Hunter Hayes, Dean Dillon Honored at 61st Annual BMI Country Awards

Hunter’s “Wanted” is Song of the Year.

Dean Dillon receives the Icon honor.
photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images

Hunter Hayes, Dean Dillon and Rodney Clawson were among the night's big honorees at the 61st annual BMI Country Awards, held in Nashville last night (Nov. 5) to celebrate the writers of the past year’s biggest country songs.

Appropriately, Dean was presented with the BMI Icon honor for his incredible songwriting success and lasting influence on future generations. His credits include George Strait’s “Unwound,” “Marina del Rey” and “The Chair,” among many others. George actually saluted his friend with a medley of hits, and Lee Ann Womack and Kenny Chesney also paid tribute in song.

“Other than the kids being born I guess it’s the highlight of my career,” Dean told Country Weekly. “To get something like that, to be recognized that way. It’s been a lot of miles, and a lot of songs. For them to even consider me for something like that was pretty humbling.”

Justin Moore, who was honored for his hit “Til My Last Day,” felt honored to be in the same room with writers like Dean. “I can’t imagine doing what I do as an artist without doing what I do as a songwriter,” he said, “and the reason I write songs is because of classic songs like he’s written over his career.”

Hunter Hayes
photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for BMI

Hunter Hayes’ breakout hit, “Wanted,” which the young star co-wrote with Troy Verges, was awarded with the Song of the Year award. He acknowledged that it’s sometimes a tossup how well a song performs, even if you really love it. “When we released ‘Wanted,’ I felt confident but I had no idea what to expect and there’s no way you can expect anything even if you know what to expect,” he said. “It was my first number one, it’ll always be my first number one. It was a really special experience—especially the fact that it was a two-week number one kind of blows my mind.”

Numerous stars were mingling near the BMI lobby, including Florida Georgia Line, Brett Eldredge, Little Big Town and Songwriter of the Year winner Rodney Clawson (“Drink On It,” “Drunk On You,” “One of Those Nights”). All the stars who passed through the media area acknowledged the importance of songwriting and BMI’s efforts to honor songwriters.

“Tonight is so much about the writer,” said Lee Brice, who lovingly rubbed the belly of his expecting wife, Sarah. “This whole industry, everything all the way to the CMAs—none of that would be anything without the song, without the people who wrote songs.”

Hunter echoed that sentiment, saying the songwriting is a foundation for everything. “This is where the music starts. You write the music, you create it,” he mused. “You start from scratch, you start from air, and you fill the moments of your life with a soundtrack. You start writing away to whatever you think your life should have playing behind it.”

Nashville star Charles Esten was in agreement, noting how sacred the songwriting process is on his show and how important it is that songwriters are honored ahead of the stars during CMA week at the SESAC, ASCAP and BMI honors. “Our show celebrates that songwriter, the first step of anything,” he said. “There’s nothing here without the song. During this week, the CMAs, it’s the centerpiece but it’s surrounded by first thanking the songwriters. It’s very apt to celebrate the songwriters first before you celebrate the entertainment that happens later.”

Kip Moore, who has enjoyed three straight No. 1 singles that he co-wrote, said being honored as a songwriter is the fulfillment of many long, hopeful years. “This is the essentials of this town,” he said. “I was a full-time songwriter, which I still am, and that’s all I did for years, and it’s such a grind every day and you live on hope that somebody picks up your song. That’s usually all you live off of for years, is just hope, so it’s a cool thing to celebrate the people that actually made it happen.”

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