No, the above clip of Elvis Costello dueting with Clare Bowen is not a behind-the-scenes Nashville clip bootlegged on an HD potato. But it certainly felt like a scene from everybody’s favorite Music City-centric prime-time drama last night at the Hutton Hotel, where the show’s stars along with celebs the likes of Costello, Amy Grant, John Mellencamp and Jeff Bridges celebrated venerated record producer T Bone Burnett, Vince Gill, Nashville Convention and Vistors Bureau President and CEO Butch Spyridon and the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center’s Peggy Joice at the 2013 T.J. Martell Foundation Honors Gala.
Backed by double-bassist Dennis Crouch and uber-fiddler Stuart Duncan, Costello closed out the evening with a four-song set of Burnett-produced cuts including “King of America,” the old-timey ditty “A Slow Drag With Josephine” and the playfully immodest “Sulfur to Sugarcane.” At the 11th-hour suggestion of Burnett, Bowen joined Napoleon Dynamite for a rendition of the Oscar-nominated, Costello-penned Cold Mountain OST gem “The Scarlet Tide” (originally sung by Alison Krauss). The Secret Sisters were originally slated to accompany Costello, but a last-minute scheduling conflict or travel woe (or something of the sort) forced them to cancel.
Though “The Scarlet Tide” in part shares its moniker with Bowen’s Nashville character Scarlett O’Connor, the Australian actor-singer very much appeared as herself, sharing a poignant anecdote about how an experimental treatment saved her life after she was diagnosed with terminal cancer just after her fourth birthday. “I don’t talk about this,” an emotional Bowen interjected before stressing the importance of the leukemia, cancer and AIDS research The T.J. Martell Foundation fund-raises for. Burnett received the foundation’s Tony Martell Lifetime Entertainment Achievement Award,
“My life has been, like, the most benevolent episode of The Twilight Zone,” Burnett said in his acceptance speech. “[Costello] taught me the beautiful carelessness of art,” Burnett went on to say. The famed producer — who also serves as Nashville's executive music producer — had equally kind, eloquent words for Music City itself.
“Recorded music has been [America’s] best goodwill ambassador,” he said, praising Nashville (the city) as the last fertile line of defense for American music. “We are losing our culture. Thank you [Nashville] for fighting the good fight."
In true Americana spirit, John Mellencamp also honored Burnett with performances of the rarely played “Save Some Time To Dream” (at Burnett’s request) and his blue-collar anthem “Pink Houses,” that had the black-tie crowd clapping along over coffee and dessert. In his speech to present the award, Jeff Bridges — Burnett helmed the music behind The Big Lebowski and Crazy Heart — called T Bone “The Music Whisperer” and “The Willy Wonka of Music, coming up with new flavors for our ears.”
Receiving the foundation’s Frances Williams Preston Lifetime Music Industry Award, Vince Gill affably reflected on his days playing “Stand by Your” man at an L.A. gay bar (called The Rawhide!) as a struggling songwriter, being the first white guy to ever appear on the cover of Jet Magazine and, to Bridges’ amusement, taking his then 15-year-old daughter Jenny Gill — who also performed at the event — to see The Big Lebowski: “the most uncomfortable two hours of my life,” he joked.
Gill’s ever-wholesome better half, Amy Grant, presented her husband with the award and got the chuckle-worthy applause line of the night when she praised bluesman Keb’ Mo’s Gill-honoring, Dobro-boasting performance of “Government Cheese.” “We made fantastic married love to [Keb’s] music,” Grant said, recalling her and Gill’s honeymoon. Last night was the couple’s 13th wedding anniversary. (Congrats, Vince and Amy!)
More shocking than Amy Grant joking about her sex life, host Charles “Chip” Esten (who y’all know as Nashville’s Deacon) spent much of the evening trying to live down a slight slip of the tongue after he misspoke and accidentally referred to honoree Butch Spyridon as “Bitch” Spyridon.