Luke Combs and Morgan Wallen tied for songwriter of the year of the BMI Country Music Awards, held Tuesday night at BMI’s building in Nashville. To commemorate the tie (which clearly had been communicated to the twin winners in advance), BMI cooked up another surprise: a climactic performance for the evening in which Wallen and Combs sat side by side and borrowed each other’s hits.
Wallen sang an acoustic version of Combs’ “Going, Going, Gone” for the unusual occasion, and Combs returned the favor by singing “Thought You Should Know.” (See video excerpts, below.)
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The two have another shot at achieving a tie at tonight’s CMA Awards, where they’re in competition for entertainer of the year, among other awards.
Wallen got another crucial BMI win as “You Proof” was named the performing rights organization’s most performed song of the year. The smash was written by Wallen with fellow BMI signatories Ernest Keith Smith and Charlie Handsome, plus an ASCAP member, Ashley Gorley. (Being with a different PRO, Gorley did not participate in the BMI honor, but he was in attendance to celebrate the wins for writers signed to his own publishing company, Tape House, and the night’s co-host, BMI CEO Mike O’Neill, congratulated Gorley from the stage for having been named ASCAP songwriter of the year the night before.)
As is par for the course for the BMI Country Music Awards, tribute performances provided the highlights of the dinner affair, all in salute to the annual Icon winner. This year’s Icon was Matraca Berg, and she was saluted by Lainey Wilson with “Strawberry Wine” (originally recorded by Deana Carter, who was in attendance), Ashley McBryde with “Wrong Side of Memphis” (an early hit for Trisha Yearwood) and the team of Kenny Chesney and Grace Potter with the song that they themselves had a hit with in more recent years, “You and Tequila.”
Receiving the publisher of the year honor was Warner-Tamarlane Publishing Corp., a runaway winner by virtue of having a hand in 25 of BMI’s 50 most played songs of the year — “You Proof” among them, along with selections like Zach Bryan’s “Something in the Orange” and Cole Swindell’s “She Had Me at Heads Carolina.”
A complete list of the organization’s 50 song honorees can be found here.
Introducing Berg’s celebrity tributes and a testimonial reel, O’Neill cited the many artists that have covered Berg songs — including Randy Travis, Martina McBride, Faith Hill, Patty Loveless, Dusty Springfield and Reba McIntire — and reeled off hits like “We Danced Anyway,” “Wild Angels” and “X’s and O’s.” “Matraca was the first woman to have five No. 1 hits in a single year,” he noted.
In her speech, Berg thanked her husband, Jeff Hanna of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, saying, “I love you so much. We met on the Clint Black tour, so I guess those record deals were for something good,” she quipped. Berg, who is known mostly for her songwriting but had a series of solo albums, then took it bak and acknowledged the retired mogul in the crowd who’d given her her deal. “I’m just kidding. Joe Galante, I love you.”
On the red carpet, Berg expressed the roundabout way she was informed she had become an Icon, an award previously given to writers from Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson to Bobby Braddock and Dean Dillon. “Clay Bradley took me to dinner,” she said, “and I thought he was going to offer me a job or something. I didn’t know why he was taking me to dinner. He started talking about what they’ve been doing lately, and he said, ‘Yeah, we’ve been doing this Icon thing, passing around names and stuff like that. Oh, and your name came up.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, wow. So, who got it?’ And he said, ‘You did.’ And I was like, ‘What?’ I mean, I thought he said, in passing, ‘Oh, and your name came up, too.’ I was stunned.”
Berg is only the third woman to get the Icon award from BMI at its country awards, following Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn. “It’s a start. Hopefully there’s more to come,” she said on the carpet. “This is a sign of more to come.”
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