Nearly 400 guests crowded into a mammoth tent on SESAC's parking lot in Nashville Sunday night (Nov. 5) for the performance rights organization's annual country music awards ceremony. Sam and Annie Tate, the husband-and-wife writing team, won songwriter of the year trophies, marking the first time SESAC has had multiple winners in this category.
Their composition, "If You're Going Through Hell (Before the Devil Even Knows)," earned song of the year status. Recorded by Rodney Atkins, it stayed at No. 1 in Billboard for four consecutive weeks and is still riding high on the charts. Carnival Music Publishing copped SESAC's publisher of the year prize.
While the chief attractions of ASCAP's and BMI's awards ceremonies tend to be big names and splashy productions, SESAC charms with its warmth and intimacy. Tim Fink, SESAC' associate vice president who hosted the presentation, was right when he described them as "more like a family dinner than an industry event."
Guests gathered for cocktails about an hour and a half before the formal dinner began. Spotted within the throng were Rodney Atkins, Blaine Larsen, Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell and U. S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn.
SESAC president Pat Collins gave the welcome once the people had seated themselves around the tables. Speaking about the hazards to copyright holders that downloading initially posed, he said, "We've turned the corner. ... Respect for intellectual property is rebuilding." Even so, he urged music business figures in the audience to "learn of threats that still exist." He pledged SESAC will use the best technology to ensure its songwriters are paid properly for their work.
After dinner, the Greencards, who recently won the new-emerging artist award from the Americana Music Association, opened the program with a sprightly (and roundly applauded) acoustic rendition of "The Lonesome Side of Town."
Keeping in the Americana vein, Fink distributed honors to SESAC writers and publishers who have contributed music to albums that reached the Top 10 on the Americana chart. He also recognized the writers and publishers of country songs that, while no longer on the charts, still get significant airplay as "recurrents." These included "Anything but Mine," "What's a Guy Got to Do" and "Mississippi Girl."
Similarly honored were the writers and publishers of the more current cuts "Feels Like It Should," "Tim McGraw," "If You're Going Through Hell (Before the Devil Even Knows)," "God Only Cries," "Drunker Than Me," "A Good Man" and "I Don't."
After Fink presented the Tates the award for their top song, they prepared to sing it -- as is the custom at the SESAC awards. While Annie stood by patiently holding her guitar at the ready, Sam announced -- and, to a degree, illustrated -- that he had partaken extensively of the free bar. "I have Anheuser's disease," he explained as he attempted to plug in his banjo, "so I've got to have some help with this song."
A few words into the song, he stopped suddenly and called up the song's third writer, Dave Berg (who belongs to another performing rights group). Still dissatisfied with the sound, he invited Rodney Atkins up to lead the singing. By the time Tate had finished with his fine-tuning, the original duo has grown into a sextet.
Responding to the applause his performance generated, Atkins said, "This has been the best year of my life for my career, and I owe it to these guys for writing an amazing song." In addition to their songwriter trophies, Fink also presented each of the Tates a custom-built Gibson acoustic guitar.
Sam Tate cited his father's influence in his acceptance speech. He said that when he decided to become a songwriter, his father told him he would have to craft memorable melodies and learn to say the things others wanted to say but couldn't. "Now I can look up and say," he concluded, "'Papa, I did one.'"
"We always tried to write songs that say something," Annie agreed when it came her turn to speak, "and this year we met an artist who understood us."
SESAC Country Awards 2006
Song of the Year: "If You're Going Through Hell (Before the Devil Even Knows)"
Songwriters of the Year: Sam and Annie Tate
Publisher of the Year: Carnival Music Publishing
Country Performance Activity Awards
"Feels Like It Should"
Writer: Justin Pollard
Writer: Liz Rose
"If You're Going Through Hell (Before the Devil Even Knows)"
Writers: Sam and Annie Tate
"God Only Cries"
Writer: Tim Johnson
"Drunker Than Me"
Writer: Ashe Underwood
"A Good Man"
Writer: Victoria Shaw
Writer: Burton Collins
Recurrent Country Performance Activity Awards
"Anything but Mine"
Writer: Travis Hill
"What's a Guy Got to Do"
Writer: Joe Nichols
Writer: Adam Shoenfeld
Americana Performance Activity Awards
For the album Souls Alike
Recorded by Bonnie Raitt
Buck Jones, Randy Sitzler, Walt Wilkins
For their contribution to the album Lucky Star
Recorded by Buck Jones
For his contribution to the album Red Letter Day
Recorded by the Gibson Brothers
Kieran Kane, Claudia Scott, Dustin Welch, Kevin Welch
For their contribution to the album Lost John Dean
Recorded by Kevin Welch, Fats Kaplin and Kieran Kane
Ray Wylie Hubbard
For his album Snake Farm
For his contribution to the album The Devil You Know
Recorded by Todd Snider
For his contribution to the album Workbench Songs
Recorded by Guy Clark
For his contribution to the album Migrations
Recorded by the Duhks
For his album Modern Times
For his contribution to the album Hope & Desire
Recorded by Susan Tedeschi