Having disposed of a disruptive Thanksgiving, Music Row returned to the business of giving itself awards Monday (Dec. 2) by staging two No. 1 parties back-to-back at Marathon Music Works, a converted factory near downtown Nashville.
Honorees at the first party were songwriters Thomas Rhett , Rodney Clawson and Chris Tomkins, whose "Round Here" was a two-week No. 1 single for the duo Florida Georgia Line
FGL members Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard also attended.
Songwriters Rhett Akins, Ben Hayslip and Jimmy Robbins were spotlighted at the second party. Their composition, "It Goes Like This," was a three-week No. 1 for Rhett.
Rhett, who had the pleasure of celebrating both his first No. 1 as a writer and as an artist on the same day, is the son of Akins, himself a breakthrough country act on Decca Records in the mid-1990s. Rhett Akins' top hits were "Don't Get Me Started" (1996) and "That Ain't My Truck" (1995).
The performance rights organizations ASCAP and BMI, along with the Valory Music Co. and Republic Nashville Records, sponsored the party. Rhett records for Valory, Florida Georgia Line for Republic.
Got all that?
Party-goers arriving at Marathon Music Works entered an open, warehouse-size performance space with a wide, elevated stage at one end and a bar at the other. Gigantic, slow-moving fans set between the steel roof girders stirred the air overhead. Areas at the sides of the main area, separated by black curtains, served as kitchen and interview rooms.
A few minutes after the event got underway, Scott Borchetta, head of the record labels, came to the stage and good-naturedly exhorted the crowd: "Come this way or they'll shut the bar off ... 'cause that's how we do it 'round here."
After Borchetta's repeated urging, most of the celebrants clustered near the stage, leaving the food table and bar temporarily abandoned.
Black uniformed waitresses threaded through the crowd bearing hors d'oeuvres trays to ensure that no one fainted from hunger as the lengthy proceedings proceeded.
Borchetta brought the three "Round Here" songwriters and Florida Georgia Line to the stage, as well as Joey Moi, the song's producer. Then he turned the microphone over to BMI's Jody Williams.
Likening Florida Georgia Line's rise to a rocket ship taking off, Williams asserted the duo was "the definitive game-changer of this era of country music." He further noted that FGL's "Cruise" had just won the single of the year prize at the American Music Awards and the duo had been featured in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Williams cited Clawson for having won BMI's country songwriter of the year award last month and pointed out that Clawson had co-written six of the 50 songs then honored. Several other Clawson songs, Williams added, are currently climbing the charts.
Speaking for ASCAP, Ryan Beuschel congratulated Tompkins for having scored his ninth No. 1 with "Round Here." He reminded the crowd that Tompkins has already won two Grammys for his songs and that his "Drunk on You" was recently named an ASCAP country song of the year.
Publisher and songwriter Craig Wiseman praised the cross-pollination of musical talent on the current country scene and lauded the singers, songwriters and producers for refusing to "stay in the same lane."
"It's just nuts," he continued. "It's just a big musical swirl. ... ['Round Here'] was a seriously cool record."
Rhett, a BMI writer, then stepped forward.
"I've been to several of these [No. 1 parties] and always wondered what it would be like to be the one talking," he said. "This is it."
Sweeping his hand toward those standing behind him onstage, he said, "You're all good people."
FGL's Kelley came up next.
"It's been a wild ride this year," he said, "and it wouldn't be the same without all of you."
Hubbard, his singing partner, agreed.
"[This is] why you move to Nashville," he observed. "It's all about the song. These guys are writing and creating songs that are taking over radio."
Following a brief pause during which the principals posed for photos, Borchetta returned to the microphone to tell a story.
He said that three years ago he decided the Big Machine Label Group he captains had signed enough artists for the time being. However, his A&R chief, who scouts out potential artists and songs to record, insisted that he take just one more meeting.
That meeting was with Thomas Rhett. Borchetta said that every song Rhett sang for him, starting with "Beer With Jesus,"was "really good."
The longer he listened, Borchetta said, the more he thought, "This must have been what it was like to have signed Roger Miller."
Turning to Rhett, Borchetta added, "I'm so glad you signed with us. ... That first No. 1 [for an artist] is the drug we're all addicted to."
Rhett told the crowd that his dad had emailed him the demo of "It Goes Like This" and that everyone he played it for liked the song. Still sounding a bit overwhelmed by the rush of good fortune, Rhett said, "I never imagined that my first No. 1 party would be a double No. 1 party."
Borchetta also singled out the single's producer, Michael Knox, for his work in creating a record that has now sold more than 1 million digital copies.
As the speeches continued and more awards handed out, Rhett and his father stood side by side, drinking it all in.
Williams recalled going to Chicago to see Rhett perform in a bar there for only 10 or so patrons. What impressed him, he said, was that Rhett took the time to "engage personally" with everyone in the room.
Such attention to bonding with fans, Williams suggested, may have accounted for the fact that both Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean relied on Rhett this year as an opening act.
Of Akins, Williams recalled, "I think I signed Rhett to BMI about the time Thomas was born."
"It Goes Like This" is Akins' 14th No. 1, Williams said.
Beuschel explained that Robbins signed his first publishing contract only 18 months ago and has since had two No. 1 songs, the first one being Blake Shelton's "Sure Be Cool If You Did." He has had 50 songs cut, Beuschel added.
Hayslip, on the other hand, is something of a late bloomer, Beuschel pointed out, having scored his first No. 1 only three years ago after more than a decade of effort. He has twice won ASCAP's songwriter of the year award.
Hayslip and Akins are longtime friends and co-writers. Akins expressed pride in his son's successes and noted that "It Goes Like This" went No. 1 on his birthday.
Rhett singled out his wife for particular praise. He thanked her for accompanying him on the road and for "putting up with some of these idiotic girls hanging on the front row" of his concerts.
Borchetta concluded the party by announcing that Rhett will be one of the artists to perform on Country Radio Seminar's New Faces Show early next year.