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HOT DISH: Kenny's Fans Take Over Nashville
The Crowd Gets Loud and Otherwise Sane People Go Crazy for Superstar
(CMT Hot Dish is a weekly feature written by former Country Music magazine columnist Hazel Smith. Author of the cookbook, Hazel's Hot Dish: Cookin' With Country Stars, she also shares her recipes at CMT.com.)

By 5 p.m., four hours before Kenny Chesney took the stage at his Sept. 11 concert, fans had taken every parking spot in a five-mile radius of the Gaylord Entertainment Center in Music Town. Vehicles kept coming, necks kept craning, searching in vain for someplace to park. Ten or 15 blocks away, fans paraded in droves wearing cowboy hats and T-shirts that read: "To Understand, You Gotta Be a Fan" on the front and "It's a Chesney Thing" scrawled across the back. Thousands of others wore T-shirts with his face spread across their young, oversized bosoms and pecs. Scalpers on every corner were selling tickets for as much as $300-plus.

Both my niece Lisa, who sanely works in the courthouse at Greensboro, N.C., and her sane friend Crystal, a dental assistant in Eden, N.C., traveled 500 miles to see Kenny. Was this farther than anyone else traveled? No. Surely the fans are all young, I thought. Not true. Some lady in her 50s named Joyce came from "up north, someplace way farther than us," according to Lisa. Joyce has a tattooed guitar from Chesney's "Big Star" video on her ankle from 2003. And this year, Kenny autographed her same ankle which now is -- Lord help us -- a tattoo, too.

Chesney fans yell louder than Atlanta Braves baseball fans or Tennessee Titans football fans and are far more fanatical for the man at the top of the heap. His name, Kenny, is said with the same adoration that golfers say Tiger, footballers say Peyton and basketballers say Shaq.

As a further example, there's the 21-year old Georgia fan who works at Sears. She has a Kenny stand-up poster that she drags around to every show. This gal has imagination. She put on a wedding dress and had a photo of herself and the poster of Kenny posted on his fan club Web site! Now that is nervy.

And, Lordy mercy, Saturday's show was the 14th concert from the Guitars, Tiki Bars and a Whole Lot of Love tour for a first-grade school teacher from Atlanta. An apparent fan of the fiddle player, she carries a big poster that reads, "You gotta have a fiddle in the band." And dumb me, I thought it was ... well ... obscene that this was Lisa and Crystal's seventh show of 2004. After all, they are respectively 26 and 24 and married mothers. It takes all kinds.

"I don't think Alison was at the show," the girls agreed, "because Kenny sang the Conway Twitty standard, 'I'd Love to Lay You Down.' They say he never sings that song if she is there." According to fan club "chat," Alison is Kenny's main lady. I never found out exactly who "they" were -- or how Alison fits into Kenny's busy existence.

The Country Music Hall of Fame, located adjacent to the Gaylord, was crawling with Kenny fans all day, according to Jeremy, who works there weekends. "How do you know they were Kenny fans?" I asked, being none too sharp. "His face was on T-shirts, T-shirts, T-shirts," Jeremy replied. Kenny's merchandising sales must be over the top.

Born in Luttrell, Tenn., the native son wrapped his 2004 tour having sold more tickets -- $64 million worth -- than any act in any genre, according to his manager Dale Morris who brought his ace crew to the stage to make the announcement. RCA Label Group chairman Joe Galante and his crew surprised Chesney with a triple-platinum plaque for When the Sun Goes Down and almost brought the star to tears.

"David was over to the side of the stage when Dale and Joe came out," Lisa offered. David? David is Kenny's road manager. It was then I learned those girls know the name of each and every band member -- and each and every member of Kenny's road crew. Isn't that maniacal?

Oh! Lest I forget, almost 1,000 fans paid $22 each to attend a pre-show fan club gathering that convened across Broadway at the Nashville Convention Center, where the true blue fans vied for stuff like autographed Kenny paraphernalia. After waging an hour-long battle through fan traffic once the concert ended, I finally got home, and the phone rang. It was Lisa screaming, "Crystal won a T-shirt that Kenny had worn onstage and he'd autographed!"

"Had it been washed?" I inquired.

"Probably. It smelled like Bounce," she replied.

They smelled it! God in heaven help us. Do those crazed Kenny fans want to smell his sweat? Yuck!

The next morning, Lisa and Crystal left for North Carolina at 6:30. I figured the girls would get home by 4:30 p.m. It's a straight shot on I-40. But no-o-o-o. They left the interstate and drove to Luttrell and actually found and took pictures of Gibbs High School where Kenny graduated and later mentioned in his recording of "Back Where I Come From." Of course, they snapped photos all over the place. They veered off I-40 again at the Johnson City exit for more photos at East Tennessee State University, where Kenny went to college.

"We weren't the only ones!" Lisa exclaimed.

"You mean there were other addicted-to-Kenny fans there?" There were.

"Can't wait for Kenny's new CD titled Be as You Are that's coming out January 25," she sadly concluded, remembering this was his last show for '04.

With the tour ended, the $64 million superstar rode off into the blue yonder the next day at 8 a.m. on a Hooters jet headed for the Virgin Islands. For the second year, he took along his truckers, riggers, tour sponsors, accountant, road crew, band and tour publicist -- the entire kit and caboodle -- for an entire week on the beach. Each and every one had an annual, yes, a yearbook like high schoolers cherish. Except it was a surprise yearbook from the tour featuring "KC & Band 2004."

It's Been a Year

It's hard to believe, but it's been a year since the brutal news, "Johnny Cash is dead." After church on Sept. 12, the first anniversary of Cash's death, I lunched at Loco Lupes, a Mexican eatery in Hendersonville, Tenn., and was leaving as a crowd was entering. Johnny's second daughter, Kathy Cash, said hello. We embraced, and she smiled, but sadness still lingered in her dark Cash eyes. My mind went back to Johnny's funeral when elder daughter Rosanne said, "I can imagine a world without Johnny Cash, but I cannot imagine a world without Daddy."

After the Fire

One of my all-time favorite songs, "After the Fire Is Gone," was a hit by Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty in 1971 and a hit by Willie Nelson and Tracy Nelson in 1974. Sympathy goes to family of L.E. White, a fiddle-playing songwriter who wrote the song. The father of singer-songwriter Michael White, L.E. passed away at his Hendersonville, Tenn., home last week.

Tammy's Shirt

Jackie Daly, daughter of the late Tammy Wynette wrote a note on eBay thanking her mother's fans for their love and support. The note accompanied a Richard Tyler silk shirt that belonged to Tammy and, according to her daughter, was one of her mother's favorites. Beginning price was $300. I had no idea that anyone would bid that. Wrong I was. The shirt went for $709.

Sold Out?

A radio guy in East Tennessee swears Wal-Mart sold out of candles last week after he played Jeff Bates version of "Long Slow Kisses." He claims girls bought 'em. I predicted something like this would happen, following my private listening of this great single.

Urbanites Excited

Fans of the very handsome and multi-talented Keith Urban are getting excited over his first-ever headlining tour, CMT on Tour: Keith Urban Be Here '04, set to launch Oct. 8. "Days Go By," the latest single from his forthcoming album, is spending its second week at the No. 1 spot in Billboard, making five No. 1s for Urban. The new album, Be Here, will be released Tuesday (Sept. 21). Urbanites are excited, but so is Urban.

I understand Keith will appear on the Ellen DeGeneres Show at the end of September.

This 'n' That

Reba McEntire and Kenny Chesney will join a roster of greats including B.B. King and Elton John for a Tribute to Ray Charles set for Oct. 8 in Los Angeles at the Staples Center.

Tracy Lawrence is opening shows for Toby Keith's Big Throwdown tour on Oct. 8-17.
Wonder what the tour's usual opening act, Terri Clark, will be up to on those dates?

Martina McBride joins Celine Dion for her only appearance outside Las Vegas on Oct. 15 for a concert in the theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Somebody was bragging that Martina was invited by and going to work with Celine Dion. In my opinion, Celine Dion is lucky to work with our wonderful Martina.

U.S. Marine and Lyric Street recording artist Josh Gracin has finished his military service and is home. I hope the former American Idol performer's second single, "Nothin' to Lose," hits so big Josh can shoot Simon Cowell a big ole hillbilly bird -- if he wants to.

Joe Nichols will be featured in the all-new revamped Life magazine debuting Oct. 15.

Current issue of Men's Journal has a story on Tim McGraw written by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer-author Rick Bragg. I've been on these streets 30-plus years, and this may be the best article I've ever read on a country star.

Tim's big Swampstock in his hometown of Rayville, La., which was scheduled for Sunday (Sept. 19), had to be postponed due to the threat of an unwanted guest named Hurricane Ivan.

Recent live shows in Nashville: Newly signed Sony Music Nashville artist -- and one of the better musician-singer-songwriters -- Jon Randall took his talent to Bluesboro Club on Second Avenue this past week. Also, the Wildhorse Saloon featured the legendary Ronnie Milsap, and Dierks Bentley took the stage behind the Tin Roof off Demonbreun Street.

Darryl Worley, Andy Griggs and Kenny Chesney donated autographed guitars and Tim McGraw donated a signed leather jacket. This and other country music memorabilia will be auctioned off at the Trap in Nashville on Friday (Sept. 24). U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer William Murray hopes to raise money for a memorial to remember the 101st Airborne Division crew of a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter that was shot down, killing four soldiers in Iraq last year.

Big & Rich got serious long enough to perform the national anthem at Nextel's Rock 'n' Roll 400 at Richmond International Speedway in Virginia on Sept. 11.

Two great Americans, Willie Nelson and former President Jimmy Carter visited in the latter's hometown of Plains, Ga., recently. The twosome came together for a CMT special, A Homecoming in Plains, set to air in December. Willie spoke of his admiration of Carter as a man and as a president. Carter is said to have thoroughly enjoyed Willie's concert that was attended by more than 2,000 fans.

Every farmer in American loves Willie Nelson. Willie and pals John Mellancamp, Neil Young, Dave Matthews hosted the 19th annual Farm-Aid over the weekend near Seattle.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Okra and Tomatoes.
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