To the question posed by his smash hit, “How Do You Like Me Now?” Toby Keith received an enthusiastic answer Wednesday morning (June 14) at International Country Music Fan Fair.
Keith anchored the DreamWorks show, and by the time he hit the stage in his Pittsburgh Steelers jersey, just after noon, the grandstand at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds had filled up with fans eager to hear the Oklahoma native sing. And they liked him a lot.
After recording for other labels, Keith released his first DreamWorks CD in November, and he has become the first commercially successful star for the Nashville division of the company. Label chief James Stroud, who co-produced the disc with Keith, came out to present him with a gold album for certification of shipments of 500,000 copies of the record. The award, Stroud said, “comes from DreamWorks and your fans.” Keith paused only briefly before moving back into his set with “A Little Less Talk and a Lot More Action.” He diverted “Getcha Some” into some political commentary about Bill Clinton’s indiscretions.
Though she has yet to sell in numbers comparable to Keith’s, teenager Jessica Andrews has had major country radio hits, so she received a warm welcome from the Fan Fair crowd. Her debut album, Heart-Shaped World, is over a year old now, and every selection in her five-song set came from it. “You’ve made my first year absolutely unforgettable,” the Huntingdon, Tenn., native told the crowd.
Darryl Worley, from Pyburn, Tenn., soon will have a new album out called Hard Rain Don’t Last. During his three-song set, dark clouds began to gather and the wind picked up. When it finally did rain, during Andrews’ performance, the shower lasted only a few minutes. Worley is a tall, hard-country singer and songwriter. George Jones has recorded one of his songs, “Sinners & Saints,” and he has a hit out now, “When You Need My Love.”
Another band of DreamWorks newcomers, Jolie & The Wanted, have further to go to win the hearts of country fans. Though Jolie vowed that the audience will love her forthcoming single, “I Would,” many in the audience appeared unsold on the group.
Asleep at the Wheel leader Ray Benson hosted the show. His group helped him kick things off with four western swing tunes: “Cherokee Maiden,” “Roly Poly,” “Big Ball’s in Cowtown” and “House of Blue Lights.” Benson and his group have held fast to their musical values in the face of changing fashion. Their tribute to Bob Wills, Ride With Bob, has yet to go gold, but it has earned them — and DreamWorks — the kind of respect new labels often work for years to attain. The set earned two Grammys earlier this year. Asleep at the Wheel’s superb performance at Fan Fair served as a reminder that music matters first, last and most.