Hillbilly Holidays Are Here

A Boot-load of Christmas Gift Ideas for the Country Music Fan

Have you, dear reader, got someone in your house who can’t get enough Garth? Who doesn’t go anywhere without the Dixie Chicks? Who has a serious jones for Alan Jackson?

Our expert staff of personal shoppers — country style — wants to help you send that special someone to hillbilly heaven, come Christmas day. We’ve rummaged through Santa’s big bag and pulled out a few items we think even the most hard-core country fan would be happy to find under the tree.

We’ve included suggestions in every price range, and most can be purchased online, so you’ll have more time for the family and festivities. Try these:

Visit Music City With Nashville: The Pilgrims of Guitar Town
For the aspiring musician or the fan who dreams of Nashville nights, this engaging book is just the thing. With haunting images by renowned French photographer Michel Arnaud and accompanying prose by music industry insider Robert Hicks, Nashville: The Pilgrims of Guitar Town ($22) captures the magic and heartbreak around every Music Row corner. Rather than concentrating on country’s biggest names, Arnaud’s lens focuses on aspiring songwriters and Lower Broad street performers, as well as Alan Jackson, Charlie Daniels, Jack Ingram, Billy Ray Cyrus and the Grand Ole Opry’s Porter Wagoner. Most notable are images of guitar legend Chet Atkins sitting in a rocker outside a Cracker Barrel restaurant, and legendary songwriter Harlan Howard nursing his requisite cocktail and smoke.

The Gift That Keeps Giving
The Journal of Country Music is published three times a year by the Country Music Hall of Fame. In its 30th year, the magazine has been heralded by Dave Marsh as the “best-written and best-edited journal about any form of popular music.” The JCM features groundbreaking articles on past and present country artists and offers seminal analyses of country music communities and movements. Chet Flippo writes of the magazine: “It’s as much a social and cultural history as a musical one, and for that the JCM fulfills a mission unlike any other publication in the world.” An impressive array of contributors includes Peter Guralnick, Nick Tosches, Daniel Cooper, Greil Marcus, Charles Wolfe, Bill Malone, Nolan Porterfield, Ronnie Pugh, John Rumble, Paul Kingsbury and editor Chris Dickinson. In addition to outstanding feature stories, the magazine has informative album and book reviews and priceless photo essays. The JCM is offered through subscription for $18 per year ($23 outside the United States).

Holiday Hank-ering
His commercial recording career lasted only six years, but no person, past or present, represents the heart and soul of country music like Hank Williams. He is the genre’s most powerfully iconic figure, and we may never see a singer-songwriter of his caliber again. As its name implies, The Complete Hank Williams ($137.99) is a comprehensive overview of his career. Smartly-packaged, the 10-CD box set includes 225 recordings (all the hits and tons of rarities) and an impressive booklet featuring over 120 photos, detailed discographical information and comprehensive notes by Colin Escott. Simply put: It’s the Holy Grail of country music. Available in the country.com musicstore.

The Biography
Short of hearing Hank’s music, Escott’s Hank Williams: The Biography ($13.50) is the best place to begin understanding one of the greatest figures in American music. Drawing on years of research and powerful, first-person accounts to create a full-blooded portrait of the Hillbilly Shakespeare, Escott gives a masterful account of Williams’ stunning rise and spectacular decline. Hank Williams succeeds in reclaiming the real Hank Williams from the myth.

Elvis Everywhere
Christmas was a big time at Graceland, and the King’s court carries on the tradition with a plethora of Elvis-related gift items. Two of the coolest are a retro alarm clock sporting a black-and-white Alfred Wertheimer Elvis photo ($32.95) and a ceramic cookie jar, shaped like a TV, with an image of Elvis jiving in the center ($70). Need something in a lower price range? Try the hand-blown, glass Christmas ornaments, in “blue suede shoe” or “velvet heart” ($29.95) or the happenin’ ’50s Elvis screen saver and mousepad ($17.50). Find more Presley loot at www.elvis-presley.com.

This Artist’s Life
From the Arts & Entertainment cable TV network’s Biography series come many fascinating biographies on videotape, among them country legends Merle Haggard, Randy Travis, Clint Black and Alan Jackson. Another good choice: The Grand Ole Opry: 75 Years of America’s Music, a two-hour documentary featuring Opry members’ stories about the venerable institution. Most videos range from $14.95 to $19.95 and can be ordered at 1-888-423-1212.

Deck the Halls With Big Mon
It has been a good year for the late Bill Monroe, and any bluegrass aficionado will appreciate a gift related the father of the genre. Monroe, who died in 1996, was larger than life, and his music is alive and well in the current generation of young pickers. Richard D. Smith’s critically acclaimed biography, Can’t You Hear Me Callin’: The Life of Bill Monroe, Father of Bluegrass, takes an intriguing look, warts and all, at the complex man who invented the “high, lonesome sound.” The book provides a fascinating history, also, of the birth of bluegrass and its impact on other musical styles including folk, country and rock ’n’ roll.

Ricky Skaggs, one of Monroe’s most ardent disciples, assembled a cast of stars from country and mainstream rock to record Big Mon: The Songs of Bill Monroe ($13.99). Bruce Hornsby, John Fogerty and Joan Osborne from the rock world, and Dolly Parton, Steve Wariner, Dixie Chicks, Travis Tritt, The Whites, Charlie Daniels, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Dwight Yoakam and Skaggs from country, join forces for inspired interpretations of gems from Monroe’s catalog. The title track, a Monroe instrumental, gets an all-star bluegrass treatment by members of Skagg’s band, Kentucky Thunder, and other red-hot players. Available in the country.com musicstore, $13.99.

Throw Faith Under the Tree
Give your Faith Hill fan just what he wants — a soft image of Faith to wrap around him. A Faith Hill cotton throw ($45) features the cover image from the multi-platinum album, Breathe. If that doesn’t leave him breathless, throw in 16 months of Faith with her new 2001 calendar ($12.99). Both items available at www.faithhill.com.

Another Calendar Girl
MCA recording artist Chely Wright is also becoming a calendar girl this year. The 12-month spread ($15) includes high-fashion images shot in New York by renowned fashion photographer Daniela Federicci. Proceeds go to Wright’s Reading, Writing and Rhythm Foundation, which provides musical instruments to public schools. You can find it at www.chely.com.

Ring in the New Year
Watch midnight roll around on New Year’s Eve with a custom-made, 15-inch neon clock featuring a likeness of your favorite country singer on the face — the kind you might see down at the local honky tonk. Novelties-r-us.com offers a wide selection of choices including timepieces featuring Lonestar or Tim McGraw. You can also send in an image of a favorite artist or album, and have your clock custom-made. The clocks ($130) come in six different neon colors, and you can choose to have numbers on the face or leave them off. Phone: (270) 683-2252. Fax: (270) 683-2252. E-mail: neon-chasers@novelties-r-us.com. Write to: Neon-Chasers, P.O. Box 214, Philpot, KY 42366.

A Dickens of a Good Time
What better gift for the die-hard country fan than tickets to the 2001 TNN Country Weekly Music Awards Show, that reserves the best seats in the house for fans? Tickets are on sale now for the star-studded gala June 13, to be broadcast live by TNN from Nashville’s Gaylord Entertainment Center. Country.com has a ticket order form onsite. Seats range from $25 to $100, and some prime locations remain open. The 2001 Awards Show is expected to be the best yet. It kicks off the annual Fan Fair celebration, moving this year to Nashville’s downtown venues, including the huge Adelphia Coliseum.

Cruise the Star Attractions
If the country fan on your gift list is headed to Nashville for Fan Fair, business or pleasure, one gift guaranteed to please is tickets to one of Nashville’s numerous country music-themed tours. Some tours drive by homes of the stars, while others go along Music Row — the heartbeat of the music business; others cover the Ryman Auditorium (www.ryman.com) and the Grand Ole Opry. If you want to stand on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry and even sing a tune, Grand Ole Opry Tours (615-871-6100) will take you there. The historic Ryman Auditorium has some excellent backstage tours (615-889-3060). Tour packages are very affordable — ranging from $20 to $30. One of the wackiest tours is NashTrash, where “The Juggs Sisters” take you around downtown Nashville and Music Row in their hot pink tour bus. Dressed in brightly-colored ’50s, retro getups and “big hair,” the sisters drop gossipy tidbits, sing and show their guests a large time (615-226-7300).

Get the Fan Fair Treatment
Put this gift I.O.U. under the tree and you’re guaranteed a big smile from your favorite country fan. Bookmark www.fanfair.com and circle Feb. 1 on your 2001 calendar. That’s when the Country Music Association puts Fan Fair tickets on sale to the public. The event has moved to the weekend, running Thursday-Sunday, June 14-17. Fan Fair tickets are a great gift, worth waiting for, as the 2001 celebration will be in a new, downtown location in Nashville. The popular exhibits and autograph sessions with country stars will be held at the nearby Nashville Convention Center. A satellite stage featuring concerts and Kids Zone activities will be located at Riverfront Park, along the Cumberland River. Evening shows will be at Adelphia Coliseum. Go to www.fanfair.com or call Ticketmaster for more details.

The Mother Church of Country Music
What could be more thrilling for a hard-core country fan than to watch the Grand Ole Opry in its most famous home, the historic Ryman Auditorium? During January and February, the Opry returns to the Ryman, where it originated from 1943-1974, for a limited engagement. For ticket information, call (615) 889-3060.