epic “Humble And Kind” that McGraw sent into the stratosphere. “Tim McGraw always makes me cry,” McKenna said.
The President’s Keystone Award recognizes significant contributions to the betterment of all songwriters. In a video that played with messages for McGraw, almost all participants spoke about his commitment to cutting the best songs—no matter if he had a hand in writing them. For McGraw, the best song wins.
“You are the songwriters. The corner stone of Music Row,” McGraw said to the crowd.
“I listen to hundreds of your songs as I’m trying to record what I’m hearing in my head. I consider it one of the most precious and awesome things I get to do, listening to your demos,” he added. “I heard your song and I fell in love with it. Thank you for trusting me with your songs.”
Israelite, the Chairman & CEO of the National Music Publishers’ Association, was given the NSAI Advocacy Award for his significant service to the songwriting community. Brett Young performed a cover of Israelite’s favorite song, “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen. When Israelite got up to speak, he said Young’s cover was now his favorite version.
Israelite spoke about the work NMPA and NSAI had done together for the betterment of songwriters. “Songwriting is a collaborative exercise. As you’ll see tonight, most great songs are the result of a team effort,” he said. “The same is true in my world.”
Ashley Gorley was the night’s Songwriter of the Year, an award he has taken home a record seven times. He was treated to performances of “God Gave Me A Girl” by Russell Dickerson and “She Had Me At Heads Carolina” by Cole Swindell as an example of two of his hits from the past year.
When Gorley spoke, the chart-topper with over 60 No. 1 hits shared something that he had found himself telling rising songwriters lately.
“I’ve been in Nashville a long time and this past year was the biggest year I’ve had,” Gorley shared. “To anyone that’s out there that is digging in, just be patient, keep being you and do what you do best.”
In between in awards, the “10 Songs I Wish I’d Written” were revealed through videos from the creators about the song’s writing process. Then, the artist or songwriter(s) behind the song would perform them.
Josiah and the Bonnevilles performed a folky version of Taylor Swift‘s “Anti-Hero” (Swift, Jack Antonoff); while Megan Moroney thrilled the audience with her breakout hit “Tennessee Orange” (Moroney, David Fanning, Paul Jenkins, Ben Williams).
Tony Lane and Travis Meadows played their hit with Cody Johnson, “Human,” while Nicolle Galyon performed Morgan Wallen‘s “Thought You Should Know” (Galyon, Wallen, Miranda Lambert). Emily Shackelton sounded beautiful on Carly Pearce‘s “What He Didn’t Do” (Shackelton, Pearce, Gorley). Hardy and Renee Blair brought the house down on “Wait In The Truck” (Hardy, Blair, Jordan Schmidt, Hunter Phelps.)
Gorley, Phelps and Ben Johnson performed another winner they wrote with Hardy, “Give Heaven Some Hell.” The ever-charming Ernest appeared a few times throughout the night to perform winners “Flower Shops” (Ernest, Ben Burgess, Mark Holman) and “You Proof” (Ernest, Wallen, Gorley, Charlie Handsome), with Handsome in tow for accompaniment.
The top-voted of the “10 Songs I Wish I’d Written” is named Song of the Year. That honor went to Lainey Wilson, Trannie Anderson and Dallas Wilson for Wilson’s “Heart Like A Truck.” Trannie and Dallas performed the tune—Lainey couldn’t be there as she had sold out Red Rocks that night.
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