The award celebrates leadership in the Nashville music business community and the night's speeches were filled with references to authenticity, honesty and integrity. Over the course of four hours, the handpicked musical selections highlighted some of the most important records from their combined careers, with performances from
Brooks capped the night with a cover of
Brooks launched his set with "Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)" after his lengthy acceptance speech. "I really thought tonight was going to suck," he said early on, but it didn't take long to change his mind. "It's so cool to be back in a room full of music," he said. "Full of creators, full of dreamers."
He also challenged the audience to take control of their work. "Content is king, and we are the creators of that content," he declared. Brooks then stated that some musicians, artists and songwriters believe that if they pay close attention to their business affairs, that they aren't truly artists. "Bullshit!" Brooks charged. "Our job is to come together!" Furthermore, he added, "If we realize we own the content, the music business can become what we all lay awake at night wishing it could be!"
Brooks recalled when he met John McBride, Martina's husband, at a state fair, when McBride was working at the sound board. The experience inspired the McBrides to move to Nashville, with John ultimately in charge of sound on Brooks' early tours. Then, Brooks said, John uttered "the worst thing anyone can hear in the music business: 'You know, my wife's a singer.'" Brooks continued to say that he'd seen Martina hauling equipment, so he knew she was a hard worker. He told John McBride that if she could get a record deal, she could have the opening spot on the tour. Lo and behold, RCA signed her and Brooks kept his word, even though he'd never heard her sing a note.
"I was scared to death what was going to happen when she opened her mouth," he said. But when he heard her powerful soprano from his dressing room one night, he said he remembered thinking, "Yeah, I'm a genius." After a round of laughter, Brooks went on to praise Foglesong and Reynolds ("They stood next to the music."), Wariner ("I want to live the rest of my life with you in it.") and Yearwood, his wife ("The last nine years have been the best years of my life.").
During her turn at the microphone, Yearwood said, "This is the best party I've ever been to," noting that so many of the most important people in her own career were on hand to salute Brooks. She recalled first meeting him at a demo session, where she was paid $10 and he wasn't paid at all. They hit it off, she said, but she couldn't have imagined what was about to happen. "I had no idea that he would become Garth Brooks," she said. She summed up his character by mentioning his "good sense of humor, great love of music, and one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet. He's way nicer than me!" She dryly recounted when she landed an opening spot on Brooks' tour. He invited her to use the whole stage. She didn't know what else to do but stand there. But when she delivered a knockout rendition of
McBride indulged Brooks by singing "The Thunder Rolls," while Wariner performed "Longneck Bottle," which he co-wrote. In addition, Brooks' longtime manager, Bob Doyle, read a heartfelt letter to Brooks, and artists such as
Foglesong and Reynolds enjoyed equal time in the spotlight. Mattea told the audience that she and Foglesong were from the same town in West Virginia and that she had never forgotten that he gave her 90 minutes of his time long before she ever got a record deal. At ABC/Dot Records, he signed
Reynolds earned high praise from pals like Mattea, songwriters "Cowboy" Jack Clement ("Guess Things Happen That Way"), Dickie Lee ("She Thinks I Still Care") and Bob McDill ("Amanda") and producer Jim Rooney. Clement sang a few lines of Reynolds' composition, "Dreaming My Dreams With You" while Ketchum delivered Reynolds' own "Five O'Clock World." After telling the audience that Reynolds developed her into an artist and a singer, Gayle delivered a strong rendition of Reynolds' "Ready for the Times to Get Better."
Foglesong was serenaded by Mattea (a cover of Williams' "I Believe in You"), John Conlee ("Rose-Colored Glasses") and Lee Greenwood ("It Turns Me Inside Out," his first single). At the conclusion of Foglesong's speech, he said nothing is more exciting than seeing a young person getting a break in the music business. "Encourage them as leaders and keep it going," he told the audience. "We have a big responsibility."