HOT DISH: The Stars Turn Out in Indy

Lee Ann Womack Talks New CD; Julie Roberts Gets Romance

(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 CMT.com.)

Country Music Journey to the Stars
Headed north on a bus to the annual WFMS Radio Country Music Expo in Indianapolis on April 7. I hitched a ride with Dan Rogers and the Grand Ole Opry marketing team. Crossing the Ohio River bridge that separates Kentucky from Indiana, listening to
country music, we heard a cell phone ring with horrendous news: “tornadoes north of Nashville; Gallatin, Hendersonville and Goodlettsville.” We tuned the TV to MSNBC and heard the story. Total devastation surrounded schools where three of my six grandkids attend (ages 7, 12, 14). Thank God for teachers and school officials (and their mom). The children made it home late — at eight o’clock that evening.

During the storm, the Oak Ridge Boys’ William Lee Golden was inside his log house, circa 1780, and watched and heard as his rooms fell apart, destroying his home filled with priceless antiques.

The show must go on and it did in Indy. 20,000 fans turned out Saturday to see the stars: Megan Mullins, Craig Morgan, Doug Stone, Trent Tomlinson, Shannon Brown, Julie Roberts and John Corbett.

It’s no wonder the crowd loved Craig Morgan. With his broken wrist wrapped, he gave his all when he sang. I told Craig, ‘no more motorcycling,’ but he didn’t listen. He plans to race again on the 30th. During our interview, he reminded me that I introduced him and Trace Adkins five Expos ago. “Because of you, Trace and I became good friends,” he said and gave me a hug. Craig Morgan is a good guy.

I had a nice chat with pretty Julie Roberts who flew in from a CMA gig in Dallas. I asked and she admitted she has a boyfriend in Phoenix. I told her I thought she and Kenny Chesney would make a real cute couple, and she reddened. We talked so
long she missed her flight out of Indy and rode a bus back to Music Town. Indy was crazy about Julie.

Shannon Brown, a real beauty, put on quite a performance. Not only does the Iowa native have the best figure in show biz, she’s getting her hillbilly chops together and could very well be huge in a year. Shannon flew in from the big Phoenix festival. She told me her hubby, director Shaun Silva, was busy finishing a Sugarland video.

A hit with fans, doo-rag and all, Trent Tomlinson, who is from the same Missouri town as Sheryl Crow, made points with the crowd and with me. During dinner at Lulu’s, he bowed and kissed my hand. Gentleman with big muscles!

Sunday’s stars were Rodney Atkins, Jack Ingram, Emerson Drive, Rockie Lynne, Eric Church, Lee Ann Womack, Sawyer Brown, Hal Ketchum, Clint Black and surprise guest Kenny Rogers. Kenny did not perform but did Q&A’s from the stage. Fans loved Kenny, but he left directly for his home in Atlanta to see about the twins he and his wife left with a nanny.

Hopefully, crowd pleaser Rodney Atkins will make the real big time this time. Been around a while, he’s a nice guy, a fine singer and so handsome.

Same for Jack Ingram, who told me he recorded a duet with Willie Nelson last week. We only got to visit momentarily, however.

After her incredible performance, I interviewed Lee Ann Womack who wore trendy strap stilettos — four-inches high! Lee Ann is recording and says she and producer Byron Gallimore probably will follow the lead of her CMA album of the year There’s More Where That Came From with great traditional songs. The MCA artist is looking forward to her previously announced summer trip to Italy, Germany and all points where there are troops who love country music. She says hubby Frank Liddell is doing fine and working hard. Both of us vowed we’d get together, cook, talk and eat, but both of us know we are way too busy to enjoy a friendship. Keep on keeping on, Lee Ann. There’s platinum in your future.

So good to see good guy Hal Ketchum who flew in from Vegas on a red-eye where he’d performed the night before. Fans loved big Hal who looks healthy — hope he is. Eric Church sounded like a star to me. The youngster got lots of applause, and the fans lined up to get his autograph which is a good sign for a newcomer. What can I say about Sawyer Brown except they are always entertaining, and I love the keyboard man, Hobie Hubbard, who is a fine Christian and one of the sweetest guy in Hillbillydom. Lead singer Mark Miller was wearing one of those trendy, tight fitting caps but still has dancing feet, a smiling face and a knack for making everybody happy when he hits the stage.

This was our 12th Expo and one of the best. Thanks to all the Expo and WFMS personnel for making it such a success.

Almost a genius idea having the bus drive into the venue, Opry Dan. Fans loved touring the bus. Thanks for the ride.

Counting’s Over
When they finished counting, Rascal Flatts new CD Me and My Gang scanned 721,747 copies in its first week of release, putting them in the over 700,000 category, along with Garth Brooks, Shania Twain, the Dixie Chicks and Tim McGraw.

CMT Music Awards
The CMT Music Awards were the best ever. Since everybody knows who won what, just let me say Trace Adkins did one hellacious job singing “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk.” Triple platinum-selling Carrie Underwood proved she knows what she’s doing with her
performance of “Jesus, Take the Wheel.”

One of the best musicians in any music genre, Keith Urban, brought the house down when he closed the show with “Better Life.” However, to me the most memorable performance of the evening was “Believe” by Brooks & Dunn. That performance and that song will be around when lots of others are forgotten history.

Party Night in Nashville
It’s just like Music Town — three parties at one sundown! I do love Tony Brown, Tim DuBois and Joe Nichols of Universal South. Joe sings good as Merle Haggard and should be a superstar. His gold record celebration was set to begin at 5 p.m at Cabana
on Belcourt Avenue, and I truly wanted to go.

Second party set at 5:30 was Carrie Underwood’s triple platinum soiree for Some Hearts. Not only do I adore Carrie and her music, RCA’s senior VP of A&R Renee Bell is one of my dearest friends on earth and I adore Joe Galante. I really wanted to be at Carrie’s party at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

The third party and the one I attended began at 6 p.m. and was at Braeburn, the home of Vanderbilt Chancellor Gordon Gee and his wife, professor Constance Gee. The reception/celebration recognized the success of the collaboration of the Country Music
Hall of Fame and Museum and the Kennedy Center following three weeks of country music in the nation’s performing arts center. A collection of music elite and Nashville movers and shakers was in attendance, including the president of the Symphony Board, Martha Ingram, who also serves as chairman of the board of trustees at Vanderbilt University; president of the Country Music Association Victor Sansone; Country Music Hall of Fame members Jim Foglesong, E.W. “Bud” Wendell, Eddy Arnold and Earl Scruggs; Hall of Fame board members Bob McLean and Janice Wendell; Mayor Bill Purcell, David Conrad, Dick Frank, Francis Guess, Bruce Hinton, Mike Milom, Donna Nicely and Ken Roberts.

Also present: superstar Kix Brooks, ABC Radio president John McConnell (and Kix-man’s N.Y. boss at radio), Bill Ivey, Don Light, Steve Buchanan, Dan Rogers, Hall of Fame Director Kyle Young and staff members Liz Thiels, Jay Orr, Sharon Burns and John Rumble, CMA director Ed Benson, Judge Gil Merritt, Cowboy Jack Clement, and other lovers of music. Proving this was a Music City event, entertainment was by the Grascals, and was I ever proud of them and their bluegrass as well as our symphony maven, Martha Ingram. That is called running the gamut.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Strawberry Cake.