Women were the center of attention when SESAC kicked off Country Music Week with its annual Nashville Music Awards on Sunday night.
The performing-rights organization gave its songwriter of the year trophy to Catt Gravitt, a woman who had at least one title on Billboard's Hot Country Songs every week during the eligibility period. And the song of the year honor went to Jon Stone, who co-wrote Lee Brice's hit "A Woman Like You," a shuffling ballad that draws a distinction between the renegade habits of a typical single man and the nurturing qualities in a woman who tamed him.
Gravitt used a trio of successes to supplant Lady Antebellum's Hillary Scott, who claimed the songwriter prize in 2010 and 2011. Gravitt co-wrote Jake Owen's tormented "Alone With You," Jana Kramer's breakthrough "Why You Wanna" and Edens Edge's debut single, "Amen." At least one of those titles guaranteed Gravitt's name was listed in the parenthetical songwriter credits on Billboard's Hot Country Songs every week of the 12-month cycle.
"You gotta remember this, 'cause it may never swing around again," Gravitt said on the red carpet, acknowledging the uncertainty of the vocation. "I love feast or famine: I'm gonna enjoy the feast, and I hope that the famine's not right around the corner."
Stone's composition, "A Woman Like You," gave Brice a No. 1 single, and Brice was on hand to perform a guitar/vocal version of the piece with dramatic, halting moments and conversational alterations of the melody. The song is an unusual one, contrasting stereotypical "guy" interests - dirtbikes, pool and beer - with softer, feminine emotions and attitudes. It is likely the first country hit to incorporate yoga into its lyrics.
"Jon played me 'A Woman Like You,' and I just knew this was a special song," Brice said, "so we went in and recorded it that night and the next day, and that was the record."
"He's such a great singer," Stone added. "It literally took eight minutes for him to sing that vocal. We didn't touch it at all."
SESAC played up the songwriter vibe during the event. Three cast members from ABC's "Nashville" -- Charles Esten, Jonathan Jackson and Sam Palladio -- helped pay homage to the 30th anniversary of the Bluebird Café, appropriately recognized with an abbreviated in-the-round performance by composers Gary Burr, Victoria Shaw, Kim Williams and Don Henry. The evening's other performances - by Seth Avett, Thompson Square and Monty Powell - were also unplugged, imitating the simple chord-and-melody sonic shape that most country songs display in their original form.
Among the songs receiving their first SESAC country honors were Casey James' "Let's Don't Call It A Night" (written by Brice Long), Jerrod Niemann's "Shinin' On Me" (Rob Hatch, Lance Miller), Keith Urban's "For You" (Powell) and Lady Antebellum's "Dancin' Away With My Heart" and "Wanted You More" (Scott).
SESAC also bestowed Americana awards on songwriters Bob Dylan, Bonnie Bramlett, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Dustin Welch, Jim Lauderdale, Charlie Shafter, Liz Foster, Jonathan Byrd and the late Robert Johnson. Most of the Americana winners were not in attendance.
The Avett Brothers received the Summit Award, recognizing the band's unconventional journey from club act to arena-level attraction.
The black-tie ceremony, held at the Pinnacle at Symphony Place, was the first awards event in three successive nights of PRO awards in Nashville, providing a formal acknowledgement of an informal creative process. ASCAP held its country awards Oct. 29, and BMI conducts its awards Oct. 30.