Dierks Bentley won Songwriter/Artist of the Year, Josh Kear took Song of the Year for co-writing “Need You Now” with Lady Antebellum, and Brett James walked off with Songwriter of the Year during the star-studded ASCAP Country Music Awards for songwriters Tuesday at Nashville’s War Memorial Auditorium.
Dierks picked up the Songwriter/Artist trophy after two of his songs — “Sideways” and “I Wanna Make You Close Your Eyes” — were recognized among the performing rights agency’s most performed songs of the year.
Dierks played a bluegrass version of “Sideways” during the two-hour presentation in which each of ASCAP’s Top 5 songs was rendered live. Chris Young sang “Gettin’ You Home (The Black Dress Song),” songwriter David Lee Murphy played “Big Green Tractor,” Darius Rucker offered “Alright” and Josh Kear teamed with Lady A for a dramatic acoustic version of “Need You Now.” Josh was cheered heavily by the songwriting community when he sang some of the lines that Charles Kelley usually sings — Josh proved he was an admirable singer in addition to being an ace songwriter.
Not that he’s completely able to evaluate his own writing. When Josh created “Need You Now” with Lady Antebellum, it was actually the second song they wrote that day. He told his publisher it was a fairly dark piece and that the upbeat first song was much more likely to work.
“I stopped pretending like I know anymore, ‘cause I don’t know,” he said on the red carpet. “Every now and then, I [write] one that I really love, but half the time those aren’t the [hits].”
The place was teeming with stars, including Kellie Pickler, Love And Theft, Gloriana, Bucky Covington, David Nail, Joey + Rory, Radney Foster and keyboard player Jonathan Cain, of the rock band Journey. And a raft of familiar songs earned honors for their writers, including “Barefoot And Crazy,” “Small Town USA,” “I’m Alive,” “Hillbilly Bone” and “Why Don’t We Just Dance.”
Brett James wrote five of those winning titles: the Carrie Underwood hit “Cowboy Casanova,” Tim McGraw’s “It’s A Business Doing Pleasure With You,” Kenny Chesney’s “Out Last Night,” Rascal Flatts’ “Summer Nights” and Jason Aldean’s “The Truth.”
It was a particularly rewarding night for the writers, who often don’t get credit publicly for their work. Fans frequently believe the artist wrote all the songs they sing, so the ASCAP Awards are one of the few places where the writers are honored for creating the words and the melodies that make the stars famous. Getting that recognition from their peers is particularly special.
“It’s never old hat,” said Brett, who’s won numerous ASCAP awards before. “I was in Nashville writin’ songs fulltime for nine years before I ever got invited to this party, so I never forget. Every writer wants to be in this room tonight, that’s all there is to it. And I’m just happy to be in the room.”
Not that it’s without pressure — particularly for the people who performed.
The audience included the likes of Alan Jackson and Darryl Worley, not to mention such legendary songwriters as Paul Williams (“We’ve Only Just Begun”), Jimmy Webb (“Wichita Lineman”) and Roger Greenaway (“Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress”).
“That’s always crazy,” Darius said. “Like at the CMAs, ACMs — when you do all those shows and you’re playin’, you look out there, there’s George Strait just lookin’ at you. That’s always pretty nerve-racking.”