The BMI Country Music Awards took place Tuesday evening (Nov. 8) at BMI’s Nashville headquarters, and a cavalcade of music artists and industry members attended the event to honor the 50 most-edited songs of the year, as well as songwriters and music publishers. their
More than 900 guests attended the shindig, including artist-writers Ashley McBride, Kelsea Ballerini, Priscilla Block, Ken Brown, Kenny Chesney, Luke Combs, Michael Hardy (who records as Hardy), Ellie King, Miranda Lambert, Dustin Lynch, Jake Wayne , Carrie Underwood and Keith Urban.
The event was emceed by BMI President/CEO Michael O’Neill, who welcomed the crowd saying, “We are thrilled to honor all of you who are the best in country music.” Also among this year’s winning songs, writers and publishers were BMI vp, creative, Nashville Clay Bradley, as well as AVP, creative Mason Hunter, AVP, creative Leslie Roberts and executive director, creative Shannon Sanders.
Bradley noted that 72 of this year’s honorees were first-time BMI award-winning songwriters.
The evening began with Shai Carter performing “Beer With My Friends” with David Lee Murphy.
Sony Music Publishing was named BMI Music Publisher of the Year, releasing 25 of the 50 most-edited songs, including Ballerini’s “Half of My Hometown,” The King/Lambert collaboration “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go) Home), Brown’s “One Mississippi,” Lambert’s “If I Was a Cowboy” and Morgan Wallen’s “Sand in My Boots.”
The 2022 BMI Country Song of the Year honor goes to “Forever After All” by Luke Combs, written by Combs, Drew Parker and Rob Williford and published by 50 Egg Music, Big Music Machine, Oak Tree Swing Publishing, Rowdy Rob Music, Straight. Dimes Music and Sony/ATV Tree.
Hardy was named BMI Country Songwriter of the Year earlier this year following his ACM Songwriter win.
Roberts presented him with a custom guitar along with BMI Songwriter of the Year when he took to the stage to thank those who have played an important role in his career. As a songwriter, Hardy not only wrote his own hits including “One Bear” and “Give Heaven Some Hell”, but he was a contributing writer on Dierks Bentley’s “Bears on Me” (which also featured him as a vocalist), Morgan Wallen’s ” More Than My Hometown” and “Sand in My Boots,” Blake Shelton’s “Come Back as a Country Boy” and Cole Swindell’s “Single Saturday Night.”
Hardy thanked her parents and sister for their influence on her life and career, as well as champions including Casey Beathard and Ashley Gorley.
“When I heard I won, which was very recently, my first thought was, ‘I’m so glad I’m with BMI, because that’s the only way I can beat Ashley Gorley in anything,'” . He also thanked Dennis and Jesse Matkowski of Relative Music Group.
“Dennis was the first and only person to sign me to a publishing deal in 2014,” Hardy said. “Since then, we’ve started a real publishing house called Relative Music and we’re proud of that ***”
Hardy thanked his sister Madison for signing him with BMI and thanked Roberts for being a strong champion for him.
“He took a chance on me … he let me go into his office and play literally five or six songs that I had to my name,” he said, adding that one of the songs he played him was “Scars.” “At the end of that meeting, I remember Leslie saying something along the lines of, ‘Yeah, they’re fine, but there’s this song called ‘Scars’ that’s pretty good and I think you’re onto something.’ That one comment Leslie made meant the world to me. Like everyone in this room, I moved to Nashville from a small town… hearing that from Leslie gave me all the confidence to believe that I could really make it in this city.”
Toby Keith was presented with the BMI Icon Award, recognizing his work as a songwriter, including significant contributions to his own catalog of hits, including “American Soldier,” “Should’ve Been a Cowboy,” and “How Do You Like Me Now?” “?!”. Previous recipients of the honor include Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Dolly Parton. Keith has previously been named BMI Country Songwriter of the Year three times and won BMI Country Song of the Year honors for “Today as Good as I Was”.
O’Neill said of Keith, “His creative credits are second to none but he’s a songwriter at heart. That’s who we’re celebrating tonight – the writer behind the hits.”
“You’re a songwriter’s songwriter,” added Bradley.
Keith’s fellow Oklahoma native Underwood scored Keith’s No. 1 country airplay debut hit, 1993’s “Should Have Been a Cowboy,” which Keith wrote himself.
“It was artists like you who taught kids like me that greatness was possible,” Underwood said.
Eric Church offers a slower, uniquely “major” version of Keith’s 2003 Billboard Country Airplay chart leader “I Love This Bar.” Church also shared his first memory of seeing Keith at Fiddle & Steel Guitar Bar in downtown Nashville, an incident in which Keith grabbed a bully barfly by the collar and dragged him down a line of barstools, before depositing him at the end of the bar just as Church entered.
“I thought, ‘I like this motherfucker.’ So that was my first Toby Keith memory, and I cherish it,” Church said. “For me, he’s always been someone who did it his way.”
Video tributes poured in throughout the evening from Willie Nelson, Scotty Emerick and Keith’s longtime manager TK Kimbrel. Later in the evening, Keith’s dedication to military members was praised, and footage of Keith’s post-9/11 Billboard Country Airplay hit “Red, White & Blue (The Angry American)” played on the screen, along with several music industry crowds. The song begins to sing, giving Keith a standing ovation at the end. Emerick and Dean performed “It’s Too Little Too Late” by Dillon Keith.
Keith took the stage and gave a heartfelt thank you to his parents and family, as well as Kimbrel and producer Harold Shedd (known for his work with Alabama, Katie Oslin, Laurie Morgan and many others), who produced Keith’s early albums. Shedd was in attendance, celebrating his 91st birthday to help Keith celebrate. Keith also name-checked producer James Stroud, who had co-produced Keith’s albums. dream walkin’, How do you like me now?! And shocked.
Keith recalls a collection of songs and a dream as a Nashville fledgling singer-songwriter from Oklahoma.
“When I went to Nashville, what they said was, ‘You have to affiliate.’ I said, ‘What the f***’s affiliated?'” At the suggestion of producer Shade, he visited the BMI Nashville office “in 1990 or 1991” and quickly met Bradley.
“You know how you get those interns that you always dump your s***? They put me in the clay,” Keith says. “Since 1990 or 1991, I’ve been involved with the greatest organization in the music business and that’s BMI. A songwriter. As such, they appealed to me because I knew that even if I didn’t make it as an artist, someone would cut my songs. I’ve always felt that songwriting is the most important part of this whole industry.”
Keith also thanked his agent Kurt Motley, Brian O’Connell of Live Nation and his frequent collaborators Emerick, Dillon, Bobby Pinson and others who have collaborated with him on the road over the years.
“Money [Kimbrell] ‘He gave up his career as a manager to manage me, because I was difficult to manage…wherever we went, whatever label we were on, we were in a fist fight. I wanted to play my music and wear clothes from my closet and it didn’t work out that way…then they wanted to groom you and I was incomplete. Bless TK’s heart, he said ‘I’m with you, Doug.’
In closing, Keith made it clear that of all the accolades he’s received in his career, the one honoring the craft of songwriting is the one that means the most to him.
“All I could think about was the Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and BMI Icon,” he said.