HOT DISH: Willie, Ray and Merle Get Together

Kenny and Garth Get Some Attention During a Busy Day in Nashville

(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

My dear friend, Tony Conway, recently spent his lunch hour at the Sound Kitchen in the Cool Springs area near Nashville where three superstar Country Music Hall of Fame members were recording. And does it get any better than legends Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Ray Price?

And the three of them may even tour together. Wouldn’t that be great?!

Hanging With Kenny and Garth
I’ll tell you right now, these folks at expect so much of me. Like Thursday (March 16) when they sent me off on a two-party day that had nothing to do with red and blue states.

Listen, I had to put on makeup and be at the Coliseum near downtown Nashville by 11 a.m. for a Kenny Chesney press conference. I’ve loved and supported the Luttrell, Tenn., lad for a dozen years, so it was good to talk about old times — like when he called me in the hospital and sang to me and when I hosted his performance at 8 Degrees in Indianapolis.

As soon as Kenny announced plans for his July 8 concert at the Coliseum, I headed to Judge Bean’s restaurant for a party honoring songwriters Bryan Kennedy, Bob Doyle, Richie Brown and Jerrod Niemann, the writers of Garth Brook’s hit, “Good Ride Cowboy.” Garth and a lot of other friends attended, and I hung there for about three hours.

Whew! It’s hard work hanging out with stars, but somebody’s got to do it. And there are times when you get a surprise you’re really not expecting.

The day after Kenny’s press conference, a delivery was made to my house. Along with the huge arrangement of spring flowers — tulips and hyacinths — was a card that read, “Thanks for the love,” and signed by Kenny.

Keith, Nicole … and Don
You fans will be happy to learn that Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman did not get married at a Catholic church in Australia on March 11. They were in Nashville, and I’ve got the story.

Keith’s dad worshipped the music of Glen Campbell and Don Williams. When the 66-year-old Williams began his farewell tour at Nashville’s Lipscomb University, a couple of acts performed, and then the announcer introduced a special surprise guest — none other than Urban. Some of Williams’ die-hard fans did not know who Keith was, but everyone else went wild.

After singing “But for the Grace of God,” Keith told the audience a story about his childhood. About the time Keith was 12, his dad was driving them to buy Don’s new album. When Keith asked what song he liked best, his dad replied he didn’t know any of the songs but knew all the songs would be great because Don was singing. Keith sang a couple songs he loved — non-hits from Don’s collection — and sang some of his own hits. Someone said Keith had tears in his eyes when Don opened his show with “Good Ole Boys Like Me.” Was Nicole Kidman there? Oh, yes … taking photos the entire time from the side of the stage.

When Don ends his farewell tour in Ireland, he’ll hang up his floppy hat and retire to his farm with his lovely wife, Joy.

More Keith/Nicole Chatter
If you’re tired of Keith/Kidman chatter, please skip this part. But if you like it, read on.

The Herald Sun newspaper in Melbourne, Australia, reported Urban and Kidman, since she has rediscovered her Catholic faith, were set to wed in Sydney, Australia, at a Catholic church with the two children she adopted with her ex-husband, actor Tom Cruise, by her side. The newspaper reported that Cruise, a Scientologist, disallowed the children’s involvement.

Maybe I’m a real hillbilly dumb-butt, but it appears to me that it would be much more respectable for the children to attend their mom’s wedding to a nice man like Keith in a Catholic church than the unwed Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’ public displays.

Will Country Radio Punish Tim and Faith?
The best I remember, a country radio station in Alabama was the first to stop playing the Dixie Chicks’ music following lead singer Natalie Maines’ unfavorable comment about President Bush from a London stage several songs ago. Didn’t other country stations follow suit? Wasn’t there a Dixie Chicks CD burning someplace … maybe in Texas?

The saga continues as the Chicks have recorded a new album with producer Rick Rubin, the same music man Johnny Cash turned to when Music Row had all but forsaken him.

Did I say that? Yes, Music Row did forsake Johnny Cash and, for the most part, the Dixie Chicks, too. Now I learn the Chicks’ latest music is being serviced to local country radio stations. Well now, are we adult enough to practice what we preach? Don’t we teach our children to forgive?

Most recently, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill’s Soul 2 Soul II tour became the fastest-selling tour of 2006, so they did a roundtable interview with reporters who cover country music for syndicated radio networks. It was all smiles until somebody mentioned Katrina. That’s when it hit the fan.

Both Southerners from the Gulf Coast — Tim from Louisiana, Faith from Mississippi — had nothing nice to say about the way the government, from the president on down, handled the aftermath of the worst hurricane in U.S. history. Faith got hot under the collar and said what wasn’t happening to help people was bulls—t!

With the sad passing of Johnny and June Carter Cash, Tim and Faith became heir apparent to become country music’s royal couple. I’m hearing rumblings and grumblings — mostly from government sympathizers — suggesting radio should boycott McGraw and Hill. That’s as crazy as boycotting Johnny Cash or the Dixie Chicks, but it happened.

Wake up, Nashville, and listen to me: What happened to Cash and the Chicks is unforgivable history. We cannot allow this to happen in 2006 to Tim and Faith.

Songwriters, publishers and the artists’ bands and road crews have children to support and are depending on the success of these deserving superstars. And don’t forget that these superstars also spend a large part of their money and time helping others. No one entity should have enough control to stop an entire nation from programming somebody’s music. We must put a stop to this before it gets out of hand again. Let the music play.

Don’t Start Any Crap With Craig Morgan
In Jacksonville, Fla., Craig Morgan was performing before 12,000 fans when a fight broke out. Trying to calm things down, he informed the offenders, “Hey, I didn’t come to Jacksonville to fight.”

Things got a little more tense when a second altercation broke out in front of the stage near where two small girls were sitting on the front row. A former Army paratrooper who’s as tough as nails, Morgan stepped one foot on the stage and the other on the barricade and grabbed the big troublemaker by the back of his neck. Words were exchanged, but it got quiet after Morgan shouted, “You don’t want me to come off this stage!” Security escorted the brawlers from the building, and they’re now under a two-year restraining order from the venue.

Comings and Goings
After 10 years of wonderful country music, I see where Terri Clark is no longer a part of the Mercury label family, and it saddens me. You could always count on Terri to record good country music. You can’t say the same about a whole lot of Music Row. I hear Terri is excited about future career possibilities. It is my hope she finds a home soon.

Carrie Underwood said, “I saw Kenny in concert when I was 16 years old, and now it’s a dream come true to be going on tour with him.” The American Idol winner is set to open the second leg of Kenny Chesney’s The Road and the Radio Tour 2006 beginning June 1 in Evansville, Ind., and ending Labor Day weekend in Noblesville, Ind. Following the 20 Kenny arena shows, Carrie will be hitting fairs and festivals.

The Van Zant brothers — Johnny and Donnie — represented their late older brother, Ronnie Van Zant, in New York for Lynyrd Skynyrd’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. From what I could gather regarding the event, Johnny and Donnie were among the few non-troublemakers attending the party. It’s a shame.

Pat Green, who has opened tours for both Kenny Chesney and Keith Urban, is set to open a series of shows for the Dave Matthews Band.

The Darryl & Dickel tour is a true Tennessee partnership. George Dickel Tennessee Whiskey will be sponsoring the Tennessee-born Worley’s upcoming tour. Wanna drink to that?

As a final note of self-promotion, I wanted to let friends, family and country fans know that I’ll be on the QVC network this Thursday (March 23) at 8 p.m. ET with my cookbook, Hazel’s Hot Dish: Cookin’ With Country Stars. I’m hoping to sell a pickup truckload!

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Egg Sandwich.