Staged at the Sutler bar in Nashville, the celebration spotlighted songwriters Rhett Akins (Thomas Rhett’s father), Cole Swindell (Luke Bryan’s former merchandise salesman) and Michael Carter (Bryan’s long-time bandleader).
Bryan, who’s mentored both Swindell and Carter, was on hand to lead the cheering.
All the principal players are from the same area of Georgia.
BMI and ASCAP, the leading performance rights organizations, sponsored the event.
BMI’s Jody Williams opened the ceremony by summoning the three writers, Rhett and the song’s producer, Luke Laird, to the stage.
Akins and Swindell are BMI members. Carter is affiliated with ASCAP.
Williams recalled taking Rhett to dinner in 2010 when he was in Georgia to see an Eric Church concert. This was well before Rhett had emerged as an artist.
According to Williams, Rhett quaffed one Stella Artois beer — and then another — by which time he had become quite taken by the design of the container the beer was being served in.
He asked the waiter if he could buy the vessel and was told he could. With the aplomb of one to the manor born, the young singer nodded toward Williams and said, “Put it on his tab.”
That imperious move, Williams said, confirmed to him that Rhett had something special going on.
Turning to Rhett, who stood behind him, Williams declared, “You and your team are the future of country music.”
He observed that Swindell, whose “Hope You Get Lonely Tonight” is No. 1 in Billboard this week, has a sound and a show that is “resonating big with fans.”
Swindell and Carter co-wrote “Hope You Get Lonely Tonight,” as well as Bryan’s “Roller Coaster,” which currently lurks at No. 2.
Moreover, Williams continued, Swindell is now nominated for a CMA new artist of the year award — as is Rhett.
Williams reserved some of his highest praise for Akins, saying, “You can’t get in your car and drive six minutes without hearing a Rhett (Akins) song.”
Although Laird has won numerous awards for his songwriting, this is his first win as a producer.
ASCAP’s Mike Sistad spoke on behalf of Carter, noting that while “Get Me Some of That” is his first No. 1 award, he has a second and probably third coming soon.
Bryan came to the stage to laud Swindell and Carter. He spoke of the joy of watching their talents come to fruition.
To Carter, he said, “I love you, buddy. I always knew you could do it.”
When Carter addressed the crowd, he said the honor he was receiving came almost exactly 10 years after he arrived in Nashville — “flat broke and with no job” except for occasional gigs with Bryan.
“Everything good in my life is traced back to Luke,” he said.
Swindell told of calling his local radio station when he was a young fan and requesting it play Akins’ 1995 hit, “That Ain’t My Truck.”
Akins waxed philosophical when it came his turn to speak. He said the president of his publishing company once told him, “You are who you are today because of every single thing that’s happened in your life.”
He traced his present good fortune to a particular show he played at the Legends club in Statesboro, Georgia, in 1997.
Among the faces in the crowd that night were those of Bryan and Dallas Davidson, neither of whom had yet distinguished himself musically.
Akins would later team up with Davidson and fellow Georgian Ben Hayslip to form the singing-songwriter trio, the Peach Pickers.
In 2011, he and Davidson won BMI’s country songwriter of the year award.
Because of his long friendship with Big Machine Label Group executive Allison Brown Jones, Akins continued, he was able to convince her to persuade her boss, Scott Borchetta, to give his son, Thomas Rhett, an audition and ultimately a contract even after Borchetta had announced a hiatus on signing new artists.
Rhett admitted to the crowd that his dad’s speech was a tough one to follow. Nonetheless, he said, “I feel like I’m the most blessed dude on the planet.”
Instead of handing out plaques, Rhett gave his dad, Swindell and Carter fancy and personally monogrammed Yeti coolers.
“It’s not like they couldn’t buy their own,” he mused. He presented Laird a Martin guitar.
Then, as the award-winners posed for photos, the crowd surged back to the buffet and bar.