Industry personnel working with Taylor Swift, Kenny Chesney, George Strait, Blake Shelton and more were honored at the seventh annual CMA Touring Awards, held at Marathon Music Works in Nashville Monday. Hosted by Jerrod Niemann, the awards ceremony honored the staff behind country music’s most prominent artists, ranging from business managers and publicists to coach and truck drivers and caterers.
The man receiving the top honor, Louis Messina, has his feet firmly planted in both the pop and country worlds with clients ranging from Ed Sheeran to Eric Church — and one, Swift, who’s made the transition between the two with Messina’s help. The founder of the Messina Touring Group was receiving the CMA’s lifetime achievement award.
Swift saluted Messina in a congratulatory video. “You have championed artists, and I think namely songwriter-artists, artists who have a vision and want to tell their stories through music and you help them to tell that story on the biggest stage possible,” she said. “I think that my life would be completely unrecognizable if you hadn’t been in it, so thank you for everything that you do for me and for every artist out there who loves to tell their stories on stage.”
Messina said he was nearly reduced to tears when Strait called him with the news of the award. Borrowing a line from one of his clients, Eric Church, Messina noted that 2018 was a “record year” for his company, which was behind Swift’s record-breaking Reputation Stadium Tour and Sheeran’s Divide Tour, as well as Chesney’s Trip Around the Sun Tour, the highest-grossing of his career. In 2018, the Messina Touring Group sold more than six million tickets and grossed $600 million.
Chesney’s team took home the most awards of the night, including Tour Manager of the Year (David Farmer), Lighting Director of the Year (Philip Ealy) and Tour Video Director of the Year (Jay Cooper). His PR representative, Ebie McFarland of Essential Broadcast Media, was named Publicist of the Year.
Another McFarland client, “Kiss You in the Morning” singer Michael Ray, was on hand to honor the publicist, citing her as “a woman who is one of the best Nashville has to offer” and a “true visionary. … You’re respected by your peers and on behalf of all of your clients and everybody at EBM, we’re all not only better at what we do because we have you in our corner, but we’re better at who we are,.”
Keith Urban’s team picked up two awards. for Front of House Engineer (Kirk Kelsey) and Production Manager of the Year (Randy “Baja” Fletcher), while Luke Bryan’s manager, Kerri Edwards, won Manager of the Year. Julie Boos of Flood, Bumstead, McCready & McCarthy, Inc. and Becky Gardenhire of William Morris Endeavor walked away as Business Manager of the Year and Talent Agent of the Year, respectively.
Shelton praised Boos in a video message. “I could not be happier for you and I think it’s long overdue. You’ve literally been like a sister to me for 10 years,” he said. “I would not want to do what I do without you as my partner.”
The late Mike Kennedy, a member of Strait’s Ace in the Hole band for almost 30 years who was killed in a car accident in 2018, was named Touring Musician of the Year, while the historic Ryman Auditorium was designated Venue of the Year.
Multi-time winner Brian O’Connell of Live Nation Nashville was named Talent Buyer/Promoter of the Year. He invited fellow nominees Ali Harnell (AEG Presents), Patrick McDill (Live Nation Nashville) and Ben Farrell (Lon Varnell Enterprises) to join him on stage, commending their impact in the industry and support for one another throughout their careers. “We all started together in Nashville and have grown to be really the giants of the industry in my opinion,” O’Connell said. “When I moved to Nashville, these guys all accepted me. … I wanted to share this moment not only with my team… but with the original folks that reach across the lines.”
Messina concluded the evening by acknowledging the honorees and people behind-the-scenes that help establish the bond between artists and fans. “It’s all about the artists, but it’s all about everybody in this room too,” he said. “When you put us all together, that’s what magic is, and when the artists and the audience connect and we’re just that part of it, that’s magical.”
Messina started his career with Pace Concerts in 1975, coordinating shows for Paul McCartney, the Who and Willie Nelson, along with orchestrating the Texxas Jam, a yearly rock and country festival featuring the likes of Aerosmith, Fleetwood Mac and Van Halen. He began working in country music in the 1990s, establishing a reputation as a top country promoter with the George Strait Country Music Festival in 1998.
Since launching the Messina Touring Group in partnership with AEG Presents, Messina has produced tours for Swift, Ed Sheeran, Tim McGraw & Faith Hill and Shawn Mendes. Strait also appeared on video to lionize Messina, saying, “Your touring vision is incredible. Your team’s incredible, and your contributions to the fans and country music in general and the way we do our tours these days is amazing. You deserve this award more than anyone.”
John Peets of management company Q Prime South cited Messina’s business acumen, passion for music and appreciation for the artists he works with as a significant part of his success. “From top to bottom, Louis has built a company that is powerful, but has a lot of grace,” Peets said.
“I’ve always been a dreamer. The first time I saw Elvis [Presley], I knew this is what I wanted to do,” Messina told the crowd. “My big reward is not only seeing my dreams come true, but, for the artists I work for, seeing their dreams come true.”