It’s a very good year to be Ashley Gorley.
The Nashville-based songwriter was awarded the esteemed songwriter of the year award for the seventh time and was recognized for seven chart-topping songs at the 57th Annual ASCAP Country Music Awards on Monday evening (Nov. 11), at Nashville’s Renaissance Hotel. Ahead of his honor, Dierks Bentley appeared on stage beside Gorley and “Living” co-writer Jon Nite and praised the songwriter for helping him write a song that has become his life motto.
“I want to thank you for creating a song I can sing to myself as a reminder of how I make life choices and steer my life, so thank you,” Bentley said before the trio performed his latest Billboard Country Airplay No. 1.
Gorley later explained how he has lived much life this past year and how songwriting has opened the doors for the songwriter and his family to travel to Utah’s Zion National Park, London, Iceland, Norway and Australia. “It’s amazing to get to see so much of the world. I really owe that all to these songs and the songwriting has allowed me to do these things,” he said before recalling a first-time writing session this past June where his new co-writer invited him and his family to Israel.
“Because of the creative and musical bond of that day, I got to take my family to Israel. It was a life-changing experience … and it all came back to writing songs,” he said. “I want to thank the songs. I want to thank God for creating the songs and the people that I get to create them with.”
The annual awards show serves as a celebration of the people behind the scenes in the country music community, recognizing the writers and publishers within the genre and over 40 of the most played country songs. The ASCAP Country Music Awards is the second of three straight PRO awards evenings in Nashville leading up to the 53rd annual Country Music Association Awards. The week kicked off on Sunday (Nov. 10) with the SESAC Nashville Music Awards and continues on Nov. 12 with the BMI Country Awards. The week closes with the CMA Awards, which air live from the Bridgestone Arena Nov. 13 on ABC, with Carrie Underwood, Reba McEntire and Dolly Parton co-hosting.
“The power of the songwriter in country music as a genre, it's what this town was built on … I don't think any genre will survive without good songs,” Brett Young told Billboard on the red carpet ahead of the ceremony. Newcomer Tenille Townes agreed, adding that the songwriter is “the heartbeat of this entire town … it’s where it all begins and celebrating that is such a special thing.”
In addition to Gorley’s coveted songwriter of the year award, Warner Chappell received the publisher of the year honor for the second straight night following its initial crown at the SESAC Country Music Awards on Sunday evening. Randy Travis and Hillary Lindsey were also recognized with the founders award and global impact award, respectively, and celebrated with several surprise performances.
Carrie Underwood belted a stunning cover of Travis’ “Promises,” citing the country legend as “one of my favorite voices and favorite people in country music,” while Garth Brooks performed a heartfelt rendition of “Forever and Ever, Amen,” before also praising Travis. “It is 100-percent my belief this man saved country music. I wouldn’t be standing here if it wasn’t for Randy Travis,” Brooks said.
“There’s just so many iconic songs. He is one of the most iconic voices in country music period,” Carly Pearce told Billboard on the red carpet. “I grew up listening to him with my grandparents. If you know anything about country music, you know Randy Travis and that’s an amazing thing.”
Dan + Shay kicked off the evening with a performance of “Tequila” with co-writer Jordan Reynolds in celebration of the song being named one of ASCAP’s top country songs of the year. Little Big Town, meanwhile, honored Lindsey with a stirring performance of “Girl Crush,” while Kelsea Ballerini was on hand to present her frequent collaborator her global impact award.
Brothers Osborne were presented the ASCAP vanguard award by Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen and shared its disbelief to be on the stage amongst its peers. In his speech, T.J. admitted having a hard time believing in himself while thanking those who championed the duo early on in its career. It was something he touched upon on the red carpet prior to the awards.
“To be here tonight and to be presented that vanguard award, it's not only a very humbling experience, but it definitely puts a big wind in our sails,” T.J. Osborne said on the red carpet. “It is very inspiring for us going forward and making more music to know that people are recognizing this even though it has been a bit of the road less traveled.”
Old Dominion’s Matthew Ramsey and Trevor Rosen were named songwriter-artists of the year for penning “Hotel Key,” “Make It Sweet” and Michael Ray’s “One That Got Away” while Luke Combs’ “One Number Away” was named song of the year. Grammy Award-winning songwriter Steven Battey (Madonna, Justin Bieber) shared his interpretation of his Combs’ cut with a soulful R&B flavored performance before he accepted his trophy. He then shared an uplifting story on the power of chasing one’s dreams. After losing his parents at a young age, Battey recalled his first manager telling him that his songs were bad and to leave the writing to other songwriters.
“That inspired me to want to be a songwriter,” he said to applause. “This is one to remember. Keep believing in yourself, even when it seems like it’s not working out. This is a testament that if you put your mind to it and keep faith in God, anything is possible.”