Chris Stapleton, Ricky Skaggs, Ashley Gorley Honored at ASCAP Country Awards

The 2016 ASCAP country music awards — presented Monday night (Oct. 31) at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium — turned into one long commercial for the creative advantages of being born in Kentucky.

Lexington, Kentucky’s Chris Stapleton, the brightest star on the country charts this past year, copped the organization’s Vanguard award for selling a lot of albums and either winning or being nominated for virtually every distinction the country music industry has to offer.

Cordell, Kentucky’s Ricky Skaggs won ASCAP’s sparsely conferred Founders award for his lifetime of musical achievements.

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And Danville, Kentucky’s Ashley Gorley — Music Row’s one-man Brill Building — walked away with his fourth ASCAP country songwriter of the year trophy.
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Thus, it was to no one’s surprise when University of Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari came forward to present Gorley this latest prize.

Gorley is such a UK Wildcats fan, Calipari revealed, that he’s built a replica of the school’s basketball court in his back yard, a luxury afforded him, no doubt, by the 26 No. 1 songs he’s written so far.

In less regional news, Brothers Osborne’s “Stay a Little Longer” was proclaimed song of the year and Warner/Chappell Music publisher of the year.

Radio personality Bobby Bones won ASCAP’s Partners in Music award for his work in showcasing and supporting country artists.

The annual awards shows for the three performance rights organizations — ASCAP, BMI and SESAC — usually are built around sit-down dinners, a format the Ryman’s design cannot accommodate on a large scale.

ASCAP got around this deficiency by placing food tables and bars throughout the auditorium’s two levels, thereby enabling guests to have a movable feast as they waited for the main event to start at 8:30 p.m.

There was a lavish dessert tent waiting when the awards ceremony ended around 11:15.

Rising star Kelsea Ballerini opened the show with her 2014 hit, “Love Me Like You Mean It.”

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Noting that it was “trick or treat” night, ASCAP’s president and board chairman Paul Williams welcomed the crowd and quipped, “If we want a treat, we’ll go to the songs you write. If we want tricks, we’ll go to Washington,” a slam at politicians for not sufficiently supporting songwriters’ right to earn a livable income.

Songwriters who’d be receiving their first awards this night and songwriters in the making, Williams continued, “deserve a future in music that’s strong and more sustainable.”

As traditional, the writers of ASCAP’s five top country songs of the year performed their own versions of the hits.

Corey Crowder, with an assist from Chris Young, gave a joyous and good-humored rendition of “I’m Comin’ Over,” with each singer playing at out-vocalizing the other. Craig Wiseman and Luke Laird rocked out with “Gonna,” the Blake Shelton hit.

Chris DeStefano and Gorley, costumed for Halloween and joined by Dan + Shay, sang “Nothin’ Like You.” Matt Ramsey rang out with “Save It for a Rainy Day,” the Kenny Chesney chart-topper.

And John and T. J. Osborne — the Brothers Osborne—concluded the series with “Stay a Little Longer,” which they both wrote and had the hit on.

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They seemed flabbergasted when they were called back to the stage to be told they had just performed ASCAP’s official song of the year. Both brothers, citing their own long climb to the top, urged beginning songwriters to take heart and have faith that such good fortune eventually awaited them.

“Don’t lose the drive,” T. J. counseled.

Marty Stuart presented Skaggs the Founders ward after reminiscing how he had long looked up to Skaggs.

He recalled his father taking him when he was 12-years-old to Bill Monroe’s bluegrass festival in Bean Blossom, Indiana. “The first people I saw,” he said, a sense of wonder still in his voice, “were Ricky Skaggs and Keith Whitley stepping off Ralph Stanley’s bus.”

The ancient-flavored music they made, he said, “sounded like the Old Testament.”

Stuart credited Skaggs with launching the “New Traditionalist” movement in the early 1980s and praised him for pledging to Monroe on his death bed that the bluegrass music Monroe had founded, named and perfected “would never die.”

Following Stuart’s remarks, a parade of artists took to the stage to do songs that have become a bedrock part of Skaggs’ repertoire.

Armed with electric guitars and fierce determination to test their limits, Gordon Kennedy and Peter Frampton, backed by Suzanne and Sidney Cox, churned out an ear-splitting version of “My Cup Runneth Over.”

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Next came Alison Krauss, Jamey Johnson and the Coxes with a lovely, ethereal reading of “Waitin’ for the Sun to Shine.”

To cap off the tribute, Garth Brooks, mandolin whiz Sam Bush and banjoist Justin Moses shook the rafters with “Highway 40 Blues.”

“I’m still making music, and I came to this town to make music,” Skaggs told the crowd after seeing a video that chronicled his career, beginning with his appearance as a 6-year-old on Flatt & Scruggs’ TV show.

He admitted he was a bit surprised at receiving the award since he was not “a famous songwriter.” He offered particular thanks to his wife and fellow performer Sharon White and to the late publisher Bill Hall, who encouraged him to start his own music publishing company.

He also singled out for praise his early manager, Chip Peay, whom he said had talked him into selling his fancy car to buy a more practical van to tour in. And he thanked the late chief of Columbia/Epic Records, Rick Blackburn, who allowed him to produce his own albums, a rarity back then for a new artist.

Skaggs elicited a roar from the audience when he spoke of the musical example his mother had set for him with a voice so high, hard and loud “she could spay cats in four counties.”

ASCAP’s Mike Sistad brought Stapleton to the stage to receive his Vanguard award. He said he had known Stapleton for 15 years.

“Chris and [his wife] Morgan sang at my wedding, and my family is hoping he’ll sing at our 10th anniversary and that they can get tickets to it,” Sistad said.

Stapleton exploded onto the country music scene a year ago when he and Justin Timberlake sang “Tennessee Whiskey” on the CMA Awards show. That appearance spurred sales of his album, Traveller, that has since kept it near the top of the charts and boosted it near double-platinum status.

Stapleton, who’s also written six No. 1 songs for other artists, is nominated for four CMA awards.

In a rambling acceptance speech, which he admitted he was ill-disposed to make, he said, “I’ve learned so much from so many people in this room.”

He then went on to tell Skaggs that he had once bought a mandolin and taken it to an album release party for Skaggs to autograph.

“You asked me if I was sure I wanted you to do this,” he said with a droll smile, “and I thought about it for a minute.” Ultimately he opted for the autograph.

Here is a list of the evening’s winners, citing only the ASCAP writers of the songs:

“Anything Goes”
Writers: Felix McTeigue, Chris Tompkins, Craig Wiseman
Artist: Florida Georgia Line

“Backroad Song”
Writer: Frank Rogers
Artist: Granger Smith

“Break on Me”
Writer: Jon Nite
Artist: Keith Urban

“Break Up in a Small Town”
Writers: Zach Crowell, Sam Hunt
Artist: Sam Hunt

“Break Up With Him”
Writers: Matthew Ramsey, Trevor Rosen, Whitt Sellers, Geoff Sprung, Brad Tursi
Artist: Old Dominion

“Burning House”
Writers: Jeff Bhasker, Tyler Johnson
Artist: Cam

“Buy Me a Boat”
Writer: Chris Dubois
Artist: Chris Janson

“Country Nation”
Writers: Chris Dubois, Kelley Lovelace, Brad Paisley
Artist: Brad Paisley

“Crash and Burn”
Writer: Chris Stapleton
Artist: Thomas Rhett

“Crushin’ It”
Writers: Kelley Lovelace, Brad Paisley
Artist: Brad Paisley

“Diamond Rings and Old Barstools”
Writer: Jonathan Singleton
Artist: Tim McGraw

Writers: Kelsea Ballerini, Jason Duke, Ryan Griffin, Josh Kerr
Artist: Kelsea Ballerini

“I Like the Sound of That”
Writer: Meghan Trainor
Artist: Rascal Flatts

“Don’t It”
Writers: Ashley Gorley, Jaren Johnston
Artist: Billy Currington

“Feelin’ It”
Writers: Frank Rogers, Matthew West
Artist: Scotty McCreery

Writers: Maddie Marlow, Tiffany Vartanyan
Artist: Maddie & Tae

“Girl Crush”
Writer: Hillary Lindsey
Artist: Little Big Town

“Gonna” (Top 5 Song)
Writer: Craig Wiseman
Artist: Blake Shelton

“Gonna Know We Were Here”
Writer: Brett James
Artist: Jason Aldean

“Gonna Wanna Tonight”
Writers: Jon Nite, Jimmy Robbins
Artist: Chase Rice

“Hell of a Night”
Writers: Zach Crowell, Adam Sanders,
Artist: Dustin Lynch

“Home Alone Tonight”
Writer: Cole Taylor
Artist: Luke Bryan Featuring Karen Fairchild

“House Party”
Writers: Zach Crowell, Jerry Flowers, Sam Hunt
Artist: Sam Hunt

“I’m Comin’ Over” (Top 5 Song)
Writer: Corey Crowder
Artist: Chris Young

“I’m to Blame”
Writers: Kip Moore, Justin Weaver
Artist: Kip Moore

“John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16”
Writer: Josh Osborne
Artist: Keith Urban

“Kick the Dust Up”
Writers: Chris DeStefano, Ashley Gorley
Artist: Luke Bryan

“Let Me See Ya Girl”
Writer: Michael Carter
Artist: Cole Swindell

“Little Bit of You”
Writers: Derek George, Ashley Gorley
Artist: Chase Bryant

“Little Toy Guns”
Writers: Chris Destefano, Hillary Lindsey
Artist: Carrie Underwood

“Lose My Mind”
Writer: Brian Burton
Artist: Brett Eldredge

“Love Me Like You Mean It”
Writers: Kelsea Ballerini, Josh Kerr, Forest Glen Whitehead
Artist: Kelsea Ballerini

“Love You Like That”
Writer: Canaan Smith
Artist: Canaan Smith

“Nothin’ Like You” (Top 5 Song)
Writers: Chris Destefano, Ashley Gorley, Daniel Smyers
Artist: Dan + Shay

“One Hell of an Amen”
Writer: Mike Dekle
Artist: Brantley Gilbert

“Raise ‘Em Up”
Writer: Jaren Johnston
Artist: Keith Urban Featuring Eric Church

“Run Away With You”
Writer: John Rich
Artist: Big & Rich

Writers: JT Harding, Josh Osborne, Trevor Rosen
Artist: Blake Shelton

“Save It for a Rainy Day” (Top 5 Song)
Writers: Matthew Ramsey, Brad Tursi
Artist: Kenny Chesney

“Sippin’ on Fire”
Writers: Matt Dragstrem, Cole Taylor
Artist: Florida Georgia Line

“Smoke Break”
Writers: Chris DeStefano, Hillary Lindsey
Artist: Carrie Underwood

“Stay a Little Longer” (Song of the Year)
Writers: John Osborne, TJ Osborne
Artist: Brothers Osborne

“Strip It Down”
Writer: Jon Nite
Artist: Luke Bryan

“That Don’t Sound Like You”
Writer: Ashley Gorley
Artist: Lee Brice

“Tonight Looks Good on You”
Writer: Ashley Gorley
Artist: Jason Aldean

“Top of the World”
Writers: Jon Nite, Jimmy Robbins, Josh Osborne
Artist: Tim McGraw

“We Went”
Writers: John King, Matt Rogers
Artist: Randy Houser

“Wild Child”
Writer: Josh Osborne
Artist: Kenny Chesney Featuring Grace Potter

“Young & Crazy”
Writer: Ashley Gorley
Artist: Frankie Ballard

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to