For a few transcendent minutes at the BMI country music awards show Tuesday evening (Nov. 10), the denizens of Music Row got a chance to ponder the difference between hits that keep on coming — and going — and songs built on emotional bedrock: in this case, the exemplary songs of Kris Kristofferson.
The performance rights organization honored Kristofferson with its BMI Icon award during ceremonies held at its Nashville headquarters to recognize the 50 most-performed country songs of the past year.
Taylor Swift‘s “Love Story” was named BMI’s song of the year. It was her second consecutive year to win this prize. Bobby Pinson, who co-wrote four of the 50 songs cited, took the songwriter of the year trophy. For the eighth straight year, Sony/ATV Music Publishing Nashville copped the top publisher prize via its shares in 14 of the winning songs.
Alternately grinning and dabbing at his eyes, Kristofferson sat enraptured at a table near the stage while Vince Gill, Patty Griffin and Willie Nelson perched on stools and sang some of his best-loved compositions, specifically “Why Me,” “Help Me Make It Through The Night,” “Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again)” and “Me and Bobby McGee.”
Del Bryant, BMI’s president and CEO and host for the evening, recalled that he was a teenager living at home with his songwriter parents, Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, when he first met Kristofferson.
Bryant recited some of Kristofferson’s achievements before he turned to the perilous and not quite respectable trade of songwriting in the late 1960s: college athlete, Golden Gloves boxer, member of Phi Beta Kappa, Rhodes Scholar, U.S. Army captain and helicopter pilot.
Soon after coming to Nashville, Bryant noted, the young hotshot was sweeping floors and emptying ashtrays at the Columbia recording studios. Legend has it, Bryant continued, that in an effort to gain Johnny Cash‘s attention, Kristofferson landed a helicopter in Cash’s backyard, emerging with “a beer in one hand and a tape in the other.”
Rosanne Cash, Johnny’s daughter, sent in her greetings to Kristofferson via video: “You just get better and sweeter every year,” she said. “I love you like a brother, a father and a friend.”
Bryant observed that Johnny Cash once said of Kristofferson, “He makes me want to write better songs” and that Caesar Chavez, leader of the farm workers union, declared that Kristofferson is “steadfastly concerned for the underdog.”
Said Nelson from his perch on the stage, “Everything he writes is a standard, and we’ve just got to live with that.”
After leaving Nashville, Kristofferson developed an entirely new career as a movie and television actor. He won a Golden Globe award in 1977 for his role opposite Barbra Streisand in A Star Is Born.
In spite of his reputation for eloquence, Kristofferson had surprisingly little to say when he came forward to accept his award. After voicing his appreciation to friends who had helped him along the way, he growled, “I want to thank Vince and Patty and Willie for making me cry at my table.”
Bryant presented Brooks & Dunn the President’s Award in recognition of the duo’s influence on the music industry over the past two decades. They will dissolve their musical partnership after next year’s tour.
Bryant noted that Brooks & Dunn had won more awards than any other act both from Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music and that they had sold more records than any other duo except Simon & Garfunkel.
“This is the reason I came to town — to write songs,” said Kix Brooks. “Receiving this award is kind of the top of the mountain.”
Dunn was less serious, telling Bryant, “I just appreciate you not showing any of those pictures of [my] bad hair.”
Bryant pointed out to the several hundred guests that they were drinking wine from Brooks’ Arrington Vineyards.
Fans who stood across the street from the BMI entrance spotted a veritable constellation of stars streaming into the building. Among these were Swift, Keith Urban and wife Nicole Kidman, Martina McBride, Jamey Johnson, Jake Owen, Luke Bryan, Jimmy Wayne, James Otto, Craig Morgan, Kristian Bush of Sugarland and members of Little Big Town, Lady Antebellum and the Zac Brown Band.
Also Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert, Heidi Newfield, Rodney Crowell, Keith Anderson, Alabama‘s Randy Owen, Phil Everly of the Everly Brothers, Clay Walker, Kid Rock, Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, actor David Keith (An Officer and a Gentleman) and Patricia Heaton (Everybody Loves Raymond).
BMI’s lobby, where the pre-awards cocktail party was held, was festooned with portraits of Kristofferson. Guests mingled there for an hour before ascending to a sixth floor parking garage that had been transformed into a glittering ballroom.
The Belleville Outfit, a six-piece band from Austin, Texas, provided splendidly eclectic dinner music that ranged from “Listen to the Mocking Bird” to “Putting on the Ritz.” It was the band’s second year to entertain at the event.
Many of the guests left the party after the Kristofferson presentation. Those who stayed heard songwriter of the year Pinson quip, “We just do this [songwriting] to keep from going to jail. … This is the most fun you can have in a parking garage.”
Back downstairs in the lobby, a band featuring Country Music Hall of Fame members Harold Bradley and Charlie McCoy, pumped out country standards while lingering guests sipped on coffee and liqueurs and foraged the dessert tables. As always, it was an evening to remember.
Here is the complete list of BMI’s most-performed country songs:
“All I Want to Do”
Kristian Bush, Bobby Pinson
Kristian Bush, Bobby Pinson
“Back When I Knew It All”
Gary Hannan, Phil O’Donnell
“Better as a Memory”
Zac Brown, Wyatt Durrette
“Cowgirls Don’t Cry”
Ronnie Dunn, Terry McBride
“Do You Believe Me Now”
Dave Pahanish, Joe West
“Don’t Think I Can’t Love You”
Kendell Marvel, Jake Owen, Jimmy Ritchey
“Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven”
Jim Collins, Marty Dodson
“Feel That Fire”
Brett Beavers, Brad Warren, Brett Warren
“God Must Be Busy”
Clint Daniels, Michael Heeney
Tim James, Stokes Nielson
Alan Chang, Amy Foster
“I Saw God Today”
Rodney Clawson, Monty Criswell, Wade Kirby
“I Still Miss You”
“I’m Still a Guy”
Lee Thomas Miller
“Just a Dream”
Steve McEwan (PRS)
“Just Got Started Lovin’ You”
James Otto, D. Vincent Williams
“Let It Go”
Tom Douglas, Bill Luther, Aimee Mayo
“Lookin’ for a Good Time”
Keith Follese, Dave Haywood, Charles Kelley
“Love Don’t Live Here”
Dave Haywood, Charles Kelley
“Love Is a Beautiful Thing”
“Picture to Burn”
Liz Rose, Taylor Swift
“Put a Girl in It”
Rhett Akins, Dallas Davidson
“River of Love”
Billy Burnette, Shawn Camp, Dennis Morgan
“Roll With Me”
“She Never Cried in Front of Me”
Toby Keith, Bobby Pinson
“She Wouldn’t Be Gone”
Jennifer Adan, Cory Batten
“Should’ve Said No”
“Start a Band”
“Trying to Stop Your Leaving”
Brett Beavers, Jim Beavers
“Waitin’ on a Woman”
“What Kinda Gone” (Second Award)
“You Look Good in My Shirt”
Tony Martin, Mark Nesler, Tom Shapiro
“You’re Gonna Miss This”
Lee Thomas Miller