Rascal Flatts Honored — Mardi Gras Style

Music Industry, Government Leaders Lead the Applause at CMA Luncheon

The Country Music Association honored Rascal Flatts Tuesday (Feb. 20) with a Mardi Gras-themed celebration at Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Government figures joined the crowd of music industry leaders in recognizing the band’s achievements, chief among which was being the bestselling American recording act of 2006.

Prior to the formal celebration, guests dined in the Hall of Fame’s lofty Curb Conservatory on such Cajun delicacies as crusty crawfish salad, chicken etouffĂ©e, gumbo and shrimp and grits. Beads and masks festooned the dining tables. Les Kerr & the Bayou Band provided the luncheon music.

Afterward, the proceedings shifted to the nearby Ford Theater where a projected photo of Rascal Flatts’ Me and My Gang album cover loomed as the stage backdrop. Museum director Kyle Young welcomed the crowd, noting that it was appropriate “to stop occasionally and celebrate great achievement.”

Tammy Genovese, the CMA’s chief operating officer, jokingly declared the day “Flatts Tuesday.” She then introduced Brooks & Dunn’s Kix Brooks, who is also chairman of the CMA’s artist relations committee.

Glancing behind him at the gigantic album cover — which depicts the three Flatts members in poses suggesting profound exhaustion — Brooks cracked, “We have a picture here that is somewhat like a funeral.” Then in his most funereal voice he intoned, “They were a nice bunch of guys. I wish that one in the middle [the spike-topped Gary LeVox] I hadn’t made so much fun of his hair.”

Brooks said he first heard Rascal Flatts when they sang at a fan club party, adding that he was instantly bowled over by the band’s sound. “They toured for us early in their career,” he said, “and it was obvious where they were headed. … I’m here just to give them a big old pat on the back.”

Genovese returned to podium to recite some Rascal Flatts sale statistics. She reported that Me and My Gang, alone, has so far sold more than 4 million copies and that the band has sold a total of 13.7 million albums during the last six years. “Guys,” she said, turning toward the band standing offstage, “that’s not a gang. It’s a nation of music lovers.”

Representatives from the offices of Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell and Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen read proclamations commending the group.

Randy Goodman, president of Lyric Street Records, the band’s label home, pointed out that Rascal Flatts have raised more than $1.4 million for the Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital in Nashville. He also noted that the trio performed to more than 1 million fans in 74 cities during 2006.

Connie Bradley, head of Nashville’s ASCAP office, recalled that she and publisher Donna Hilley took the band members to lunch in 1999, before the band had a record contract. After lunch, she continued, the guys climbed into the back seat of her new car and asked if she wanted to hear some of their songs. She agreed, but when they handed her a cassette of the songs, she realized the car was so new to her, she couldn’t find the cassette player. She said all three Flatts were leaning over the seat and frantically punching buttons before the player finally revealed itself.

BMI representative Jody Williams thanked the band for generating “millions and millions” of dollars for the writers and publishers who have songs on their albums.

Following a video illustrating their sales figures and major media appearances, the three band members — LeVox, Jay DeMarcus and Joe Don Rooney — ambled to the stage to a standing ovation.

DeMarcus set the tone of their appearance by immediately warbling the first few words of “Hotel California” — a reference to the much carped about fact that the band was assigned to sing a tribute to the Eagles instead of being allowed to perform their own music at the recent Grammy awards.

LeVox struck a somewhat more serious note, observing that, “It’s an awesome thing to broaden [the appeal of] country music.” Referring to the breadth of that appeal, he said, “As of now, we’ve got them locked in from about 5 years old to 85.”

Rooney urged all the band’s well-wishers to remember the importance of fans. “They put a lot of heart and soul and passion into the music they love.” Of their meteoric career, he concluded, “It’s rolling on. I hope it doesn’t stop until we’re back here in the Hall of Fame for another reason one day.” That allusion to eventual membership in the Country Hall of Fame was not lost on the crowd, which cheered in agreement.

DeMarcus identified the band’s success with that of country music overall, asserting, “We don’t have to play second fiddle to anyone else in the world today.” Then, obviously remembering that the soundtrack to High School Musical was the nation’s bestselling album of 2006, he joked, “Except for some little high school bastards.”

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to CMT.com.