Although the air was a few degrees shy of balmy, the sun was radiant and the grass thick and inviting as a crowd streamed into Music Row’s Owen Bradley Park Tuesday afternoon (April 4) to cheer songwriters Rivers Rutherford and George Teren. The two wrote Brad Paisley’s latest No. 1 single, “When I Get Where I’m Going,” and Paisley was there to help them celebrate.
Making the event more special was the fact that Paisley had sung this song about an imagined afterlife at his friend Buck Owens’ funeral only two days earlier.
“You never feel the impact of these words as you do when a casket’s right there,” Paisley told reporters before the party started. Getting through the song under those circumstances had been difficult, he said, adding, “You put on a game face and pretend you’re on stage for a minute.”
Paisley noted his favorite line from the song is, “I’m gonna land beside a lion and run my fingers through his mane.” He explained, “I don’t think there’s ever been a more poetic line written in a country song.”
The celebration was sponsored jointly by the performance rights organizations ASCAP and BMI and held on the sliver of land at the tip of Music Row that lies between their office buildings. Rutherford is an ASCAP songwriter, while Teren is affiliated with BMI.
In addition to the trophies given to Rutherford and Teren, plaques and certificates were also handed out to Paisley, his producer, Frank Rogers, and to Joe Galante, who heads Paisley’s record label, Arista Nashville. Indeed, so many awards were conferred that Paisley soon found himself with both arms full and a plaque leaning against his leg.
Dolly Parton, who sang harmony on “When I Get Where I’m Going,” was unable to attend because she was filming commercials at her Dollywood theme park in East Tennessee. But she sent written greetings to the writers and Paisley.
“I want to thank you and congratulate you,” she told the writers, “for one of the greatest songs that I have ever heard and certainly one of the best songs that I’ve had the good fortune to sing on in my whole career. I hear nothing but great comments on it. I just lost a dear friend, and they played it at his funeral. It was his favorite song ever. But all my living friends love it, too.”
To Paisley, she wrote, “I truly am as proud to have been a part of that [song] as anything I’ve ever done in my whole life.”
Paisley told reporters that when he considered putting “angelic” harmonies on the record, the only suitable voices he could think of were those of Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris and Parton.
Marcy Mynatt, Rutherford’s creative coordinator, presented both writers with notebooks of messages from fans saying what the song has meant to them personally. Rutherford’s wife Ali attempted to read a poignant letter from the mother of a 29-year-old emergency medical technician who had died in an accident, but she began crying and her voice faltered before she could finish. Rutherford then stepped in to complete the reading.
“I believe what [composer] Johnny Mercer said,” Rutherford told the crowd, “‘Songs aren’t written, they’re discovered.'” Added Teren, “[This is] one of those rare kinds of songs. It seems that everything that could go right, went right.”
“It just really comes down to heart,” Paisley said, summarizing the song’s creation and impact. “This song is one of those little taps on the shoulder from angels.”