HOT DISH: The New Year Will Be Good for Country Music

Taylor Swift, Kenny Chesney, Carrie Underwood Will Remain Bright Spots in 2009

(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 CMT.com.)

Here we go again. Hacks and flaks … drinking, scratching and opinionating. There are those who always groan and moan, “Worst year of music ever.” Then there are the copycats who sit around sipping their booze while agreeing with anyone who seems to be in charge of the conversation. But thank goodness for the think-positive ones who always love the music or find something to love about it. Losers, boozers and lovers. There you be: year after year … same story, different faces.

The economy has us tense and uptight. Times have been better, but they’ve been worse, too. But there’s hope as long as Kenny Chesney can sell out the Gillette Stadium near Boston in less than 10 hillbilly minutes the year before the concert is even due to occur.

Just as long as there is great music like the most-played song of the year, “Just Got Started Loving You” by James Otto, we are doing marvelously.

We’re OK as long as there are highlights like the Carnival Ride tour where CMA/ACM female vocalist of the year Carrie Underwood performed for 1.2 million fans in 2008. On top of that, she’s up for a Grammy, became a member of the Grand Ole Opry, and her “Just a Dream” video reigned supreme on CMT and her “All-American Girl” was the most-streamed video on CMT.com.

When Ashton Shepherd, a tomato-raising hillbilly gal with a deep Alabama twangy drawl, can still find her way to Music Town while walking, talking, writing, singing and playing her guitar like Hank Williams Sr., there’s big-time hope for us.

And lastly, the top-selling and amazing Taylor Swift is all over the place at every concert hall or festival, on every TV show and awards show, on every magazine cover and every chart as she’s writing, producing, singing and playing her way into the heart of each and every tween and teen within the sound of her voice. And she’s still not yet out of her teens, herself, so that gives us plenty of hope.

Beyond that, there’s hope that superstar country acts such as Brad Paisley, Dierks Bentley, Keith Urban, Reba McEntire, Tim McGraw, Toby Keith, Rascal Flatts, Brooks & Dunn, Martina McBride, Montgomery Gentry, Trace Adkins, George Strait, Alan Jackson and Faith Hill are all primed and ready to see us through 2009 with flying colors.

And the New Year will be mighty fine if I can hear more music from Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert and Joe Nichols.

Up and comers like the marvelous Kellie Pickler, the Zac Brown Band and Jamey Johnson just kill me. Pretty Julianne Hough can sing, and so can her boyfriend Chuck Wicks. Lady Antebellum has already hit the ground running, and Randy Houser might just take off like a 747. I’m also betting on Carolina boys Jason Michael Carroll and Bucky Covington. And then there are the handsome Luke Bryan and good-looking Jake Owen.

I’m looking for blue skies and thinking positive.

Eric Church Goes to the Ball
I see where Eric Church will perform at the North Carolina inaugural ball on Jan. 9 for governor-elect Beverly Perdue at the brand new convention center in the state capital of Raleigh. Eric will perform the title track from his upcoming album, Carolina, set for a March 24 release on Capitol Records. Seems someone from the Perdue’s organization heard Eric’s song and decided it needed to be a part of the celebration.

Brooks & Dunn Help Celebrate Rodeo’s Anniversary
“Cowboy Town,” the title track of Brooks & Dunn’s current album, helped the cowboys celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. In addition to performing the song live, the award-winning duo created a special video performance that was interspersed with rodeo footage and shown throughout the event. “Cowboy Town” is also one of the rodeo and cowboy-themed songs on the three-CD set, Boots, Buckles & Spurs: 50 Songs Celebrate 50 Years of Cowboy Tradition, compiled in conjunction with the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association (PRCA) and the Wrangler NFR 50th Anniversary.

Bits & Pieces
I heard that Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley proposed on Christmas Day to publicist Cassie McConnell, his girlfriend of two years. And all this time I’ve been reminding Lady A’s Hillary Scott how cute Charles was.

Jamie O’Neal did a rousing version of the national anthem at Chicago’s Soldier Field before the game between the Bears and the New Orleans Saints.

Kenny Chesney’s got more awards than Bill Gates has dollars, yet he’s come up with another. Kenny now has the distinction of being Country Aircheck‘s country artist of the year after spending 25 percent of 2008 at No. 1.

A Hollywood legend and a country superstar have volunteered their time to film spots in support of the Honor Flight Network, a nonprofit organization that arranges and finances flights for veterans to visit their memorial in Washington, D.C. Clint Eastwood and Trace Adkins were at the top of the organization’s wish list and both agreed to give of their time.

Toby Keith’s second motion picture, Beer for My Horses, is CMT’s second highest-rated premiere of the year — only behind the CMT Music Awards. His current single, “God Love Her,” is one of the fastest-rising singles of his career. That Toby is multi-media these days.

Billy Ray Cyrus headed back to Tennessee with his family for the holidays and showed up unannounced to surprise nurses, doctors and the young patients at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. In addition to his guitar, Billy Ray also brought along his superstar daughter, Miley Cyrus. A few days later, Billy Ray performed for a sold-out crowd at the Wildhorse Saloon in downtown Nashville, where Miley and her brother, Trace, joined their dad in song.

Well, there’s a Toby Keith item followed by a Billy Ray Cyrus item — and Shania Twain has been on our minds since she showed up at the CMA Awards in November, looking as hot as ever. Don’t you dare ever forget the importance of what one person can do in this business. Remember the name: Harold Shedd. He’s the man who had the presence of mind to sign all three to Mercury Records — Toby, Billy Ray and Shania.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Red Velvet Cake.