Ronnie Dunn, Vince Gill, Martina McBride, Emmylou Harris Among Performers

Vince Gill, Bruce Hornsby, Ronnie Dunn, Emmylou Harris, Martina McBride, Charlie Daniels and K.T. Oslin provided the entertainment as more than 400 glitterati from the music, business and medical sectors packed a banquet hall at Nashville’s Hutton Hotel Monday evening (March 26) for the T. J. Martell Foundation’s honors gala.

In addition to the banquet, the event included a cocktail party, a silent and a regular auction and the presentation of awards to songwriter Kris Kristofferson, former RCA and Sony Music Nashville chief Joe Galante, surgeon C. Wright Pinson and businessmen Colin V. Reed and Tom Cigarran.

The T.J. Martell Foundation was established in 1975 to fund research to find cures for leukemia, cancer and AIDS.

Gill hosted the affair with his usual display of wit, irreverence and affability.

Still looking good and sounding sassy, Oslin opened the ceremonies with the always applicable “80’s Ladies,” her Grammy-winning breakthrough hit from 1987.

When she exited to only modest applause, Gill, who described himself as “calorically challenged,” confided to the crowd that hearty and sustained cheering was a good way to avoid overeating.

Former Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen presented Cigarran the foundation’s Spirit of Nashville award.

Cigarran, co-owner of the Nashville Predators hockey team, noted in his acceptance remarks that his 99-year-old mother was in the audience and that, when he suggested giving her a birthday party, she brushed him off by saying, “Wait until next year.”

That setup was too good for Gill, a rabid Predators fan, to let pass. When he returned to the stage, he said, “I just got word from Tom’s mother. She said in lieu of a birthday gift, she’d like a Stanley Cup.”

Silver-topped Emmylou Harris was up next. Professing her love and respect for Kristofferson, she sang his “The Last Thing to Go,” and, to her obvious embarrassment, forgot some of the words.

Harris joined Frances Preston, the retired CEO of the BMI performance rights organization, in presenting Kristofferson his lifetime music industry award.

Standing at her table for support and speaking into a wireless microphone, Preston said, “How long it’s taking me to get up tells me how long [Kris and I] have known each other. … I want to thank you for the contributions you’ve made to our industry. … I love you.”

Said Kristofferson, “The only person who should get credit for the growth of BMI and respect for songwriters is Frances Preston. …. I can’t think of an honor that means more.”

Gill called a break in the ceremonies while various prizes were auctioned off.

A trip for four to an away game for the Predators, including flying on the team airplane and dining with the coaches, went for $11,000.

Two package trips for two to next year’s Grammy Awards show, including two nights at the Beverly Wilshire hotel and admission to the after-party, brought in $17,000.

A catered dinner for 10 on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium, 10 “Gold Circle” tickets to the Grand Ole Opry and a dinner performance by Gill netted $12,000.

A clearly star-struck Ronnie Dunn paid $12,000 for a Kris Kristofferson model Gibson guitar. Kristofferson autographed the instrument and posed with Dunn and the guitar for a picture.

Apparently caught up in auction fever, Kristofferson offered to do a private house concert anywhere in the U.S. for the highest bidder. That prize yielded $25,000.

Finally, a Vince Gill bobble-head doll went for $4,500.

As the event edged toward its third hour — with three awards and five performances still to go — it seemed entirely conceivable that a cure for cancer might be found before the evening ended.

But Gill again enlivened the proceedings with his ringing performance of “Together Again,” which he called his “favorite country song of all time.”

He marveled that his bobble-headed image had fetched such a high price.

“I’ve got a trunk-load of them out in the parking lot,” he asserted. “Twenty bucks apiece.”

Gill stayed onstage to sing the praises of Colin V. Reed, who’s both his golfing buddy and CEO of the Gaylord Entertainment Company, which owns Nashville’s Opryland Hotel and Convention Center and the Grand Ole Opry.

Reed was the recipient of the lifetime humanitarian award.

Gill and fellow presenter Lew Conner recounted how quickly, decisively and humanely Reed reacted when the historic flood of 2010 inundated the Opryland Hotel and the Grand Ole Opry House. Both were restored and upgraded over a period of months and at great expense.

Gill said he phoned Reed with an idea on how the hotel could make money during the disaster. He suggested the advertising slogan, “Fish from your room.”

Not one to let a commercial opportunity pass, Reed looked out over the jammed and sold-out banquet hall and said, “If you wish, we [at the Opryland Hotel] will double the size of the Martell dinner next year.”

Backed by the six-piece house band and wielding an electric guitar instead of his usual fiddle, Charlie Daniels entertained the throng with “Folsom Prison Blues,” after noting that Johnny Cash had been one of the first to encourage him when he was a young musician trying to establish himself in Nashville.

Daniels and retired school teacher Julie Damon summarized the achievements that earned C. Wright Pinson the organization’s lifetime medical achievement award.

Damon gave a spe