Tim McGraw, Keith Urban Join Songwriters to Celebrate “Highway Don’t Care”

Multi-Star Single Spent Two Weeks at No. 1

“It takes an amazing group of people to bring all this together,” said Big Machine Records chief Scott Borchetta Tuesday afternoon (Aug. 20) as he surveyed the crowd gathered at Nashville’s trendy new bar, Music City Tippler. They were there to honor the performers and songwriters behind Tim McGraw’s latest No. 1 single, “Highway Don’t Care.”

Sung by McGraw and Taylor Swift and backed by Keith Urban on guitar, “Highway Don’t Care” topped the Billboard charts for two weeks earlier this year. The song was co-written by Brad and Brett Warren, Mark Irwin and Josh Kear.

All the principals except Swift and Kear were on hand for the festivities.

The celebration was co-sponsored by BMI, the performance rights organization with which the Warren brothers are affiliated, and ASCAP, the performance rights organization home of Kear and Irwin.

“This is going to be a bit of a love fest,” Borchetta promised. And he was as good as his word, lavishing praise on everyone involved in the record’s success and bringing many of them forward to stand beside him onstage.

He began by showing a video in which all those who took part in creating the hit commented on the joys of putting it together.

Borchetta said he first heard about “Highway Don’t Care” from Swift, who said she was going to record it with McGraw. This was before McGraw had completed his transition to Big Machine. He said he took Swift’s announcement as an indication that McGraw was prepared to make the move.

Two themes kept surfacing during the long awards-conferring ceremony: (1) That the Warren brothers are zany but lovable, and (2) that McGraw is fortunate to have finally severed ties with his former label, Curb Records, although the name of the record company was never mentioned.

McGraw and Big Machine have been involved in a lengthy legal tug of war with Curb over which label has the right to McGraw’s services.

“This is as good as it gets,” said BMI’s Jody Williams, looking around the room with satisfaction after Borchetta finished his opening remarks. Williams proclaimed “Highway Don’t Care” a “masterpiece.”

He beckoned the Warrens to the stage to receive their trophies, declaring the pair “a force of nature” and pointing out they are also co-writers of Urban’s current single, “Little Bit of Everything.”

Other Warrens-penned hits include Martina McBride’s “Anyway,” Dierks Bentley’s “Feel That Fire” and McGraw’s “Felt Good on My Lips” and “If You’re Reading This.”

ASCAP’s Ryan Beuschel next took the podium to salute Irwin. He noted that in addition to his victory with “Highway Don’t Care,” Irwin co-wrote Tyler Farr’s new single, “Redneck Crazy.”

Someone in the back of the room shouted “Happy birthday, Mark,” and pretty soon the crowd was serenading him with birthday wishes.

During a lull in the proceedings, Brad Warren trotted up to the microphone and said, “We’d like to thank Scott for taking some time away from his second job, being the anti-Christ.”

Irwin let this observation settle in and then moved ahead to thank his co-writers. “You know you’re going to get something great when you’re in the room with them,” he said.

Of his longtime writing partner and faithful supporter, he added, “A guy couldn’t ask for a better friend than Josh Kear.”

Carla Wallace of Big Yellow Dog Music, Kear’s publisher, read a statement of gratitude from Kear, who was out of the country.

At this point, Borchetta asked McGraw to come to the stage. “Now that we’ve got you here,” he said, “we’re never going to let you leave,” clearly a double entendre referring to McGraw’s titanic efforts to sever his ties with Curb.

Borchetta also used the occasion to urge — in a comically heavy-handed manner — that the attendees vote for “Highway Don’t Care” as the Country Music Association’s song, single and music video of the year. Final nominations for the CMA awards will be announced Sept. 10.

Troy Tomlinson, head of Sony/ATV Music Nashville, which is now the Warren brothers’ publisher, decided that flattery was the best approach in dealing with the prankster pair.

“Some people think that the only reason we spent billions of dollars [in 2012] to buy EMI [Music],” he said solemnly, “was to get the Warren brothers.”

While the crowd mulled over that unlikely thought, Tomlinson turned to praise McGraw, who had just walked on to the stage, observing that the singer has had 45 Top 10 singles so far in his career.

Stepping up to the mic, McGraw asserted, “I know for a fact that Scott is not the anti-Christ,” clearing implying he knew who it really is. But he prudently stopped short of naming names.

“There are people at the 7-11 who can sing better than I can,” McGraw continued, “but there aren’t a lot of great songwriters.” He nodded appreciatively toward the writers standing behind him.

He said he realized early on that he wanted Swift and Urban to join him in the recording, and he credited them with bringing “way more heart and soul” into the project than he had even hoped for. He called Swift “a spectacular songwriter.”

Of his own career, McGraw said, “I feel like I’m just getting started.”

Once all the speeches seemed to be over with, Urban threaded his way through the crowd to join McGraw, Borchetta and the songwriters onstage for pictures.

But it remained for Brett Warren to have the last word. He said that after he told his wife that Keith Urban was going to play on the record, that it was going to be a single and, to top it all off, that Taylor Swift was going to sing with McGraw, his wife’s immediate response was, “We are painting the house.”

As guests left the party, each was handed a copy of the “accelerated deluxe” two-disc vinyl edition of McGraw’s Two Lanes of Freedom.

View photos from the party.
Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to CMT.com.