The Nashville music industry gathered Tuesday (June 6) to celebrate its most influential members and several of its brightest stars.
Hosted by Billboard to celebrate the recently published 2023 Country Power Players list, the event took place at Nashville’s Marathon Music Works, with execs, artists, agents and others mingling in the chic, industrial space.
Billboard’s executive editor, West Coast and Nashville Melinda Newman opened the evening’s awards presentation, first acknowledging Seth England of Big Loud, the recipient of the first ever Billboard Country Power Players Choice Award. Newman then introduced Ernest, who recounted the story of his first time meeting Jelly Roll when a mutual friend of his was selling the singer a truck. “Not long later,” said Ernest said, “he was charting on Billboard.”
Jelly Roll then took the stage, noting in a funny, impassioned speech that “there’s a story my daddy used to tell that you could work harder than everybody, you can put in more hours than everybody, you can be more talented than everybody, you could be nicer than everybody, you could care more than everybody, but if a little luck don’t show up with you, you are screwed in this world, and I can tell you that God blessed me to be lucky to have friends like Ernest and Hardy and Ashley and these people that have came through and helped me put out my first debut country album that was commemorated by my cover on Billboard.”
Next up was Hardy, who presented the Rookie Of The Year award to Bailey Zimmerman. “I tried singing two and a half years ago and my life completely switched,” Zimmerman said in his speech. “I went from digging ditches and building pipelines to being an artist…Enjoying the moment is something I’ve really been focusing on, and I’ve never had a moment like this.”
Terri Clark then took the stage to present the Groundbreaker award to her friend, Ashley McBryde. “I’ve had the privilege of watching her build a career that will stand the test of time. She came up to me [once] and said, ‘You know when I was a teenager I was looking to women in country music who I felt like i could relate to, people who were a little bit different, and when I looked to you, I saw that. And now Ashley’s doing that very thing to many little girls and girls with a dream all over the place who want to be country singers.”
McBryde then gave an emotional speech about how when she first moved to Nashville, she was told her hair was too curly, that she had too many tattoos, that she needed to lose weight and that she should be writing different kinds of songs. “It means a lot to receive this,” she said with tears streaming down her face, “because it means betting on yourself is the right thing to do.”
Finally, Newman presented the Executive of the Year award to Rusty Gaston of Sony Music Publishing Nashville, which has earned the top spot on Billboard’s Country Radio Airplay Publishers list for the last three quarters.
“I love this community,” Gaston said in his speech, “and what I love most about country music is that we are a community — we are a group of friends who get to work together to help each other succeed, but we aren’t work friends, we’re life friends.”