HOT DISH: Garth Brooks Still Electrifying Audiences

Rascal Flatts in the UK, Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood on the Grammys

(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 hosts CMT’s Southern Fried Flicks With Hazel Smith and shares her recipes at

Reports from Garth Brooks’ latest marathon — five concerts in three days in Los Angeles — ran from unbelievable to incredible.

I’ve been to L.A. a few times and never expected to read about pickup trucks and tailgating in the parking lot of the Staples Center. It’s a parking lot where shiny limos are usually transporting women wearing $100,000 designer gowns draped with diamonds and jewels worth millions. Arriving at award shows, they walk the red carpet on the arm of their usually bored tuxedo-wearing escort. But it took one good-hearted hillbilly boy from Oklahoma to perform from his heart to generate $3.8 million benefiting FIRE (Fire Intervention Relief Effort) for those who lost all they had in the big fires in California. And the pickups came and fans tailgated with country music blaring to prove there are plenty of country music fans in Los Angeles. Praise the Lord for that.

In the media, reporters wrote, “He never let up,” calling Garth “iron man” and “master performer.” Recalling the Garth of yesteryear, they noted that while he no longer climbs ladders, swings above the crowd on an invisible rope, busts guitars or does acrobatics, they added, “But he creates the same enthusiasm.”

Like he’d won the lottery, a fan with five ticket stubs waved them proudly over his head, laughing and smiling all the way out the door. He knew he was a winner. He’d seen five shows in two days, the likes he’d never seen before and doubtfully will ever see again. His kids and grandkids, no doubt, will hear the story over and over as long as he lives –five shows, all sellouts.

Through the years, stories surfaced of fans in Ireland who hero-worshipped Garth and would not cease the applause at his concerts. When he’d finally depart the building, fans would actually follow the buses they were traveling in. I ran into Mark Greenwood, Garth’s bass player, this past week at the recording studio he manages on Music Row. Mark pointed out that Garth received the same sort of enthusiastic welcome and endless applause during his recent nine-night marathon in Kansas City and the five shows in Los Angeles.

Rascal Flatts in the UK
After performing for a packed house at London’s legendary 100 Club, Rascal Flatts awoke early to appear on Europe’s highest-rated morning television show, GMTV. They were interviewed and performed their hit, “What Hurts the Most,” before toddling over to BBC Radio 2 where they were interviewed by Bob Harris. The band’s current album, Still Feels Good, will be released in the UK on Monday (Feb. 4).

Brad’s the Man
Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood are performing on the Grammy Awards on Sunday (Feb. 10). This may keep me from getting angry at the Grammy folks. On the road with his Bonfires & Amplifiers tour, Brad has the No. 1 country single with “Letter to Me,” a tribute to the folks back home in Glen Dale, W.Va. It’s his 10th No. 1. Brad is on the road with opening act Chuck Wicks, who cannot say enough positive stuff about the star.

“I am having the time of my life on tour with Brad,” Wicks explains. A former valet parking attendant, Wicks is in awe of the number of people who wait in line each night for his autograph. Chuck’s first album, Starting Now, debuted at No. 7 on the country album charts while his single, “Stealing Cinderella,” is approaching the Top 10.

Brad is a superstar these days who can pretty much call the shots. I’ve known for a while now that he wanted to record an instrumental album, and now he’s set to do just that.

Nancy, Big & Rich, Little & Poor
I never fail to read the Nancy comic strip. Guy and Brad Gilchrist include good references to country music in their work. They recently ran a caricature of Big & Rich. Playing their guitars, the Sluggo and Spike characters harmonize, “We like our country, and we like it loud.”

Sluggo says to Spike, “Man, if we had some amps we’d be awesome.”

Spike, wearing his Big & Rich cap, replies, “We’re still rocking, Sluggo.”

Turning to Nancy, who is watching the entire scenario, Sluggo says, “Me and Spike want to be huge country stars, just like Big & Rich.”

Spike adds, “Y’know, Nancy, all we have to do is think of a cool name.”

“How about Short & Poor?” Nancy offers.

Somebody needs to tell the Gilchrist boys that Little Jimmy Dickens and Bill Anderson are already booking shows as “Little & Poor.” Of course, “Po’ Folks” is the name of Anderson’s band and one of his most famous songs.

Lady Antebellum’s Connections
I’ve told you before that the beautiful girl with angelic vocals with the trio Lady Antebellum is Hillary Scott, daughter of singer Linda Davis and husband Lane Scott. Well, there is another famous relative connected to this trio. Charles Kelley is brother to singer-songwriter Josh Kelley, who has an album coming out soon. Josh married Grey’s Anatomy star Katherine Heigl in December.

For Lady Antebellum’s first major performance on the West Coast, enthusiastic fans filled the Mint in Los Angeles and spilled into the street alongside industry biggies and journalists. Lady Antebellum made their way outside after the show to thank all those who could not edge inside for the show.

Now She’s Really Miley Ray Cyrus
Named Destiny Hope at birth, she’s always been Miley Cyrus to daddy Billy Ray Cyrus. So she’s made it legal, and Miley Ray Cyrus is now her name.

Mindy McCready Is Back
In a press release headlined “Mindy McCready Goes Back to Work,” the singer issued a statement saying she was happy to be in the free world after serving jail time for violating her probation on a drug charge. She thanked friends and fans for words of encouragement while she was in jail.

“I am very fortunate to have been presented a number of great opportunities,” she said. Mindy says she plans to make the best of the opportunities and will explain more in the near future.

Even More News
I see where Brooks & Dunn and Alan Jackson will continue their tour in tandem for four additional nights in Canada in April. Cities confirmed so far include Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon and Winnipeg. If there’s more to report, I’ll let you know.

For the 11th year, Clay Walker will head to California to hit the greens at Pebble Beach in the company of celebrities like Kevin Costner, Carson Daly, Andy Garcia, Ray Romano and a bevy of other actors and some of the world’s top golf professionals.

Big & Rich are taking this year off so Big Kenny can heal from an old neck injury that has been causing problems for him. John Rich announced he’ll record a solo album, claiming he has Kenny’s blessings, and he promises Big & Rich will be back in 2008.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Corn Chowder.