HOT DISH: Remembering the Holidays

Country Stars and Fans Have Lots to Reflect On This Season

(CMT Hot Dish is a weekly feature written by former Country Music magazine columnist Hazel Smith. Author of the cookbook, Hazel’s Hot Dish: Cookin’ With Country Stars, she also shares her recipes at

December 2004 will be remembered as the first Christmas anybody ever heard of the Muzik Mafia. Hopefully, Gretchen Wilson, Big & Rich, James Otto, et al. will keep in mind they are here because of the music and to make the finest music they can. They cannot save the world, not even run the government, but they can lead a lot of people to the trough of country music.

December 2004 will be remembered as the year Joe Nichols released his wonderful holiday CD, A Traditional Christmas, that will hopefully be on the shelf for ions to come.

This will be remembered bigtime by Kenny Chesney and his fans: He’s planning for his “island record” release and another huge tour beginning in January with Gretchen Wilson.

We’ll remember the cowboy, George Strait, was ready to hit the road the first three months of the new year with opening act Dierks Bentley. It goes without saying, Dierks and his wonder dog Jake will surely remember the week of Christmas as the only seven consecutive days in the entire year they were not on the road performing.

Keith Urban will no doubt remember he worked until the last minute, then caught a flight for a holiday with family and friends in Australia.

Sara Evans will recall how she was trying to adjust her schedule to accommodate three kids in the house, platinum records and impending superstardom while managing to remain strikingly beautiful.

Ditto, Martina McBride won’t forget her 2004 Christmas pregnancy and the big change a new baby is apt to bring to her family and her career and her trips down the open road on her way to you.

Always cool Alan Jackson will recall it was the Christmas after they named a Georgia interstate the Alan Jackson Highway outside his hometown of Newnan, where his mama and sisters still reside.

Josh Turner will recall his platinum party for his wonderful Long Black Train CD just before the holidays.

Lord knows, we will never forget that Lisa Marie Presley sold 85 percent of her father’s estate during December 2004. Fans like myself will silently ask, “Did she sell her birthright?
Does she need money?”

We will remember Reba McEntire’s hit TV show did not prevent her for remaining “one of us” all year long.

This is the Christmas after Tim McGraw and Faith Hill took giant steps into the world of acting. The couple will never forget his Friday Night Lights and her The Stepford Wives. Nor will Tim and family ever forget his mom’s mama’s last request before she died when she said, “I want the Oak Ridge Boys to sing at my funeral.” The Oaks were in Wabash, Ind., performing on Saturday night, but they were in a church in Florida the next morning — singing at Tim’s grandma’s funeral.

After months on the country charts, this is a time Blake Shelton will never forget — with “Some Beach” topping the country chart.

Speaking of charts, it’s still neck and neck on the album list as Shania Twain, Toby Keith and Tim McGraw keep proving country music sells. Country sales are up 14 percent.

The 2,000-plus fans who enjoyed the Skaggs and Whites’ Family Christmas concert at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville will always remember the angelic voices and marvelous music. Three generations singing their hearts out — thanks Rachel, Molly and Luke. FYI: Ricky Skaggs has two Grammy nominations, including one he shares with wife Sharon White and her family’s band contribution to The Unbroken Circle — The Musical Heritage of the Carter Family. Next Christmas, Skaggs and the Whites will have a Christmas album for the masses. In the meantime, none of us will forget their magic Ryman performance.

Manuel, tailor to the country music stars, will never forget the plethora of music types who attended the opening of his exhibition at Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville. Among his many original creations, Manuel presented 50 jackets with designs representing each of the 50 states.

Trace and Rhonda Adkins will always celebrate this December as the birthday of their third daughter, baby Trinity Lee Adkins.

Brooks & Dunn, guilty of performing at charity events all year long, will not be forgotten for this month’s event benefiting Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital.

Military personnel and their families will never forget Vince Gill and Amy Grant’s live audio/video performance from San Antonio, Texas, that aired in Baghdad and other areas where men and women in uniform serve our country. Families reunited via the airwaves. What a Merry Christmas!

Following two CMA Award wins, hitmaker Brad Paisley celebrated his double-platinum Mud on the Tires CD, his chart-climbing single of the same title and a Grammy nod. And then he’s heading out to kick off his first headlining tour. He ain’t apt to forget! If he does forget, he’s got me to remind him.

SHeDAISY’s performance of their single “Come Home Soon” on ABC-TV’s The View brought co-host Meredith Vieira to tears. They won’t forget it.

Hopefully, his No. 1 single, “Nothing On but the Radio,” helped ease some pain for Gary Allan.

Songwriter Craig Wiseman will always recall December 2004 as a time when three songs he’d co-written were Top 10 on the country charts: “Live Like You Were Dying” by Tim McGraw, “The Woman With You” by Kenny Chesney and “That’s What It’s All About” by Brooks & Dunn.

An American icon, the great Dolly Parton, and the Grascals ended their 40-city tour in Seattle on Dec. 19. Being on the road with Dolly for a stretch of almost three months is something the six-member bluegrass band will never forget.

The Week That Was — Was Not Weak
It took The Hollywood Reporter five years to catch up with Nashville’s Keith Urban, but they did a marvelous piece on the singer, songwriter and musician.

New names that will sing their way into your heart and onto the charts: Trent Willmon, Amber Dotson, Jessi Alexander, Shelly Fairchild, Katrina Elam, Blaine Larsen and the wonderful 19-year-old sensation, Catherine Britt.

Country in the Rockies XI, set for Feb. 1-6 in Crested Butte, Colo., will feature big stars with big hearts — Charlie Daniels, Gretchen Wilson, Jamie O’Neal, Gary Morris, Kathy Mattea, Lari White, Robert Earl Keen, the Jenkins, Julie Roberts, Suzy Bogguss, Kenny Loggins, Big & Rich, Aaron Barker, Gary Chapman, Gary Morris and Deborah Allen.

Winner of the second annual Toys for Tots Music Row Challenge was the RCA Label Group/BMG. RCA’s Jeff Bates accepted the trophy on behalf of the label. This year’s challenge raised $4,300 in cash and 712 toys for needy children.

Looking ahead to July 20-24, 2005, Tim McGraw, Terri Clark, Big & Rich and Charlie Daniels have committed to perform at Country Thunder USA at the Shadow Hill Ranch in Twin Lakes, Wis.

Toby Keith will reign as celeb monarch for Mardi Gras 2005’s Krewe of Orpheus parade in New Orleans on Feb. 7. Toby and Krewe founder Harry Connick Jr. are set to perform at the post-parade party.

The legendary Charlie Daniels made a special holiday appearance at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. He sang some songs, told some stories and sat around and enjoyed himself. And he did it for free.

Having returned to Capitol Records, here’s hoping Unforgettable by the great Merle Haggard will become just that — unforgettable. If there’s any fairness in country music, radio will spin this music for the masses.

Triple-platinum artist Gretchen Wilson was interviewed on 60 Minutes by CBS veteran Ed Bradley.

Bill Gubbins, a name virtually unknown to Music Row, has been named editor in chief for Country Weekly magazine.

Joe Nichols performed at ABC-TV’s Monday Night Football game between the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins.

If you missed the marvelous George Jones — 50 Years of Hits special on PBS during the Thanksgiving holidays, the show will be rerun during January and February. Check your local listings for scheduling. Almost everybody who is anybody performs on the show. After all, George Jones is the Possum — and he is the greatest singer who ever breathed.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Black-Eyed Peas.