HOT DISH: Recapping the CMA Music Festival

Reba McEntire, Carrie Underwood and Alan Jackson Were Part of the Week That Was

(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.)

Most of the fans who were in Music Town for the recent CMA Music Festival have gone back home, but their presence pushed the four-day event to a new attendance record. With more than 100 hours of concerts taking place on various stages, it’s hard to keep track of who played, so right now seemed to be a good time to look back on the music that filled the air in downtown Nashville.

Lean and meaning business, Terri Clark kicked off the festival on June 7 with a 10 a.m. performance on the Riverfront Park stage. She was followed by Craig Morgan, John Anderson, Jamie O’Neal and Chris Young.

For the opening day’s noon show, Julie Roberts, Jake Owen, Catherine Britt, the great Gene Watson, Blaine Larsen and Danielle Peck took the stage and strutted their stuff under the hot Tennessee sun. Eric Church, cute Bucky Covington, Carolyn Dawn Johnson, Trent Tomlinson, Ty Herndon and Whiskey Falls entertained during a two-hour show that began at 2 p.m.

Whew! And there’s more.

At 4 p.m. and not a Playgirl photographer in sight, a completely-dressed Darryl Worley took the spotlight with a bevy of other fully-attired stars, including his pal, Neal McCoy, Sarah Buxton, the PovertyNeck Hillbillies, Kevin Sharp and Little Texas.

The first nighttime concert at LP Field was considered one of the best of the week and featured the big voice of Trace Adkins, Dierks Bentley (the cutest guy in show biz), Brooks & Dunn (winningest duo in the history of country music), long-legged wonder Alan Jackson and the poppish pair, the Wreckers. Ever-wonderful actress, Broadway star and hillbilly singer Reba McEntire was back home and wearing jeans in Music City. Everyone in the stadium was royally entertained. Great stars, great show — and all in one sitting.

When June 8 rolled around, Lorrie Morgan, Megan Mullins, the Lost Trailers, Brad Cotter, Mark Wills and Ashley Monroe made the 10 a.m. show at Riverfront Park and were followed at noon by Steve Holy, the wonderful Jason Michael Carroll (who seemed to pop up everywhere throughout the week), Ray Scott, Andy Griggs, newcomers Cole Deggs & the Lonesome and the grand and brand new group Jypsi. What a lineup!

By early afternoon, the stage featured Josh Gracin, Nashville Star winner Angela Hacker, hot Capitol Records newbie Luke Bryan, Katrina Elam, Carolina Rain and Flynnville Train, a scalding new group Toby Keith has signed to his Show Dog record label. At 4 p.m., the legendary Oak Ridge Boys took the stage and showed the newcomers what entertainment is all about. Also on that show were Jace Everett, Jeffrey Steele, Heartland, new Universal South Records signee Jennifer Hanson, Dusty Drake and Hal Ketchum.

That night, the LP Field showcased hottie Jason Aldean, Sara Evans (always beautiful and almost single again), the smoking Little Big Town, dancing duo Montgomery Gentry, Sugarland and the beautiful, incredibly talented American Idol winner, Carrie Underwood, who was presented a plaque for shipments of 6 million copies of her debut album. What a show! Anytime Carrie Underwood shows up these days, it’s a major moment for the fans. And were they ever excited to see and hear her.

Connie Smith, one of the all-time great vocalists, opened the 10 a.m. show at Riverfront Park on June 9. Joining the lovely Connie were Michael Peterson, Memarie, Alvarado Road Show, Cowboy Crush and Crossin Dixon and my pal, Jeff Bates. The noon concert starred Carmen Rasmusen, Jerrod Niemann, Rockie Lynne, Linda Davis, Sonny Burgess, Lady Antebellum, Mustang Creek and Keni Thomas. Fans were ecstatic to see Bryan White at the 2 p.m. show. He’s still singing like a saint. Joining him were the Road Hammers, Bomshel, Whitney Duncan and the always fun and funny T. Graham Brown. On board later were Lane Brody, Morgan Evans and Adam Harvey. At 4:30 p.m., there was Trick Pony with their new female vocalist, Aubrey Collins. Also on the bill were Blue Country, Lila McCann, Rick Trevino and Laura Bryna. One of the highlights was Emerson Drive singing their first No. 1 single, “Moments.”

Then there are those who claim the Saturday night (June 9) show was the best of the week at LP Field. I’m not about to argue. One of the biggest crowd responses went to Billy Ray Cyrus, who flew in from Hollywood, where he co-stars with daughter Miley in the hot teen TV show, Hannah Montana. He recently hung up his dancing shoes from Dancing With the Stars, but he’s man enough to admit, “I miss my bus. I miss my band. I miss my fans.” You’ve gotta love him. His butt may be in Hollywood, but Billy Ray’s country heart is still south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Also performing on the same show was Jo Dee Messina, who is 36 and now engaged to a twenty-something guy. (You go, Jo Dee!) Jo Dee and Josh Turner both did a really fine job, but the icing on the concert cake proved to be LeAnn Rimes and golden-throat herself, Martina McBride. My friend, Gina, was mesmerized by Martina. Two days after her performance, Gina was still teary-eyed.

The first show of the festival’s final day — June 10 — began at 10:30 a.m. and lasted two hours on the Riverfront Park stage. David Frizzell is always a treat. And who can resist Jett Williams, the daughter of Hank Sr.? One of my faves, John Conlee, sang that morning — as did Janie Fricke, Rhonda Towns, the legendary Charlie Louvin and longtime hitmaker Earl Thomas Conley.

By early afternoon, the spotlight was on John Stone, the LoCash Cowboys, Deborah Allen, Billy Gilman and Todd Fritsch. Lots of water has gone under the bridges of the Cumberland River in Nashville and just as many songs have been sung since the late, great Shel Silverstein penned “A Couple More Years” about the beautiful Deborah Allen.

At 2 p.m., Pam Tillis took the stage. What a week Pam had! She performed several places and also inducted dad Mel Tillis as a member of the Grand Ole Opry (and may be the only female singer who’s done such an honor). Always great, Pam was followed by the Pirates of the Mississippi, Amy Dalley, Lee Brice, John Berry and Carter’s Chord, the trio that’s signed to Toby Keith’s Big Dog label.

The Riverfront Park shows wound down with some of my favorites, including Aaron Tippin. I love to hear him sing. Lynn Anderson is a fine singer, as well, and so is Elizabeth Cook (who should be on a major label). Trent Willmon and Rio Grand performed, and so did my very favorite bluegrass group, the Grascals.

When the daytime concerts closed and the lights came on at LP Field, Rodney Atkins and his young son proved to be perfection on a hillbilly stage. Big & Rich brought the crowd to their feet — as did their MuzikMafia pal Gretchen Wilson. Billy Currington looked like a superstar waiting to happen. As usual, Brad Paisley played the blue blazes out of his guitar and sang a half dozen hits to demonstrate he’s earned the right to play with the big boys. I do love Brad Paisley. Also appearing on the show were two of Brad’s current tourmates — Kellie Pickler (who is too cute to be so talented) and 17-year-old Taylor Swift (whose debut album has been certified platinum for shipments of 1 million copies).

Did you hear about Kellie getting her red high heels stuck through the carpeting and into the grates on the catwalk at LP Field? After sitting on the stage while trying to pull them out, one of the guys from Brad’s road crew came to the rescue.

And did you hear about how the folks at Big Machine Records fooled Taylor with a little white lie? She had bronchitis and had to cancel two shows on the road while the festival was taking place in Nashville. With some spare time on her hands, the label suggested she come to her fan club booth to pick up a gold plaque. When she got there, the plaque turned out to be another color — platinum.

Everyone agreed that the outstanding performance of the night — and maybe of the week — was delivered by Miranda Lambert. The girl knows how to play a guitar and sing. She can flat sell a song. Give her a year, and let’s see where she goes. Her career is about to explode.

Newsworthy
The great Willie Nelson and John Mellancamp announced that this year’s Farm Aid concert is set for Sept. 9 at Randall’s Island in New York City. Neil Young and Dave Matthews will join Willie and John for the event.

The late Buddy Killen, a man who helped put the music in Music City, will be honored Tuesday (June 19) when the roundabout near Music Row is renamed Buddy Killen Circle. The roundabout is at the intersection of Division Street, 16th Avenue South, Music Square East and Demonbreun Street. A few years ago, a statue called Musica — a circle of nude dancers — was placed in the middle of the roundabout. It seems a little obscene to associate Buddy with a naked statue, but it’s located around the corner from Tree Publishing (now owned by Sony/ATV Music Publishing) where Buddy spent the best years of his career. It’s also across the street from a statue of Buddy’s late friend, record producer and label executive Owen Bradley, so maybe it’s appropriate after all.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Hot Crab Dip.