HOT DISH: Kenny, the Fans’ Favorite Hillbilly

Carlene Carter Weds, Keith Urban Jams and Willie Opens the Closet

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

Kenny Chesney says he hopes to see his face in the tabloids less often in 2006. Maybe his aim is to see his name in Forbes magazine, though, because that’s where it is.

Kenny, country music’s top moneymaker for last year, is the third overall moneymaker in music for 2005 with a whopping $110 million, according to Forbes. No doubt, that’s more money than anybody from Luttrell, Tenn., ever made in a year. Another Luttrell native, the late Chet Atkins, may have received more awards than Kenny, but I doubt he ever made 110 big ones in a year. However, Chet owned most of the land on Music Row, so he did OK for himself.

Kenny’s been out kegging with college kids again. He’s been to clubs and bars Tuscaloosa, Ala., Athens, Ga., and his beloved Knoxville, Tenn., making money for Habitat for Humanity through his Keg in the Closet tour. This is how Kenny whets his appetites for the big arenas. While he was out gigging for fun, tickets went on sale for his upcoming The Road and the Radio tour. The first nine shows alone brought in millions. It appears to me Kenny is still the fans’ favorite hillbilly.

Carlene Carter Weds Hubby No. 4
Carlene Carter, daughter of June Carter Cash and Country Music Hall of Fame member Carl Smith, tied the knot with Los Angeles television personality Joe Brown on Feb. 4. It was her fourth trip to the altar. The couple married in Jamaica at Cinnamon Hill, the property owned by her late mother and stepfather Johnny Cash. The ceremony took place at the foot of a waterfall where voodoo was practiced by Annie Palmer in the 19th century and where Jane Seymour and Roger Moore filmed the James Bond hit, Live and Let Die. The bride, wearing an ivory beaded dress, rode a golf cart to the waterfall where her hubby-to-be waited. She walked an orchid-petaled path to meet her bridegroom while a violin and flute played. The three-layer chocolate wedding cake was shaped like an autoharp — Carlene’s grandma Maybelle Carter’s signature instrument.

Keith Urban Jams at Radio Seminar
Sans Nicole Kidman, it was an amazing performance by Keith Urban when he jammed for country radio programmers at last week’s Country Radio Seminar at the Nashville Convention Center. Keith was joined by Ronnie Dunn, who performed “Brand New Man” and “Believe,” but it was Dolly Parton who brought the house down. She sang “Jolene” and “Two Doors Down,” before saying, “Radio asked me how I keep things lively after almost 40 years of marriage. I told them, ’When we make out, I look at my husband and pretend he’s Keith Urban.” Looking at Keith, Dolly added, “Ain’t nothing you and your long-legged girlfriend can do about it!”

Willie Opens the Closet
Even that little line that runs across the bottom of my television screen read, “Willie Nelson records ’Cowboys Are Frequently, Secretly (Fond of Each Other).'” So I figured I’d check it out. On Valentine’s Day, Howard Stern’s satellite radio show debuted Willie Nelson’s gay cowboy homage, “Cowboys Are Frequently, Secretly (Fond of Each Other).” The song was written in 1981 by musician-songwriter Ned Sublette, a Lubbock, Texas, native who now lives in New York. Willie allowed, “Since everybody is talking about the acclaimed film, Brokeback Mountain, and its Academy Award nomination, it seemed like the right time to play the song, and Stern seemed to be the man to play it.” Willie recorded the song last year during an iTunes Originals session and mentioned the song to Stern in an interview. Coincidentally, Willie also recorded “He Was a Friend of Mine” for the Brokeback Mountain soundtrack.

Willie told the Dallas Morning News he’s sung cowboy songs before but never one like this. He noted that the song has been in the closet for 20 years, and it’s time for it to come out, so he’s just opening the door. Willie, of course, has a personal connection. Two years ago, David Anderson, Willie’s friend and tour manager for 30 years, told his boss he was gay. Anderson said releasing the song is Willie’s way of telling him everything was OK. Anderson added, “More than anything I want people to know — gay, straight, whatever — just how cool Willie is and … his way of thinking, his tolerance, everything about him.”

Toby’s Show Dogs
From the road, I hear Toby Keith is calling singer-songwriters Rebecca Lynn Howard, Scotty Emerick and Sarah Johns his Show Dogs, a reference to his new record label, Show Dog Nashville. While the Westminster Dog Show is showing off the best of the litter, Toby is showing off the best of his label.

Brad Hosts Families of Sago Miners
Leave it to Brad Paisley to do what’s right. When Brad realized his tour was stopping in West Virginia — his home state — he had to do something for the families of the fallen Sago coal miners. The show was sold out, but he made arrangements to provide free tickets, transportation, hotel rooms and a special dinner for the families. Afterwards, Brad and opening act Sara Evans met with each family individually. West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin and first lady Gayle Manchin also attended. Brad, if that isn’t love, the ocean is dry.

Just Talking
Texan Pat Green has joined the RCA Label Group’s BNA roster.

Another Texan, Jack Ingram, is set to open a series of shows for Sheryl Crow. Sheryl was looking for a house with acreage in the Nashville area when she took up with Lance Armstrong and moved to Austin, Texas, with him. Since Sheryl split with Armstrong, I wonder if she’ll be looking our way again.

I hear Travis Tritt’s agreement with newly-formed Category 5 Records is a multi-million dollar, multi-album deal.

Hank Williams Jr.’s new single, “That’s How They Do It in Dixie” features guest appearances by rowdy friends Big & Rich, Gretchen Wilson and Van Zant. But where was the rowdiest — Kid Rock?

Miranda Lambert is the topic of a four-page spread in the March issue of Blender magazine.

I’m happy to report that good guy Mark Wills has a new record deal with Equity.

Rascal Flatts’ video for “What Hurts the Most” debuted this week. Their Feels Like Today album is certified quadruple platinum. That’s 4 million copies, friends and neighbors.

One of Music Town’s finest country bluesmen, Lee Roy Parnell, releases a new album, Back to the Well, on March 7 on the Universal South label.

After 30 years, GooGoo is gone from the Grand Ole Opry. With the candy company no longer sponsoring the show, there will be no more of the theme song line, “Go get a GooGoo/It’s good.”

Phil Vassar nominated for national Emmy for outstanding original song for “Live for Today,” a theme for segments featured on NBC’s Today.

The upcoming Tim McGraw-Faith Hill stage reunion sparked ticket frenzy. Shows were sold out immediately and performances added to accommodate ticket demand.

Jo Dee Messina, in Torino, Italy for the Winter Olympics as a special correspondent for Westwood One Radio Networks, reports she enjoyed visiting with the U.S. women’s hockey team after they defeated Switzerland, Germany and Finland.

Look for Reba McEntire and the cast of her Reba sitcom in the TV Guide issue dated Feb. 20-26. Recent Miss America host James Denton is also pictured from an episode in which he appeared. Remember? He and Reba kissed on the mouth! What a hard job.

Lyric Street newcomer Trent Tomlinson opened the show for Bon Jovi last week at the Gaylord Entertainment Center in Nashville. Hanging out backstage were Kenny Chesney, Carrie Underwood and John Rich.

Blaine Larsen celebrated his birthday on the road. Headlining act Gretchen Wilson surprised Blaine midway through his set when she walked onstage singing “Happy Birthday” and holding a birthday cake with 20 burning candles.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Chicken Salad.