In addition to honoring the writers of 34 standout songs from the past year, the performance rights organization declared Josh Kear its songwriter of the year on the strength of his having co-penned such hits as “Drunk on You,” “Blown Away,” “(Kissed You) Good Night,” “Two Black Cadillacs” and “Dancin’ Away With My Heart.”
“How Country Feels” and “Drunk on You” tied for song of the year recognition, and Warner Chappell Music copped the publisher of the year trophy for administering the hits “Better Than I Used to Be,” “Come Wake Me Up,” “Fly Over States,” “Good Girl,” “The Only Way I Know” and “Why Ya Wanna.”
But the brightest point in the ceremonies came near the end when fellow headliners took the spotlight to pay respects to the durable and ever-current George Strait. He was presented ASCAP’s Founders Award for his “immeasurable” influence on country music.
Strait’s achievements, including scoring the most No. 1 singles of any country artist to date and his capacity to fill stadiums and arenas, have earned him the nickname “King George.”
The first to tip his hat to Strait was Alan Jackson. Addressing the honoree directly from the stage, Jackson confessed that so many Strait hits swirled through his head, he had great difficulty choosing just one to sing to him.
He wound up with one he said had been on his set list since he was a beginner, singing in bars in his native Georgia.
“It was the kind of song that made me want to sing country music,” Jackson explained.
With that, he launched into “Let’s Fall to Pieces Together,” Strait’s chart-topper from 1984 (which was five years before Jackson would make his own major label breakthrough.)
There was a brief pause in the proceedings so the audience could watch a congratulatory video from former President George W. Bush, who proclaimed, “George Strait’s talents transcend generations.”
To illustrate that assertion, he noted that Strait had been a White House favorite both through his father’s presidency and his own. Then he delivered what was surely the most memorable line of the evening.
“Being called ’President George’ is OK,” he drawled, “but ’King George’ has a mighty fine ring to it.”
To round out the tribute, Brooks, unannounced, strode onstage to lead the house band through snippets of “Unwound” (from 1981), “Amarillo by Morning” (1983) and “The Fireman” (1985), none of which, oddly enough, ever reached No. 1 in spite of the iconic status they’ve all since attained.
Sporting a gray-flecked beard, the usually voluble and quotable Brooks said nothing to the crowd or the honoree. Earlier in the day, it was announced that his half-sister and former bass player, Betsy Smittle, had died Saturday (Nov. 2).
The much-touted Clark kicked off the ceremony with the provocative, dope-approving “Get High” from her new album 12 Stories.
ASCAP president and noted songwriter Paul Williams greeted the crowd after Clark’s performance. Beaming at the applause her song earned, Williams said, “This is Nashville! This is the energy of passing the torch.”
As has become an ASCAP tradition, the affiliated writers of its Top 5 songs performed them at intervals throughout the evening.
Kear and co-writer Chris Tompkins, joined by a string trio, sang “Drunk on You,” a hit for Luke Bryan. Neil Thrasher, Wendell Mobley and Randy Houser joined voices in the Houser No. 1, “How Country Feels.”
Shane McAnally rendered “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye,” another Bryan chart triumph. Eric Paslay had the crowd cheering throughout his hard-charging interpretation of “Even if It Breaks Your Heart,” which the Eli Young Band took to the top.
Kear returned to the stage with co-writer Tom Gossin and the members of Gloriana to sing “(Kissed You) Good Night.” Gloriana had the chart version of the song.
ASCAP called on five recently signed major label artists to introduce each of the songwriter performances: Brothers Osborne (EMI), Dan & Shay (Warner Music Nashville), Leah Turner (Columbia Nashville), Cassadee Pope (Republic Nashville) and Rae Lynn (Valory).View photos of the event.
Here is the complete list of ASCAP’s winners:
“Alone With You” Shane McAnally
“Angel Eyes” Jeff Coplan, Eric Gunderson, Eric Paslay
“Banjo” Neil Thrasher
“Better Dig Two” Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally, Trevor Rosen
“Better Than I Used to Be”
Josh Kear, Chris Tompkins
“Come Over” Sam Hunt, Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne
“Come Wake Me Up”
Johan Fransson, Tim Larsson, Tobias Lundgren
“Crying on a Suitcase”
“Dancin’ Away With My Heart”
“Did It for the Girl” Lynn Hutton
“Drink on It”
“Drunk on You”
Josh Kear, Chris Tompkins
“Even if It Breaks Your Heart”
“Every Storm (Runs Out of Rain)” Hillary Lindsey, Matt Warren
“Fastest Girl in Town” Angaleena Presley
“Fly Over States”
Michael Dulaney, Neil Thrasher
“Give It All We Got Tonight”
Ashley Gorley, Chris DeStefano
“Hard to Love” Ben Glover
“How Country Feels”
“I Drive Your Truck” Jessi Alexander
“(Kissed You) Good Night”
Tom Gossin, Josh Kear
“Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye”
“Merry Go ’Round” Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne
“One of Those Nights” Chris Tompkins
“The Only Way I Know”
Ben Hayslip, David Lee Murphy
“Til My Last Day” Brian Maher, Jeremy Stover
“Tip It on Back” Jon Mark Nite
“Two Black Cadillacs”
Josh Kear, Hillary Lindsey
“Why Ya Wanna”
Chris DeStefano, Ashley Gorley