Behind every great hit-making country superstar is an executive of a record label, a PR firm or publishing company that helped them get to where they are now. Just ask Shania Twain, who traveled 260 miles in between tour dates just to honor her longtime manager, Jason Owen.
The night after her show in Duluth, Ga., Twain jetted to Nashville Tuesday (June 5) for Billboard’s Country Power Players event, where Owen received the Executive of the Year award. “I wouldn’t miss this night for the world,” she said. “I’m just so happy I don’t have a show tonight — I’m the lucky one to be here.”
After recalling meeting Owen while recording her 2002 hit album Up!, Twain gushed over Owen’s thoughtfulness and integrity, explaining that he quickly became an invaluable asset to her career.
“I didn’t want to go anywhere without Jason once I met him,” Twain said. “I would say that I relied on him for the guidance through a lot of my press, through my fashion choices, what to say, what not to say, all of that sort of thing — for better or worse, whatever that means,” she added with a laugh.
She closed out her tribute to Owen by highlighting what has earned him the title of Executive of the Year — and that she’s not surprised he received it — declaring that he is a “rare combination of somebody who is incredibly talented and intelligent, but never moves forward with that without checking with his heart first.” The best part about Twain’s speech was that she delivered it straight from the heart, making her appearance even more meaningful for Owen and everyone in attendance. But once Owen got up to accept his award, it was clear that the entire night was going to be filled with heartfelt speeches.
Owen returned the sweet sentiments to Twain, detailing that what she taught him was as valuable as what he did for her.
“She taught me how to say no, she taught me what was important, she taught me how to look at things through different eyes — and I have carried that through forever.” Most importantly, though, “she also taught me never to wear leopard print after Labor Day,” he joked (Twain happened to be wearing a leopard print top to the event).
He went on to talk about the other artists he works with — which includes Kacey Musgraves, Dan + Shay, Faith Hill and Midland — raving that they’re the “best artists in music” and thanking them for supporting him through the years. Then shouting out his Sandbox Entertainment team, Owen humbly asserted that they are the real executives of the year.
Owen also thanked his husband Sam, pointing out that Nashville is a much more forward-thinking city than people give it credit for. And in the case of country music, Nashville is helping the genre on its way to one of its best eras yet.
“We’re all on the brink of a time where this genre can do so much for so many people,” he said in closing. “Someone once said that the best way to predict the future is to create it — so let’s go.”
One of the acts leading the way for country music’s future is Florida Georgia Line, which is why they were the recipients of the first-ever Billboard Trailblazer Award. The duo (Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley) was also in attendance Tuesday night, genuinely touched to receive the honor and giving the final no-script speech of the night.
Hubbard started off by thanking FGL’s team as well as the Billboard folks who have been the trailblazers for them since their career took off in 2012. The singer then suggested that while he and Kelley are honored to be called trailblazers, they’ve managed to achieve what they have by simply doing what they love.
“Since 2012, this has been an unbelievable journey that we couldn’t have even fathomed,” he said. “We thought we were going to be doing big things and we believed it and we dreamed it, but this is just beyond our wildest dreams.”
The love between Hubbard and Kelley was felt as much as their love for those in the room, with Kelley declaring, “That’s my brother right there” before diving into his portion of thank yous. Calling the night “one of the biggest of our career,” Kelley assessed FGL’s Trailblazer title by comparing country music to a forest.
“You’ve got people like Tim McGraw living in there. Maren Morris lives in there, George Strait lives in there — that’s a big forest,” Kelley said. “So we’re thankful to be in that forest and having our own little section that we can call ours and be intentional with it. From singles to having meetings and having a conversation about what is next, and taking advice and learning. We’re thankful to be in a position where we have really great people around us.”
A country music forest is an unusual metaphor, certainly, but one that felt fitting to the humility that was in the room from start to finish. With people like Owen, Twain, Hubbard and Kelley as part of it, the country music forest is destined to keep growing.
The 2018 Billboard Power Players event was made possible thanks to sponsors Shiner Beer, Nielsen Entertainment and City National Bank.