2023 saw overall touring numbers accelerate to greater heights, and country music touring was a solid factor in that growth. On Monday (Feb. 12), the Country Music Association honored the touring crews that help keep country music’s biggest artists on the road and rocking out night after night for packed crowds of fans.
Approximately 900 people gathered at Nashville’s Marathon Music Works to fete road crews supporting the tours for artists including Dierks Bentley, Kane Brown, Kenny Chesney, Jelly Roll, Miranda Lambert, Old Dominion, Thomas Rhett, Chris Stapleton, Keith Urban, Morgan Wallen, Lainey Wilson, Zac Brown Band and more.
Country Music Association CEO Sarah Trahern noted that touring personnel make up the largest block of the CMA’s nearly 7,000 members.
“You touring guys overtook the artists this past year,” Trahern said, eliciting cheers from the audience. “Your hard work on the road and support of those in the spotlight does not go unnoticed. Tonight we want to honor those of you who stood out among your peers for this honor.”
“2023 was a record year for touring and country music grew in unprecedented ways, and expanded into new and uncharted territories,” Trahern added. “From right here in Nashville, all across the U.S. and around the globe, live music was at an all-time high and we saw some of our biggest and best tours in our format’s history. The individuals in this room know better than anyone just how much time, hard work and heart goes into creating the magic that takes place when an artist takes the stage with a room full of fans.”
Two-time CMA entertainer of the year winner Urban, who at one point on his long journey to stardom worked as a lighting roadie for a band in Australia, returned as host for a second year.
“I genuinely love celebrating you guys for all that you do,” he said, later adding, “You definitely have a job that gets under appreciated, so I love that I get to do this. Tonight is the night for all of you to get to step out from behind the scenes.”
This year’s CMA Touring Awards expanded to honor more people than ever who work behind the scenes to propel country music’s top tours. Not only did this year’s CMA Touring Awards feature an expanded number of finalists across categories, but also saw the addition of five new categories, upping the total number of categories to 20. The newly-added categories include backline technician of the year, stage manager of the year, support services company of the year and unsung hero of the year.
The evening also bestowed the CMA Touring lifetime achievement award to the late industry veteran and former head of CAA’s Nashville office, Ron Baird. A video tribute offered praise from several artists and industry members Baird worked with throughout the years, including Shania Twain, Billy Dean, Martina McBride and Clint Black, as well as CAA’s John Huie (who Baird worked with to launch CAA’s first Nashville office in 1992) and Rod Essig, former CMA executive director Ed Benson and WME’s Keith Miller. Baird’s stepson, CAA’s Marc Dennis, accepted the honor on his behalf.
“His lasting legacy will be the people he encouraged to get into our business. Ron was incredibly generous with his time,” Dennis said, noting one of Baird’s favorite sayings: “‘Patience, perseverance, and persistence.’ The three P’s. Anyone who has been at CAA and has been around Ron remembers the three P’s … he was an incredibly gentle person, but he was a hell of an agent. He encouraged so many, myself included.”
Following remarks from CMA senior vp of industry relations & philanthropy Tiffany Kerns, showcasing the range of support benefits the CMA offers to its touring members, the organization revealed a new CMA Touring Mentorship Program, designed for those early in their touring careers. The participants will be paired with a veteran touring professional for meetings, and opportunities for job shadowing and projects. Mentor categories will include a tour manager, a band leader/musician, a production manager, a production assistant, a front of house engineer, a monitor engineer, and a lighting director/designer. CMA worked with Chris Lisle and Curt Jenkins (both from the Touring Career Workshop) as well as musician Danny Rader to create the program.
Touring crews for reigning CMA male vocalist of the year Stapleton and reigning CMA entertainer of the year winner Wilson took home the lion’s share of the awards wins Monday evening. Both Stapleton and Wilson were in attendance to support their touring families.
Notably, many of the honorees from Wilson’s crew were women, including coach/truck driver of the year winner Erin Siegfried, tour videographer/photographer of the year CeCe Dawson, tour manager of the year Meg Miller and manager of the year Mandelyn Monchick.
“This is so special,” Monchick said in accepting her manager of the year honor. “I’ve come up over the past nine years getting to know a lot of you, me and Lainey both, and the people we’ve met along the way, and the people who have lifted us up and given us a chance and listened to a demo, listened to a song, wrote a song with her, it all started there. We’ve built a really beautiful team along the way, especially strong women.
“It all starts at the top and we have an amazing leader that we look up to, Lainey,” she continued. “The way she treats people and leads with grace, it’s contagious and it trickles down, and I’m really thankful that I get to work with people that inspire me every day.”
Stapleton’s team picked up wins for stage manager of the year (Todd Green), lighting director (Mac Mosier), front of house engineer (Arpad Sayko), touring musician (Paul Franklin), production manager (John Garriott).
The evening ended with the awarding of the inaugural crew of the year trophy, which honors the entire crew of a country music tour (which undertook a multi-city run of concerts during the eligibility period), with the accolade recognizing consistently demonstrated professionalism, skills, teamwork, hospitality and all-around excellence. Stapleton’s All-American Road Show crew won the inaugural prize. After the entire crew filled the stage at Marathon Music Works, several members of the touring ensemble offered thanks to Stapleton, his wife and musical partner Morgane Stapleton, and the rest of their road family.
“This award really is about these guys up here,” Stapleton raved. “I don’t love to speak and I don’t particularly love crowds, if you can believe that or not. I like them coming to the show, but I like to play music, and everybody up here helps me do that every night in ways that would not be possible in any way, shape or form, if everybody wasn’t at the top of their game and I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart for allowing me to play music, which is what I love to do, so thank you so much. It’s always about the music … we always serve that and it’s so wonderful to get to do that as a job every day.”
See the full list of this year’s CMA Touring Awards winners below:
- Business manager of the year: Duane Clark (FBMM)
- Publicist of the year: Tyne Parrish (The Greenroom PR)
- Venue of the year: Red Rocks Amphitheatre
- Talent agent of the year: Jay Williams (WME)
- Talent buyer/promoter of the year: Louis Messina (The Messina Group)
- Manager of the year: Mandelyn Monchick (Red Light Management/Lainey Wilson)
- Coach/truck driver of the year: Erin Siegfried (Lainey Wilson)
- Tour video director of the year: Chris Jones (Jelly Roll)
- Tour videographer/photographer of the year: CeCe Dawson (Lainey Wilson)
- Stage manager of the year: Todd Green (Chris Stapleton)
- Support services company of the year: Clair Global
- Backline technician of the year: Joel “Tico” Jimenez (Thomas Rhett)
- Lighting director of the year: Mac Mosier (Chris Stapleton)
- Front of house engineer of the year: Arpad Sayko (Chris Stapleton)
- Monitor engineer of the year: Bryan “Opie” Baxley (Kenny Chesney)
- Touring musician of the year: Paul Franklin (Chris Stapleton/Vince Gill – steel guitar)
- Tour manager of the year: Meg Miller (Lainey Wilson)
- Production manager of the year: John Garriott (Chris Stapleton)
- Unsung hero of the year: Kelsey Maynard (assistant tour manager/Old Dominion)
- Crew of the year: Chris Stapleton’s All-American Road Show crew