HOT DISH: Dierks Bentley in Running for Major Stardom

More on Charley Pride Film and News From Nashville and Beyond

(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.)

Saturday night (Oct. 14) at New York’s Madison Square Garden, Rascal Flatts performed in front of the millionth person who bought tickets to this year’s Me and My Gang tour. Kenny Chesney played to more than 1 million fans this year, too, selling almost 99 percent of the tickets to his shows. Tim McGraw and Faith Hill also sold more than 1 million tickets to their tour this year. Keith Urban is already sizzling in the U.S., Canada and Australia, and, I predict it won’t be long before that sizzle extends to the rest of the world, too.

As I’ve said before, Dierks Bentley is in the running to become the next major country star. The Arizona lad has been making all the right moves — such as leading 2,700 people on a motorcycle ride through two counties to the Tennessee State Fairgrounds in Nashville for a concert benefiting the Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital. Stars along for the ride included Jeff Foxworthy, Montgomery Gentry, Randy Rogers, Eric Church, Trick Pony’s Ira Dean and others.

On the heels of two platinum-selling discs, Dierks has a new album, Long Trip Alone, containing 11 songs he co-wrote. This album is more mature than his previous two. He’s older, of course, but he’s been learning from the best while opening shows for George Strait and Kenny Chesney. Dierks also got married. I was moved when I saw his special dedication: “To Cassidy, whose smile I rest beneath.” How sweet is that? As a matter of fact, the fourth song on the CD, “That Don’t Make It Easy Loving Me,” must be written with a wise pen filled with beers and tears for Cassidy, who has made the singer’s life a lot less lonely. Remember when Bentley’s constant companion was his dog named Jake? I’d wager, “Long Trip Alone” is about missing Cassidy — and maybe missing Jake, too.

The Grand Ole Opry’s youngest member, Dierks took home the CMA Horizon Award, was in the running for ACM’s top male vocalist honor and is nominated for this year’s CMA male vocalist of the year. Early on, Dierks spent endless hours at Nashville’s premiere bluegrass club, the Station Inn, where he’d perform with his pal, Terry Eldredge, who later became lead singer of the Grascals.

As Dierks keeps running the roads, I’m hoping he will cut back in the near future. Being away from home 360 days a year is way too much.

Charley Pride Biopic in the Works
I met actor Terrence Howard last November in Los Angeles when we were taping The Ellen DeGeneres Show. He’s best known for his role in Hustle & Flow, a film with a rap soundtrack, but he stopped me to talk about country music. He told me he played guitar, wrote country songs and wanted to make records.

It must have been shortly afterward when Terrence was approached to star in a new film based on Charley Pride’s life story. Right off the bat, his answer was yes! This award-winning actor deserves an open door from the country music community.

News and More News
Nashville Star winner Chris Young’s self-titled debut album hits the charts at No. 3. That’s pretty dadgum good for a newcomer who has the top debut album of any male artist so far this year.

The University of Arkansas’ Razorbacks biggest fan is Joe Nichols, so they pasted a larger-than-life photo of Joe on the back of the equipment truck. So wherever they go, Joe goes, too.

Bill Engvall shot a TV pilot for TBS.

Big-hearted Charlie Daniels will host and perform at his 10th annual Toys for Tots concert at the Ryman Auditorium on Nov. 20. His big-hearted guests include Phil Vassar, Sawyer Brown, Joe Nichols, Craig Morgan and Daryle Singletary.

Trent Tomlinson is partnering with FitzBradshaw Racing and its sponsors to produce the Tour of Hope — a series of concerts to benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The concerts will take place evenings before NASCAR events in several cities.

Congratulations to my friend, Jeff Hanna, and all the other members of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on the occasion of their 40th anniversary. Let us never forget the band’s historic album, Will the Circle Be Unbroken, country music’s all-time greatest tribute project. The International Entertainment Buyers Association is to make a special presentation to the group Monday (Oct. 16) in Nashville.

I received a note from Willie Nelson about Habitat for Horses. Willie has adopted 11 horses from the organization to share the land at his ranch in Luck, Texas. Willie says 270 horses are up for adoption through this organization that goes to great lengths to prevent the slaughter of the animals. If the U.S. senators in Washington, D.C., would sober up, straighten themselves out and behave long enough to sponsor the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, these animals would be protected from death.

Some 29,835 screaming fans paid a total of $1,366,244 to see the Dixie Chicks’ concert at Winnipeg, Manitoba. That doesn’t sound to me like we’re talking about a dead or dying career.

“That’s All I’ll Ever Need” by Jimmy Wayne has been called the single of his life.

I’m sorry for all you red-bloodied females who slept through Dwight Yoakam’s performance Wednesday (Oct. 11) on MSNBC’s Imus in the Morning. Dwight’s still got it — big time. And he sings good, too.

Albemarle, N.C., native Kellie Pickler is now a Music City resident. The American Idol finalist has made the big move to Nashville while BNA Records is making the big push to radio with her single, “Red High Heels.”

“I Don’t Want To,” the duet by newcomer Ashley Monroe and Brooks & Dunn’s Ronnie Dunn is stirring up some action. I predict this performance will be honored with some award nominations next year.

See this week’s Hot Dish Recipe of the Week: French Toast.