The seventh annual CMA Touring Awards, held Jan. 28 at Nashville’s Marathon Music Works, recognized the men and women who work tirelessly behind the scenes within the country community. Hosted by Jerrod Niemann, the evening honored personnel in 15 categories. A spirit of collaboration surrounded the awards show as many of the winners chose to recognize their colleagues throughout their acceptance speeches.
Louis Messina, CEO of Messina Touring Group, was presented with this year’s CMA Touring Lifetime Achievement Award. Messina’s clients include George Strait, Kenny Chesney, Eric Church, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, Blake Shelton and Taylor Swift, among others. Stealing a line from Church, Messina noted that 2018 was “a record year” as he helped promote over 100 stadium shows.
“This is quite an honor,” the tour promoter told the audience after receiving his award from Q Prime South’s John Peet. “I’ve been so blessed throughout my whole career. I’ve been doing this for 46 years but last year was crazy seeing all the artists whose dreams came true at one time.”
He added, “I’ve always been a dreamer. The first time I saw Elvis [Presley] I knew this was what I wanted to do. My big reward is not only seeing my dreams come true but the artists I work for, seeing their dreams come true. When that happens, that is my reward. When the artists and the audience connect and we’re a part of it, that’s magical.”
Ahead of the awards show, Messina told Billboard he credits his longevity to his passion and the excitement he gets walking into a sold-out arena or stadium show realizing he played a part in it.
“Helping make dreams come true, that keeps me going,” the 71-year-old said. “I used to say, ‘When George retires I’m done.’ Then I went, ‘When Kenny retires, I’m done. When Taylor retires, I’m dead.'”
In 2018, Messina spent over 200 days on the road. While he tells his wife he’s hoping to travel 70 days this year, she reasons it will likely be closer to 100. Since going independent and launching Messina Touring Group, Messina says his main focus is doing his job out of passion and harvesting the relationships he has with his clients.
“It’s so refreshing and it’s so exciting at the same time,” he said. “The excitement of what we do as a team, that’s what keeps me going.”
Niemann served as host for the CMA Touring Awards for the second year and told Billboard backstage that the evening embodies an atmosphere of being in a room with family.
“It’s a weird web of greatness that’s been created long before I ever moved to Nashville,” he said. “It’s so cool to be behind the scenes and see how it all works. I can’t think of a greater honor when it comes to [giving] a pat on the back to someone who deserves it than this awards show.”
Michael Ray reiterated that point when honoring the publicist of the year, Ebie McFarland of Essential Broadcast Media. The singer praised his publicist for working tirelessly to make his dreams come true.
“We are not only better at what we do because we have you in our corner, but we’re better at who we are,” he said.
Video messages from Chesney, Shelton, Swift and Keith Urban were broadcast throughout the evening as they congratulated those on their teams who were honored. The most heartfelt moment came when Mike Kennedy was named CMA Touring Musician of the Year. The late drummer died in a car accident last year and Strait shared an emotional video statement about his former band member.
“I want to say how much this means to Mike’s family, to me, to the whole band. We miss Mike a lot. We’re having to learn to play without him now,” Strait said.
Bass player Terry Hale from Strait’s Ace in the Hole Band then took the stage with Kennedy’s wife to accept the award. “I had the great privilege of standing next to Mike Kennedy every night on stage for 30 years,” Hale said, before thanking Kennedy’s wife, Margaret, for sharing her husband with their team and expressing his appreciation to Kennedy for giving his gift of music to the world.
Below are the winners for the evening, which are determined by the CMA membership:
Business Manager of the Year:
Julie Boos – Flood, Bumstead, McCready & McCarthy, Inc.
Coach/Truck Driver of the Year:
John Stalder – Kenny Chesney
Front of House (FOH) Engineer of the Year:
Kirk Kelsey – Keith Urban
Lighting Director of the Year:
Philip Ealy – Kenny Chesney
Manager of the Year:
Kerri Edwards – KP Entertainment —Luke Bryan
Tour Manager of the Year:
David Farmer – Kenny Chesney
Monitor Engineer of the Year:
Cam Beachley – Miranda Lambert
Production Manager of the Year:
Randy “Baja” Fletcher – Keith Urban
Publicist of the Year:
Ebie McFarland – Essential Broadcast Media
Talent Agent of the Year:
Becky Gardenhire – WME
Talent Buyer/Promoter of the Year:
Brian O’Connell – Live Nation Nashville
Tour Caterer of the Year:
Touring Musician of the Year:
Mike Kennedy – George Strait
Venue of the Year:
Ryman Auditorium – Nashville, TN
Tour Video Director of the Year:
Jay Cooper – Kenny Chesney