HOT DISH: Is Love the Tune for June?

Is Romance in Bloom for Carrie Underwood, Gretchen Wilson and Joe Nichols?

(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.)

First off, let’s point out that my mouth is not as big as Rosie O’Donnell’s and Elisabeth Hasselbeck’s of The View. Secondly, parents, it’s not a real good idea to use Paris Hilton, Lindsey Lohan and Britney Spears as role models for your daughters.

However, it’s fine to use Taylor Swift as a measuring stick. It’s safe to take your children to see country music stars like 17-year-old Taylor. She’ll be on the road all summer as part of Brad Paisley’s Bonfires & Amplifiers tour.

But with summer coming, love must be the tune for June! Rumor has it, Joe Nichols has a beautiful Texas girlfriend by the name of Heather who may very well lead that pretty boy to the altar and make a married man out of him. Boohoo, girls.

What about it? Carrie Underwood and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo — a handholding item or what?

What about my friend, Kellie Pickler, hanging with Nashville Predator Jordin Tootoo? Kellie’s threatening to visit his home of central Canada this summer and build an igloo. A better plan, Kellie: Build a cabin in North Carolina.

Gretchen Wilson’s 6-foot-4 escort at the ACM Awards was bar manager Wes Stephens. The couple has been seen around town — or so I hear.

Have You Ever?
If you’re like me, whenever you attended a Johnny Cash concert, your heart was filled in the same way as when you’d hear, say, Billy Graham preach. Your heart was overflowing. You knew you’d heard something wonderful and truthful and great. No doubt, you’d meet friends someplace afterwards for a sandwich and soda. Beer drinkers would have one. The conversation would start slowly because fans were overwhelmed by this great man and his music.

Many times in my life, I experienced these feelings following a Cash concert. Without trying or even knowing what he was doing, the Man in Black could mesmerize an audience. I probably saw a hundred Cash concerts and never saw one that did not thrill me. It is my belief that everyone else felt the same.

But you know what? I never heard anybody leave a Cash concert and say, “My musically-trained ears know Johnny stayed on key during his entire two-hour concert tonight.” Have you ever? No, because nobody cared.

Following my recent cancer surgery, I awoke one day at 6 a.m. and read where someone had written an anti-Kenny Chesney letter bragging how great their “trained ears” worked and questioned Kenny’s ability to “stay on key.” As sick as I was and as bad as I felt, I kept thinking how ticked off that made me, so I was not about to let that pass.

Hey, more butts filled seats at Kenny concerts in 2006 than anybody else’s in any genre, so I figure Kenny and his fans deserve the truth. I told the truth the best I know it and received a note informing me the difference in the writer’s “trained ears” and mine is that he is a critic and I am a fan. I’d rather be a fan, thank you very much.

Thank God, I am a fan. I can go to a George Jones concert a thousand times and hear him sing my favorite song “He Stopped Loving Her Today” and leave teary-eyed — saying it’s still my favorite song. But I don’t give a continental dadgum if George was on key or not.

Do you want me to call more names? How about killer singers like Alan Jackson, George Strait, Randy Travis, John Anderson and the late Hank Williams. Don’t try to tell me they became singers to appease the “educated trained ear.” Not in a million years did Brad Paisley, Rodney Atkins, the late Waylon Jennings, the great Willie Nelson, Joe Nichols, Dierks Bentley, Reba McEntire, Keith Urban and Sara Evans become singers to entertain people with “trained ears” who know perfect pitch when they hear it. Not one of them thought of such a thing. They were simply following the lead set by Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family who, in turn, set the pace for greats like Bill Monroe, Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, Red Foley and, yes, Minnie Pearl (who could not get on key much less stay on key, but she was one of the world’s funniest and most entertaining people.) Other names that come to mind include Hank Snow, Carl Smith, Ferlin Husky and Faron Young.

Nobody would dare say, “I’m going to hear Gene Watson stay on pitch!” But they might say, “I’ve got to go experience Gene singing ‘Farewell Party.’”

Yes, I am a fan and remain proud to be a fan because that keeps me on the same level with the greatest people on earth — the fans of country music. They’re the ones who shelled out their money to hear Merle Haggard sing “Mama Tried” some 35 years ago, and their children are laying their money down today to hear Brooks & Dunn sing “Believe.” Think about it.

Congratulations to Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, who needed mighty big rakes to rake in the $88 million they raked in during 2006. I’d bet not one person bought a ticket to their concert to hear them sing on key. Over 1 million fans attended Rascal Flatts’ concerts last year, and I know none of those fans left saying, “I’m so thrilled! They stayed on key.”

My dear friend, Alison Krauss, now she’s an altogether different story. She’s the only perfect one, and I guess we have to forgive her for singing perfectly. Boy, I can hear Alison laugh when she reads this.

Days Off for Jack Ingram
Had a call from the wonderful Jack Ingram who was taking a few precious days off in Texas with his wife and kids. Jack is the opening act on Brad Paisley’s tour and loves playing before 10,000 country music fans each night.

Anyway, Jack is looking forward to a family reunion in Texas with his wife’s folks. Meanwhile, he was taking the two oldest kids to gymnastics class. Yes, Jack loves to get down on the floor with his 3-year-old and roll around. How cute is that?

Yep, I’ve been sick, but I’ve heard from Brad, Dierks and now Jack. God is so good to give me wonderful friends like these guys who are not afraid to admit they prayed for me.

Roni Stoneman Writes Memoirs
Banjo-playing comedienne Roni (Veronica) Stoneman has titled her new biography Pressing On: The Roni Stoneman Story. Best known as a star of Hee Haw, the daughter of the legendary Ernest Stoneman shares her life story in the new book. Known as skinny Roni with the crooked eye and gapped teeth, she was the funny ironing lady, Ida Lee Nagger, who was seen on Hee Haw among a bevy of beauties wearing skirts that were too short and blouses that were cut too low.

Martina Helps YWCA
Martina McBride’s annual YWCA celebrity auction will once again be held in the park across from the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in downtown Nashville on Saturday (June 9). Look for special guests, including Rodney Atkins, who is an opening act on Martina’s summer concert tour.

Vince and Carrie Set for Softball
Vince Gill and Carrie Underwood are among the players set to hit the field for the City of Hope’s annual celebrity softball game on Thursday (June 7). Also playing at Nashville’s Greer Stadium are Rodney Atkins, Chely Wright, Two Foot Fred, Craig Morgan, Emerson Drive, Keith Anderson and others. I am not in favor of the softball game, but I do favor the City of Hope charity. I want all my people to be very careful.

Congratulations
Congratulations to Dario Franchitti (actress Ashley Judd’s husband and Wynonna’s brother-in-law) on winning the Indianapolis 500. Ashley was still every inch the Southern belle when she bolted through the pouring rain to embrace her race-winning man. The couple resides south of Nashville.

Oh, and did you see Kenny Chesney’s best friend, Peyton Manning waving the green flag at the race? That Peyton is like a dandelion. He’ll pop up anywhere.

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