“It all begins with a song…” That motto came to life at the 5th Annual Nashville Songwriter Awards, hosted by the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI), in Nashville on Tuesday evening (Sept. 20). The sold-out event was a celebration of songwriters and the songs they penned throughout the past year.
Held at Nashville’s revered Ryman Auditorium, the evening served as a reminder of what makes Music City so special as attendees had the opportunity to experience one-of-a-kind performances and witness the camaraderie of the Nashville songwriting community firsthand.
Special award winners were recognized throughout the ceremony and this year’s peer-voted ‘10 Songs I Wish I’d Written’ award winners were revealed.
Special honorees included Garth Brooks, who was on hand to accept the Kris Kristofferson Lifetime Achievement Award, Ashley Gorley, who was named Songwriter of the Decade and Songwriter of the Year, Taylor Swift, who was crowned Songwriter-Artist of the Decade, and Matthew West, who earned the title of Songwriter-Artist of the Year.
Another high honor, Song of the Year, was awarded to Jacob Davis, Jordan Davis, Josh Jenkins, and Matt Jenkins for “Buy Dirt,” a chart-topping hit recorded by Jordan Davis featuring Luke Bryan.
Jon Platt, Sony Music Publishing Chairman and CEO, was in attendance to accept the coveted President’s Keystone Award from NSAI Board President, Steve Bogard. Little Big Town made an appearance to honor him with a performance of “Rich Man” from their new album, Mr. Sun.
Special guests such as Sam Hunt, Kelsea Ballerini, Parmalee, GAYLE, HARDY, Alana Springsteen, Walker Hayes, Tigirlily, Thomas Rhett and Babyface also performed throughout the evening.
The event kicked off with a surprise appearance from Anne Wilson, who joined Matthew West for a performance of “Me On Your Mind.” Ahead of the show, West admitted that he was “super nervous” but said he was proud to be the second-ever Christian songwriter/artist to receive the honor of NSAI Songwriter-Artist of the Year.
“To be able to represent a whole genre is very meaningful to me,” he told Country Now. “I moved to Nashville never with a desire to be put in any sort of category, like I’ve always loved country music, gospel music and Christian music, and so my desire was ‘don’t put me in a box, I’m just gonna write songs and hopefully they’ll speak to people.’ And so – tonight feels kinda full circle because I’ve very much felt embraced by the country songwriting community and I’ve had songs recorded by country artists, most of my music is known – or more well known in Christian music but tonight just feels like…I didn’t know it, but this was the vision I had in my head from day one, to just keep writing songs that matter to people, hopefully inspire people regardless of the genre, but it is an honor to represent Christian music too.”
Ashley Gorley, who recently earned his 63rd No.1 single, was celebrated several times throughout the evening. First, as Songwriter of the Year, which marked his sixth career win in the category. Parmalee took the stage to perform “Take My Name” and HARDY sang “Give Heaven Some Hell” in his honor.
Later in the evening, Gorley was recognized with two “Songs I Wish I’d Written” awards (“You Should Probably Leave” recorded by Chris Stapleton and “Sand In My Boots” recorded by Morgan Wallen). Alana Springsteen delivered a stunning performance of “You Should Probably Leave,” while Larry Fleet captivated with “Sand In My Boots.”
The evening capped off with his Songwriter of the Decade achievement with surprise performances of “What’s Your Country Song” by Thomas Rhett, a medley of his hits performed by Ben Johnson, Wyatt McCubbin, and Hunter Phelps, and a performance of “Unforgettable” from special guest Babyface.
The milestone achievement was an eye-opening one for Gorley as it had him reflecting on the last decade of his career.
“It’s wild, to think that I’ve been doing it this long is a strange feeling – it doesn’t really feel that way – it feels new every day, but I’ve been here for a minute, so that’s the first thing it reminds me of,” he shared ahead of the show.
While on the Ryman stage, he expressed his gratitude to his peers and for the journey he endured to get to where he is today.
“I’m blown away. You all make me feel special. A wild ride it’s been. Ten years is a long time. But it’s not as long as 11 years, which is how long I was in Nashville before I had a hit on the radio. And I’m grateful for those years, because it teaches you how hard it is,” he said. “Being a part of a community with people like me, you feel like you’re part of a family…. It’s a huge deal to have somebody believe in you. I am very, very honored. You really, really made me feel loved tonight.”
Trisha Yearwood made a surprise appearance to present Garth Brooks with the Kris Kristofferson Lifetime Achievement Award. She joked that she was embarrassing her humble husband by listing off his laundry list of career accomplishments, including his nine RIAA Diamond certifications, and seven CMA Entertainer of the Year trophies. She applauded Brooks as a songwriter, man, and husband before a four-song tribute to Brooks began.
Taking the stage to honor the Oklahoma native was Pat Alger performing “The Thunder Rolls,” Kent Blazy with “Ain’t Goin Down (‘Til The Sun Comes Up),” Tony Arata with a performance of “The Dance,” and finally Luke Combs, who sang “The Beaches Of Cheyenne.”
Brooks appeared to be emotional when delivering his acceptance speech as he admitted, “I never felt like a songwriter until I heard him sing ‘Beaches of Cheyenne.’”
He shared his utmost respect for all the “dreamers,” the songwriters in the room, and recognized that “it’s the songs that live forever” before leaving the stage.
The evening concluded with a surprise appearance by Taylor Swift, who returned to Nashville to accept the award for Songwriter-Artist of the Decade, an honor that celebrated the Pennsylvania native’s success between the years of 2010 and 2019.
During Swift’s acceptance speech she graciously thanked her fans, team and everyone who has helped her career.
“I want to say thank you to the NSAI for getting us all together for this event. For me, tonight feels brimming with a genuine camaraderie between a bunch of people who just love making stuff,” Swift said. “Who love the craft, Who live for that rare, pure moment when a magical cloud floats down right in front of you in the form of an idea for a song, and all you have to do is grab it. Then shape it like clay. Prune it like a garden. And then wish on every lucky star or pray to whatever power you believe in that it might find its way out into the world and make someone feel seen, feel understood, feel joined in their grief or heartbreak or joy for just a moment.”
Swift continued, “I’m up here receiving this beautiful award for a decade of work, and I can’t possibly explain how nice that feels. Because the way I see it, this is an award that celebrates a culmination of moments. Challenges. Gauntlets laid down. Albums I’m proud of. Triumphs. Strokes of luck or misfortune. Loud, embarrassing errors and the subsequent recovery from those mistakes, and the lessons learned from all of it. This award celebrates my family and my co-writers and my team. My friends and my fiercest fans and my harshest detractors and everyone who entered my life or left it. Because when it comes to my songwriting and my life, they are one in the same. As the great Nora Ephron once said, “Everything is copy.”
She also explained the three categories she puts her lyrics into, including Quill Lyrics, Fountain Pen Lyrics, and Glitter Gel Pen Lyrics, which are “based on what writing tool I imagine having in my hand when I scribbled it down, figuratively.”
Toby Keith (2000-09) and Vince Gill (1990-99) were previously awarded the prestigious honor.
Following her 13+ minute speech, Swift performed an acoustic rendition of her fan-favorite tune, “All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version).”
In between the special award presentations, artists and songwriters delivered performances of the ‘10 Songs I Wish I’d Written.” This year, there were 11 songs celebrated as a tie took place in the voting. Those songs were:
“23” – Written by: Sam Hunt, Chris LaCorte, Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne
“7500 OBO” – Written by: Matt McGinn, Jenn Schott, Nathan Spicer
“abcdefu” – Written by: Sara Davis, GAYLE, Dave Pittenger
“Fancy Like” – Written by: Cameron “Cambo” Bartolini, Walker Hayes, Josh Jenkins, Shane Stevens
“Half Of My Hometown” – Written by: Kelsea Ballerini, Ross Copperman, Nicolle Galyon, Shane McAnally, Jimmy Robbins
“Knowing You” – Written by: Kat Higgins, Adam James, Brett James
“Never Wanted To Be That Girl” – Written by: Shane McAnally, Ashley McBryde, Carly Pearce
“Sand In My Boots” – Written by: Ashley Gorley, Michael Hardy, Josh Osborne
“Things A Man Oughta Know” – Written by: Jason Nix, Jonathan Singleton, Lainey Wilson
“’Til You Can’t” – Written by: Matthew J. Rogers, Ben Stennis
“You Should Probably Leave” – Written by: Chris Dubois, Ashley Gorley, Chris Stapleton
Citi National Bank was the presenting sponsor of the event, which is set to return to the Ryman Auditorium in the fall of 2023.