Garth Brooks, Blake Shelton Among Highlights at Nashville Songwriter Awards

“Long live country music and God bless country music,” hit songwriter Bobby Braddock proclaimed from the stage of the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville on Tuesday night (September 26). That was the spirit of the evening as some of the biggest songs–and the gifted writers behind them–were honored at the 2023 Nashville Songwriter Awards presented by the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI). Garth Brooks, Blake Shelton and Toby Keith were among the guests who honored the writers who keep Music City thriving.

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1. Garth Brooks honors Bobby Braddock

Bobby Braddock, the writer behind such country standards as “He Stopped Loving Her Today” by George Jones and “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” by Tammy Wynette, was bestowed with NSAI’s highest honor, the Kris Kristofferson Lifetime Achievement Award. One of the many people who honored him was surprise guest Garth Brooks who received a very warm welcome from the crowd with loud cheers and a standing ovation.

“For me, it’s about love,” Brooks said of the meaning of the award. “The greatest thing about love is that true love is when someone’s happy, you’re happier for them than they are. I’m so happy for Bobby Braddock tonight,” he said to cheers from the crowd. “This business focuses a lot on numbers. This business isn’t about numbers–it’s about sincerity, it’s about truth and heart. You take care of that sincerity part, and the numbers take care of themselves.”

2. Blake Shelton sings “He Stopped Loving Her Today”

Braddock was foundational to Shelton’s career, a point Shelton attested to when he took the stage. Shelton credits Braddock for discovering him and producing his first three studio albums solo, in addition to co-producing several others. “There’s probably not a person that’s more thankful for Bobby Braddock than I am,” Shelton professed from the stage. “He’s literally the reason that I’m standing here tonight.”

Shelton was on hand to perform what’s largely regarded as the greatest country song of all time, “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” co-written by Braddock and Curly Putman. “Let’s all do this thing together,” he enticed the crowd as he launched into an enduring rendition of the timeless hit. It’s hard to go toe-to-toe with George Jones, but Shelton did the song justice, as it was a solid match for his rugged voice. There was perhaps no better place to sing it than in the mecca of country music, his performance earning a standing ovation from the room, including fellow honoree Tim McGraw.

[RELATED: Tim McGraw Among Honorees at 2023 Nashville Songwriter Awards]

3. Toby Keith makes a surprise appearance

Braddock was the man of the hour at the ceremony where he was also celebrated by another surprise guest, Toby Keith, who has kept a relatively low profile as he’s been undergoing cancer treatment since 2022 and has only done select performances. His presence also warranted a standing ovation. Keith performed one of his signature hits that was penned by Braddock, “I Wanna Talk About Me” which he wrote while he was working on one of Shelton’s albums.

“[Braddock] sent me a demo one day and I think he was working on Blake’s album at the time, and I don’t think he thought Blake could sing this song, so he sent it to somebody that could,” Keith quipped. His voice sounded strong and smooth as he sang and his stage presence was just the same, making for one of the highlights of the night.

4. Lori McKenna sings “Humble and Kind”

Lori McKenna delivered the most poetic moment of the night when she took to the stage equipped with a guitar to perform one of Tim McGraw’s career-defining songs “Humble and Kind.” McKenna wrote the song solo and it became a Grammy and CMA Award-winning hit for McGraw in 2016. “I sat in my yoga pants one day at my kitchen table and I wrote a song for my kids and it sounded like the way I’m going to sing it for you,” she expressed, adding that she sent McGraw a demo of it on her phone after she wrote it. “He found all the magic.”

McKenna’s version is as tender-hearted as McGraw’s, her voice strong and tough like it carries years of hard-earned wisdom. She performed it with honesty, the intention behind the song coming through with each word she sang, giving it a mother’s touch. “What a treasure she is to all of us,” McGraw praised when he took the stage to accept his award. “Thank you for that beautiful performance and for sharing that song with me, it continues to touch so many lives.”

5. Tim McGraw elevates songwriters

Tim McGraw was honored with the President’s Keystone Award selected specifically by NSAI’s Board President Steve Bogard for his continuous support of songwriters by recording several songs by Nashville writers throughout his 30-year-career. The superstar’s acceptance speech spoke not about songwriters, but to them.

“I consider it one of the most precious and awesome things that I get to do listening to your demos, marveling at the incredible stories and melodies that you create,” he professed. “I heard your song and I fell in love with them…Thank you for trusting me with your songs and thank you for this wonderful award, it means so much to me. Keep changing the world with your words and melodies.”

He ended his speech by altering the NSAI’s slogan, It all starts with a song. “Just tonight, if I may, I’d like to amend that just a bit,” he said. “It all begins with the songwriter.” 

Photo Credit: Jason Davis/Courtesy of NSAI

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