The forward-looking "Tomorrow" might have won song of the year honors during the SESAC Nashville Music Awards, but a major part of the Nov. 7 event looked quite similar to last year.
Lady Antebellum's Hillary Scott was named by the performing rights organization as the songwriter of the year, repeating her victory from the 2010 ceremony. Her publishing company, Hillary Dawn Songs, shared publisher of the year with EMI Foray Music, a company that likewise won the same award a year ago.
Scott earned the night's final trophy after landing four songs among SESAC's most played country titles of the last 12 months. Those honorees included Sara Evans' recording of "A Little Bit Stronger" plus three Lady Antebellum releases: "Our Kind Of Love," "Just A Kiss" and "Need You Now," SESAC's 2010 song of the year. "Need You Now" was honored a second time because it continues to draw such heavy recurrent airplay more than a year after it peaked in the marketplace.
In Scott's honor, SESAC made a donation to My Life Speaks, a charity working to improve conditions in Haiti following a January 2010 earthquake that ravaged the country.
"One of the things that I appreciate the most about being a part of SESAC is how personable the relationships are," Scott said in an emotional speech that deflected attention from her own accomplishments.
"This is proof of that, the fact that you care enough about who I am outside this industry to give to this organization I'm so excited about and proud of. [They] do really amazing things to change the lives of these children and give these children in Haiti a sense of worth, a sense of family, and everyone deserves that. I don't care where you're from."
"Tomorrow" reaffirmed the sense of passion songwriter Anthony Smith has for his craft. Chris Young's recording was certified gold in July and peaked at No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs in August. But Smith had known more than a year prior that the song was something special. Smith, Young and cowriter Frank Myers all felt it was a winner as they were writing it in spring 2010. Smith made a demo of the song the day after Nashville's flood that May, and the ballad was a consensus choice for the first single when Young released his album Neon this year.
Young praised Smith as "perpetually happy" during a presentation speech, affirming the enthusiasm Smith exuded on the red carpet.
"It's an honor to be doing this job," Smith said. "The best songs inspire us all. You just want to be a part of it. It's what you've looked at wide-eyed forever, and when you get something that [succeeds], it's still unbelievable. I want to write something to get back here."
The black-tie event, hosted by SESAC VP of writer/publisher relations Tim Fink at the Pinnacle Building at Symphony Place, featured a trio of performances. First-time honoree Craig Campbell reeled in the crowd with a show-opening acoustic version of his bawdy song "Fish." Americana award-winner Jim Lauderdale offered "I Lost You," a song he contributed to the Elvis Costello album National Ransom. And Ronnie Dunn turned numerous attendees teary-eyed with "Cost Of Livin'," a stark accounting of a desperate job interview brought to him by SESAC writer Phillip Coleman. Coleman, who received a plaque for the title, continues to operate a forklift at Federal Express - the job he got from the interview that inspired the song, originally titled "The Application."
The SESAC Nashville Music Awards are just one of four major awards ceremonies on the docket for Music City this week. Brad Paisley and Ben Hayslip won the top songwriter honors at the ASCAP Country Awards Nov. 6, and BMI holds its annual ceremony Nov. 8.
Hillary Scott and Lady Antebellum are also hoping for another repeat evening Nov. 9 - the Country Music Assn. airs its 45th annual awards on ABC that night, and Lady A has won vocal group each of the last two years.