Glowing with the recent success of the Music Modernization Act unanimously passing through the Senate, songwriters, artists and music industry leaders alike had even more to celebrate as they piled into the Ryman Auditorium’s legendary pews for 2018 Nashville Songwriter Awards on September 19. A feeling of redemption and validation filled the air, and speeches were soaked in words of gratitude, all while coming back to the same basic idea: “it all begins with a song.”
Among the performers for the evening were Thomas Rhett, Blake Shelton, Jewel, Brothers Osborne, Old Dominion, Darius Rucker, Jamey Johnson, Chris Janson, Travis Denning, Scotty McCreery, Kip Moore, LANCO, Jessi Alexander and Jon Randall.
The biggest award of the night, the Kris Kristofferson Lifetime Achievement Award, was given to the ever-charming, prolific songwriter Bill Anderson, who enjoyed a lengthy standing ovation from the crowd. Anderson is only the second recipient in the award’s history (the first was given in 2013 to Willie Nelson). In his speech, Anderson brought the whole house to tears by telling the story of a fan who was ready to commit suicide, but changed his mind when Anderson’s “Five Little Fingers” came on the radio. “That’s what being a songwriter is all about,” Anderson remarked in his acceptance speech.
Finding justice and fair pay for songwriters in a continually evolving music industry were especial themes for award winners Cary Sherman (Stephen Foster Award) and Congressman Doug Collins (R-Georgia, The White Hat Award). Sherman, current Chairman and CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America, has been a pioneer and influential force in a digital age and an advocate for songwriters over several decades. Congressman Collins has been a leading force for the Music Modernization Act, and gave an impassioned speech that garnered a standing ovation from the entire auditorium. “To the songwriters and creators in this room – keep fighting. There are people who will fight for you,” said Collins.
Other honorees for the evening included Ashley Gorley for Songwriter of the Year. Chris Janson performed “Fix a Drink” and Thomas Rhett performed “Unforgettable,” just two of many hit songs written by Gorley. Brandon Lancaster took home Songwriter/Artist of the Year, and LANCO performed “Greatest Love Story” in his honor. “I’ll Name the Dogs” (Written by Matt Dragstrem, Ben Hayslip, and Josh Thompson, performed by Blake Shelton) was named “Song of the Year.”
A highlight of the evening was the presentation of awards for “Ten Songs I Wish I’d Written.” Short videos were created for each song featuring the songwriters discussing the writing process and meaning behind them. The songs honored this year include:
- “Broken Halos” – Mike Henderson, Chris Stapleton
- “Every Little Thing” – busbee, Carly Pearce, Emily Shackelton
- “Five More Minutes” – Monty Criswell, Scotty McCreery, Frank Rogers
- “I Could Use a Love Song” – Maren Morris, Jimmy Robbins, Laura Veltz
- “ I Lived It” – Rhett Akins, Ross Copperman, Ashley Gorley, Ben Hayslip
- “It Ain’t My Fault” – Lee Thomas Miller, John Osborne, T.J. Osborne
- “Marry Me” – Jesse Frasure, Ashley Gorley, Shane McAnally, Thomas Rhett
- “Most People Are Good” – David Frasier, Ed Hill, Josh Kear
- “Written In The Sand” – Shane McAnally, Matthew Ramsey, Trevor Rosen, Brad Tursi
- “Yours If You Want It” – Andrew Dorff, Jonathan Singleton
While the battle for fair pay for songwriters’ and artists’ in an ever-shifting digital music landscape is far from over, it was refreshing to take an evening to celebrate those that write the songs that are worth fighting for.