HOT DISH: Ashton Shepherd Still Enjoys the Rural Life

More News About Jo Dee Messina, Emerson Drive, Garth Brooks and Others

(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

When I first heard Ashton Shepherd sing, my breath almost left my body. I finally met her last April in Indianapolis and felt as though I had known her all my life. When she came to my kitchen recently, Ashton and I were like longtime friends.

Her debut album, Sounds So Good, was rated as one of the year’s finest on a bevy of “best of” lists at the close of 2008. Her clear, nasal vocals — performing her homemade songs — grabbed the attention of music lovers who pay attention.

Ashton had been off the road for about a month when she came by the house to shoot CMT’s Southern Fried Flicks. I wanted to cook food she liked, so I made chicken pie, okra and tomatoes, crowder peas, ambrosia and apple pie. I think I hit a home run, especially with the okra and tomatoes. Ashton dug in for seconds and thirds, and so did her hubby, Roland.

Ashton and Roland live in a single-wide mobile home behind his parents’ house in Leroy, Ala., surrounded by acres of tomatoes, collards, peas and corn. Between the two residences, Roland and his brother built a 12×16 picking shed. They enjoy the pool table, and they hang their instruments on the wall. A bunch of big-time drinkers from the neighborhood decided they’d party there, but they quickly found out that the picking shed is for picking, not partying. Even the couple’s 3-year-old son, James, plays his drums along with mama’s album.

“We could build us a $500,000 house, but the trailer is comfortable and easy to keep clean, and there’s no house payment,” Roland laughed. “We farm four acres and used to farm 32 acres but don’t have time to do that anymore.” Roland smiled when Ashton told me her daddy had a “sloshing cooler” in his truck when he came to the hospital when James was born.

She and Kellie Pickler opened shows during Sugarland’s 2008 tour. Returning home on Dec. 12, just in time for the holidays, Ashton has been busy writing songs.

“I’ve written 10 new ones,” she said. She’ll no doubt perform some of those when she opens shows for Little Big Town and others this year.

The premiere date of Ashton’s visit on Southern Fried Flicks is Feb. 22. You won’t want to miss this fun-filled show with Billy Crystal starring in City Slickers.

Baby Makes Three for Jo Dee and Husband
Jo Dee Messina and husband Chris Deffenbaugh welcomed the arrival of their first child, Noah Roger Deffenbaugh, on Jan. 19 in Nashville. He weighed 6 pounds, 15 ounces.

Emerson Drive Vocalist Happy for Safe Landing
Emerson Drive lead singer Brad Mates and wife Jana were flying from Maine to Nashville when their plane was diverted to Ronald Reagan Airport in Washington, D.C. As the plane made its descent, the captain announced they were going to make a change in airports because they needed a longer runway. Ten minutes later, the captain announced to expect a rough landing. Flight attendants then announced repeatedly, “Duck and brace.”

When they came to a stop, fire trucks, ambulances and other safety vehicles were all over the runway. Passengers clapped, cheered and cried for joy that they arrived safely. Apparently, the plane’s wing flaps would not work when the pilot was cleared for landing.

Forecast Calls for Country Thunder in Arizona
Country Thunder, the huge music festival in Florence, Ariz., is taking place April 1-4 with appearances by Alan Jackson, Tim McGraw, Montgomery Gentry, Blake Shelton, the Zac Brown Band, Keith Anderson, Little Big Town, Rodney Atkins, Jack Ingram, Tracy Lawrence, Heidi Newfield, Jason Michael Carroll, the Lost Trailers, Neal McCoy, the Bellamy Brothers, Diamond Rio and hosts Williams & Ree. It’s quite lineup already, and other artists are expected to be added in the weeks to come.

Thoughts About the Inaugural
Bless your heart and mine. Since my last column ran, the free world has a brand new leader. It is my humble prayer that President Barack Obama will accomplish all he hopes to for this great nation. He’s got a fine cabinet, and if he stays in touch with the man upstairs, I believe the country will prosper again.

There was a lot of music surrounding the inauguration, and leave it to Garth Brooks to energize the Obama crowd at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. A large slate of top performers showed up and sang, but it was Garth-man who brought down the house with his three songs. Kid Rock and Faith Hill performed at two separate inaugural balls attended by the Obamas.

I really thought Aretha Franklin was in powerful voice when she sang “My Country ’Tis of Thee” during the inauguration. What about those prayers! The new president sure chose two praying preachers to participate in his inauguration ceremony.

And back in Texas, Rodney Adkins, Lee Greenwood and the Gatlin Brothers performed for the outgoing President and Mrs. Bush to welcome them home to the city of Midland. An estimated 30,000 people showed up for the celebration.

More News
Grand Ole Opry star Little Jimmy Dickens has been moved from the hospital to a rehab facility following brain surgery to repair a subdural hematoma.

Keith Urban has named his new album Defying Gravity. Look for it in stores on March 31.

Luke Bryan has been named honorary chairman of National Hunting and Fishing Day. The Leesburg, Ga., native grew up hunting, fishing and farming with his dad.

The ACM Awards will originate live from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on April 5. The following night, the ACM and CBS will tape an artist of the decade special honoring the great George Strait.

Blake Shelton has been invited to open shows for Strait. Julianne Hough is also an opening act for the Strait-man.

Julianne Hough will also be opening shows for Toby Keith along with Jason Aldean and Jack Ingram.

Holly Williams, daughter of Hank Williams Jr. and granddaughter of Hank Williams, has signed with Mercury Records. Her new music will be out this summer.

Good-hearted Kenny Chesney has announced his Aug. 22 show at Detroit’s Ford Field will include a “working people section” with a ticket price of $29.50. You don’t get this kind of a deal from rock ’n’ rollers and rappers.

Congratulations to Brad Paisley. I see where the first dates of his 2009 Paisley Party tour were sold out.

Fans, if you’re driving through Twang Town, do yourself a huge favor and stop by the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum to see the brand new Trace Adkins spotlight exhibit that’s set to run through August.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Chocolate Fudge.