Kenny Rogers Honored at SESAC’s Nashville Music Awards

Justin Ebach and “It Don’t Hurt Like It Used To” Named Top Writer and Song

Kenny Rogers again demonstrated the axiom that wherever the king sits is the head of the table when he was honored Sunday night (Nov. 5) by SESAC during its Nashville Music Awards ceremonies, held at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

Although he didn’t appear until late in the proceedings, didn’t sing a note and spoke only briefly, his presence was the high point of the event. There to accept SESAC’s Legacy Award for his “immeasurable contributions to the world of entertainment,” Rogers spent his time praising the songwriters he said had made his success possible.

“I might write a little music,” he said modestly, “but I make it a point not to write hits. I think my gift to the business has been the ability to spot a great song.”

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 05:  Vice President of Creative Services for SESAC Shannan Hatch and Legacy Award recipient Kenny Rogers stand onstage during the 2017 SESAC Nashville Music Awards on November 5, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Jason Davis/Getty Images for SESAC) Jason Davis/Getty Images for SESAC

But Rogers wasn’t the sole luminary. Justin Ebach, co-writer of Brett Young’s “Sleep Without You,” commanded the spotlight as SESAC’s songwriter of the year, and “It Don’t Hurt Like It Used To,” co-written by Cary Barlowe, was heralded as song of the year.

It Don’t Hurt Like It Used To (Lyric Video) by Billy Currington on VEVO.

Warner Chappell Music took the publisher of the year trophy.

There were also rousing live performances by Old Crow Medicine Show, Billy Currington, Lee Brice, Dustin Lynch, Craig Campbell and Kim Carnes and Andy Childs.

Old Crow opened the show by marching onto the stage to the rat-a-tat-tat of drums and then swinging into Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35,” a cut from their current album, 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde.

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 05:  Old Crow Medicine Show perform onstage during the 2017 SESAC Nashville Music Awards on November 5, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Jason Davis/Getty Images for SESAC) Jason Davis/Getty Images for SESAC

The band revised one of Dylan’s couplets for the occasion, concluding with:

They’ll stone you down in Nashville, Good Lord,
They’ll stone you at the SESAC awards.

Old Crow’s Dylan-based album won a SESAC Americana music award.

SESAC member Hillary Scott and her two Lady Antebellum partners, Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood, were honored with the Humanitarian Award for the good works done by their charity, LadyAid.

In accepting, Scott said through her tears, “I’m sorry. I’m emotional. Maybe it’s because I’m bringing two little girls into a world I want to be better.”

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 05:  Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellum arrives at the 2017 SESAC Nashville Music Awards at Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on November 5, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Terry Wyatt/WireImage) Terry Wyatt/WireImage

To a roar of applause, Currington sang his recent chart-topper, “It Don’t Hurt Like It Used To,” shortly before it was proclaimed the year’s top song.

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 05:  Billy Currington performs onstage during the 2017 SESAC Nashville Music Awards on November 5, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Jason Davis/Getty Images for SESAC) Jason Davis/Getty Images for SESAC

Producer and music publisher Michael Knox was cited for having produced more than 20 No. 1 singles for such artists as Jason Aldean, Thomas Rhett and Montgomery Gentry.

Rogers’ spot in the program came after most of the awards had been announced. It was preceded by a video history of his long career. There were also video congratulations from Lionel Richie and Dolly Parton, both of whom are now integral to his musical identity.

Then came the live musical tributes, beginning with Lee Brice’s wistful cover of Rogers’ nostalgic 1986 hit, “Twenty Years Ago.” Dustin Lynch followed with “The Gambler” (1978), perhaps Rogers’ most beloved classic.

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 05:  Singer-songwriter Lee Brice performs onstage during the 2017 SESAC Nashville Music Awards on November 5, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Jason Davis/Getty Images for SESAC) Jason Davis/Getty Images for SESAC
NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 05:  Singer-songwriter Dustin Lynch performs onstage during 2017 SESAC Nashville Music Awards on November 5, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Jason Davis/Getty Images for SESAC) Jason Davis/Getty Images for SESAC

Accompanying himself on piano, Craig Campbell hushed the boisterous crowd with a velvet rendering of the Richie-penned “Lady” (1980). It netted him the evening’s only standing ovation.

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 05:  Singer Craig Campbell performs onstage during the 2017 SESAC Nashville Music Awards on November 5, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Jason Davis/Getty Images for SESAC) Jason Davis/Getty Images for SESAC

Kim Carnes and Andy Childs wrapped up the musical toast with an intense rendition of “Don’t Fall in Love with a Dreamer,” the song Carnes co-wrote and made a hit as a duet with Rogers in 1980.

Limping as he came to the podium, Rogers spoke of his retirement, noting that his twin 13-year-old sons seem less than enchanted at the prospect of spending more time with their dad. “I’m starting to write now,” he said. “I have nothing else to do.” Given his relentless energy and curiosity, that seemed hard to believe.

As usual, the food at the SESAC fest was commensurate with the quality of its music. The salad was baby artisan leaves with roasted butternut squash, cranberries, roasted pumpkin seeds and goat cheese crumbles with white balsamic vinaigrette.

The entrée featured bone-in filet of beef with burgundy wine sauce, honey pecan smoked arctic char filet, truffled potatoes, roasted carrots, green beans, yellow and red bell peppers and Duchesse potatoes.

For dessert, the guests made do with a peanut butter ganache tart with sour mash whipped cream.

Presiding with grace and humor over the evening’s revels was SESAC’s vice president of creative services, Shannan Hatch.

SESAC is one of the three major performance rights organizations, the others being ASCAP and BMI, whose awards presentations will be held on the evenings of Monday (Nov. 6) and Tuesday (Nov.7), respectively.

Here is the complete list of winners:

Songwriter of the year:
Justin Ebach

Song of the year:

“It Don’t Hurt Like It Used To”
Written by Cary Barlowe, Shy Carter, Billy Currington
Recorded by Billy Currington

Country Performance Activity Awards:

“Baby, Let’s Lay Down and Dance”
Written by Kim Williams, Victoria Shaw
Published by All My Soul Music, Victoria Shaw Songs, Castle Bound Music
Recorded by Garth Brooks

“Flatliner”
Written by Matthew Bronleewe, Jaron Boyer
Published by Forest For The Trees Music, So Essential Tunes, Jaron Boyer Music, peertunes ltd
Recorded by Cole Swindell

“Heartache on the Dance Floor”

Written by Brice Long
Published by BLongSongs, Wordspring Music, W.B.M. Music Corp.
Recorded by Jon Pardi

“It Don’t Hurt Like It Used To”
Written by Cary Barlowe
Published by Castle Bound Music, Spirit Nashville Three
Recorded by Billy Currington

“Lipstick”

Written by Caroline Hobby, Naomi Cooke
Published by Hyper Hobby Music, Thunder Cookie, Fabulicious Music, Hatchoooo Music Publishing, BMG / Legends of Magic Mustang Music, Music of Platinum Pen, W.B.M. Music Corp.
Recorded by Runaway June

“Make You Mine”
Written by Seth Mosley
Published by CentricSongs, Capitol CMG Amplifier, Music Services Inc
Recorded by High Valley

“Sleep Without You”
Written by Justin Ebach
Published by Wordspring Music, W.B.M. Music Corp.
Recorded by Brett Young

“My Old Man”
Written by Zac Brown, Ben Simonetti, Niko Moon
Published by Day For The Dead Publishing, Simonetti Music Publishing, Siva Moon Publishing, W.B.M. Music Corp., Reach Music Tunes, Kobalt Group Publishing
Recorded by Zac Brown Band

“Outskirts of Heaven”
Written by Craig Campbell
Published by Skabetti Bowl of Songs Publishing, BMG/Legends of Magic Mustang Music, W.B.M. Music Corp.
Recorded by Craig Campbell

“Seein’ Red”
Written by Steve Bogard
Published by Casa Del Amor Music, BMG/Legends of Magic Mustang Music, W.B.M. Music Corp.
Recorded by Dustin Lynch

“They Don’t Know”
Written by Jaron Boyer
Published by Jaron Boyer Music, peertunes ltd
Recorded by Jason Aldean

“What Ifs”
Written by Matt McGinn
Published by SMACKWORKS Music, Kobalt Group Publishing
Recorded by Kane Brown ft. Lauren Alaina

Americana Honorees (titles refer to albums)

50 Years of Blonde on Blonde
Contributions by Bob Dylan
Published by Special Rider Music
Recorded by Old Crow Medicine Show

Black Irish
Contributions by Beth Nielsen Chapman
Published by Songs of Prismlight Music
Recorded by Shannon McNally

Duende
Contributions by Ed Jurdi, Gordon Quist
Published by Three Pisces Music, Victrolacaster Music
Recorded by The Band of Heathens

God’s Problem Child
Contributions by Sam Hunter, Jamey Johnson
Published by Isbee Music, Johala, Polishit, EMI Foray Music, Me Gusta Red Music, Critter City Music
Recorded by Willie Nelson

London Southern
Contributions by Jim Lauderdale
Published by Ginger Dragon Music, BMG Cicada
Recorded by Jim Lauderdale

Not Dark Yet
Contributions by Allison Moorer, Bob Dylan, Kurt Cobain
Published by PetyBug Tunes, Special Rider Music, The End of Music LLC, W.B.M. Music Corp., BMG Silver Songs
Recorded by Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer

Shine On Rainy Day
Contributions by Andrew Combs
Published by Chunk of Coal Publishing, Tunes of R and T Direct
Recorded by Brent Cobb

So You Wannabe An Outlaw
Contributions by Allison Moorer
Published by PeteyBug Tunes, W.B.M. Music Corp.
Recorded by Steve Earle

Tell the Devil I’m Getting’ There As Fast As I Can
Contributions by Ray Wylie Hubbard
Published by Snake Farm Publishing, BMG Cicada
Recorded by Ray Wylie Hubbard

This Changes Everything
Contributions by Jim Lauderdale, Hayes Carll
Published by Jim Lauderdale Music, Highway 87 Publishing, BMG Cicada
Recorded by Jim Lauderdale

Waiting on a Song
Contributions by Bobby Wood
Published by Janwood Music
Recorded by Dan Auerbach

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