“Upscale attire is encouraged,” the fancy invitation read, but people showed up for Loretta Lynn’s album-release party Thursday night (April 22) clad in just about everything but kilts and dashikis. The star-spangled soiree, staged at Nashville’s grand old Hermitage Hotel, was so crowded that it spilled from the elegant lobby into an adjacent ballroom. The event was held to mark the debut of Lynn’s Van Lear Rose on Interscope Records, a project produced by Jack White of the rock duo the White Stripes.
To the delight and convenience of seasoned partygoers, both rooms were equipped with full, if overworked, bars. TV cameras stood in cannon-like ranks above the lobby bar, aiming toward a staircase where Lynn would make her entrance just over an hour after the party started.
It was very much like a family reunion — if one’s family is comprised mostly of celebrities. Steve Earle was one of the first arrivals. He had just returned earlier in the day from a tour in New Zealand. Lorrie Morgan and Sammy Kershaw, with Kershaw’s daughter Emily in tow, worked their way slowly through the crush of friends and business associates. At one point, they stopped to chat with, Crystal Gayle (Lynn’s younger sister), husband Bill Gatzimos and their daughter, Catherine. Gatzimos told CMT.com he and his wife are now grandparents — thanks, in part, to son Chris. Baby Elijah was born just before Christmas.
Black-hatted Terri Clark entered the party on the arm of her grandfather, Ray Gauthier, and was soon introducing him proudly to just about everyone. She spent a fair amount of time talking shop with country newcomer Gretchen Wilson, who — as befitted her “Redneck Woman” persona — wore a tank top and jeans. Chely Wright, dressed in an ivory cocktail dress and knee-high soft leather boots, came by to greet Clark. Joe Nichols moved shyly around the edges of the crowd before heading to the ballroom bar.
Kix Brooks and his wife, Barbara, were surrounded the moment they came in and pretty much stayed in the same place until the party was over. Also handshaking and hugging their way through the throng were Lee Ann Womack, Nanci Griffith, Julie Roberts, RCA Label Group chief Joe Galante, former MCA Records chairman Bruce Hinton, Universal Music Group Nashville chairman Luke Lewis and Universal South Records senior partner Tony Brown. Others in attendance included Erv Woolsey (who manages Womack and George Strait), John Lytle (Nichols’ manager) and Katy Gillon (Wright’s manager).
Finally it was time for the guest of honor to appear. Universal Music Group chairman Doug Morris opened the proceedings by declaring that Lynn is “like no one else I’ve ever met.” He described her work with producer White as “a brilliant collaboration.” Then Morris brought out Jimmy Iovine, the founder and chairman of Interscope Records. Iovine conceded that Lynn’s album may have difficulty fitting into a precise musical format, but, he noted, “I believe that the format is going to be other people’s hearts. … We’re going to try to be as good as this record.” He introduced White as “the greatest rock ‘n’ roll producer today.”
White told the crowd, “It’s an incredible honor to just be in the same room with Loretta Lynn.” Explaining they recorded Van Lear Rose on an eight-track machine in only 12 days, he quoted Lynn as saying, “Jack, I can’t wait for this record to come out. It’s going to shake ’em up.” White then introduced Lynn, calling her “the greatest woman songwriter of the 20th century.”
Looking regal in a pink, billowing, floor-length gown, Lynn waited out the applause before launching into her own homespun take on the album.
“Jack worked his little butt off on this record,” she said. “It kinda sounds like that first record [of mine] that came out. … I saw a lot of Owen Bradley [Lynn’s old producer] in this young fella.”
With that, she took White’s arm, and they walked downstairs together and into the adoring crowd.