HOT DISH: Mixing Politics and Country Music

Inaugural Ball and Hall of Famer's Birthday Party Just Part of a Week's Work

(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

Tennessee has the coolest governor. As Nashville’s mayor and now as governor, Phil Bredesen has done more for this city and this state than any other elected official in the three-plus decades I’ve called it home.

After being sworn in Jan. 13 for a second term as governor, there was an inaugural party, dubbed the Pioneer Ball, at the Wildhorse Saloon in downtown Nashville. With first lady Andrea Conte by his side — from a prayer breakfast through the swearing in and all those freaking inaugural parties — they spent the day offering smiles and handshakes and howdys a-plenty. Those two must have the patience of Job.

During another inaugural party at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, the ladies were in formals and the men were in tuxes. For the party I attended at the Wildhorse, however, girls wore slacks and flats and guys wore boots and jeans.

“You’ve got the right idea in clothes,” quipped the first lady who was wearing a gorgeous teal, floor-length gown with stunning jewelry that matched. I wasn’t about to ask her, “Who are you wearing.”

After the governor was introduced to the crowd that swarmed the place, music biz VIPs were invited into the green room where honored guests met and posed with Music Row’s finest — and was I proud. Why was I proud? Because the event was hosted by CMT executive vice president and general manager Brian Philips (who escorted his lovely wife Sarena) and because Martin Clayton, another top executive at CMT, was asked by the governor and his inaugural committee to serve as the entertainment liaison at the inaugural ball. These are my people, and they did us proud.

Everyone in the green room was famous and had a title, except me. There was the stunning Sara Ingram, who is a dead ringer for Ali McGraw, along with Mike and Jane Dungan, Lee Greenwood, Scott and Sandy Spika Borchetta, John and Sue Grady, Rod and Shary Essig, Greg Oswald, Gary Chapman and Lisa Marcy. Also in the green room were Fletcher Foster (my handsome escort) and Jo Dee Messina, Jypsi and Josh Gracin (who all performed).

Folks, believe you me, there’s nothing cooler than hillbillies and politicians schmoozing. Yes, of course the governor and first lady danced the first dance while the band played “Tennessee Waltz.”

Happy Birthday, Earl
Friends and family recently gathered at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum to help celebrate the 83rd birthday of the great banjo master and Hall of Fame member, Earl Scruggs. The first person grandson Jeremy and I spoke to as we entered the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum was Randy Scruggs, son of honoree, and Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell.

All along, I wondered how they’d pull off the surprise party, and I should have known it would involve Bob McLean. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Bob McLean is country music’s best friend. McLean, the man who bought and donated Mother Maybelle Carter’s guitar and Bill Monroe’s mandolin to the Hall of Fame, is a close friend of Earl’s and the responsible party for delivering the guest of honor to the party.

“Bob said I had a photo shoot,” said Earl, who was not too sure of the reason the photos needed to be taken.

“But it’s true,” explained McLean. “They’ve been taking his picture ever since we got here.” Right on, Bob.

The event was orchestrated by elder son Gary Scruggs. An elite crowd included Tom T. and Dixie Hall, Cowboy Jack Clement, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Jeff Hanna and Jimmy Ibbotson, Martraca Berg, Rob McCoury, John Anderson, the Rev. Will Campbell, Keith and Emy Jo Bilbrey, Dr. James Sullivan, Jon Randall, Jessi Alexander, Tracy Nelson, U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, Billy Paul Jones, Les and Dot Leverett, Eddie Stubbs, E.W. “Bud” and Janice Wendell, David and Carolyn Corlew and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s Kyle Young, Liz Thiels and Bill Lloyd. Also in attendance were Jody Maphis (an Earl Scruggs Revue alumnus who was there with mom Rose Lee Maphis) and Curly Seckler (the last living member of the Flatt & Scruggs’ band, the Foggy Mountain Boys band) and his wife Eloise.

After the banjo-shaped birthday cake was cut, we gathered in the Ford Theater where the finest of fine pickers on the planet showed us how it’s done. Joining Earl and his sons, Gary and Randy, were Jerry Douglas, Dan Tyminski and Ron Block (from Alison Krauss & Union Station) and Travis Tritt (who dedicated “I Walk the Line” to Earl’s late wife, Louise). Emmylou Harris sang while Sharon and Cheryl White added their impeccable harmonies. Also picking and grinning were Buck White, Del McCoury, Dave Pomeroy, Rob Ickes, Larry Cordle, Billy Smith, fiddlers Hoot Hester and Bobby Hicks, Tut Taylor, Dave Talbot and Keith Sewell.

It was a truly wonderful party for Earl, a country and bluegrass music trailblazer that I am proud to call my friend. Somehow, I felt that Louise was proudly looking down on her men.

Please note: I listed Keith Sewell as the last name on the list of pickers for a good reason. Keith’s lovely wife Wendy stopped by to say howdy, and as we talked, I mentioned his involvement in the Dixie Chicks’ band. I was absolutely shocked when she told me, “Some people talk about us because Keith works for the Chicks.”

I responded, “He’s got a legit job. Those girls are great singers and great musicians. How could anybody be so asinine as to say anything negative about a musician making an honest living?”

On a more positive note, it blew me away when Wendy told me the Chicks treated the entire Sewell family exceptionally well by even allowing Wendy and their two young children to travel on the road to their concerts with Keith. I’ve never heard of such generosity in all my born days.

What’s Happening
Craig Morgan brought me flowers in a crystal vase when he came to my kitchen to tape Southern Fried Flicks With Hazel Smith. If you want to see how much fun we had cooking and eating and visiting, tune into CMT on Sunday (Feb. 4) at 8 p.m. ET/PT and watch the Robert Redford classic movie, The Natural. By the way, Morgan’s manager Faith Quesenberry has joined Vector Management and has brought Craig with her to the artist management company. Craig’s Broken Bow single, “Tough,” salutes women. And women choose most of country music hits.

Did Darryl Worley’s halftime performance of “I Just Came Back (From a War)” and “Have You Forgotten” at the AFC Championship game inspire the Indianapolis Colts to win? Peyton Manning and the Colts are going to the Super Bowl! It was rumored in Indy that Kenny Chesney attended the AFC Championship. Peyton and Kenny are buds.

Readers Digest’s February issue features an unforgettable piece by Vince Gill titled “Second Chance at Love” and sub-titled “How One Woman Keeps Improving My Life.” Written about his better half, Amy Grant, it just may be the sweetest article any man ever wrote about his wife. One line that brought tears to my heart, Vince admits he tells Amy all the time, “You have no idea how amazing it is to be whole again.” It’s a real good read, fans, and just another real good reason to love country music.

Keith Urban’s video message last week surely gave him a chance to give fans a piece of his heart. God bless you — and welcome back, Keith.

Well, for once The View featured an individual with her own personality for fans to love and never forget. I’m talking about Kellie Pickler. A Southern girl, country, bare-faced, bright and honest, she sings like the Carolina songbird she was born to be. With all these attributes, I predict that Kellie will follow the same trail — from country to the world — that was blazed by Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton. And while others may hit and fall by the wayside, this girl — like a train to a rail — will stay on track and enjoy a career of longevity success like her predecessors.

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