(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.)
I just got back from a lovely trip to the annual Country Music Expo in Indianapolis where fans of WFMS radio flocked by the thousands to the fun-filled event held April 9-10. Perfect sunshiny weather and top stars obviously added to this year's over-the-top attendance from those loyal Hoosiers who are serious fans of country music.
The main building at the state fairgrounds was converted into a showplace lined with booths selling cowboy hats, souvenirs, trinkets, funnel cakes and the like. Fans lined up at the WFMS booth to buy T-shirts and get autographs from their favorite on-air personalities. Hat-wearers lined up to ride the mechanical bull, hand-holders lined up to sing karaoke and, eventually, everyone spilled into the adjoining building to see the stars perform onstage.
Lila McCann was on the big screen singing when I arrived to be greeted with hugs and kisses from WFMS boss man Charlie Morgan, program director Bob Richards, music director J.D. Cannon and the morning crew of Jim Denny, Kevin Freeman and Deborah Honeycutt, along with Vicki Murphy, Darren Tandy, cute Steve Stuart and the marvelous and beautiful Mimi Pearce.
Blaine Larsen wanted to meet me. Blaine has such a baby face, you'd think he still has peach fuzz, but he doesn't. When he gave me the firm handshake of a politician, I knew the 19-year old is serious about stardom. Look out for this boy who is not just another wannabe.
Keith Anderson bolted out saying my name, gave me a big hug and kiss. Happy to be there, Keith was still a tad numb from his Grand Ole Opry debut the night before. "Got my picture made with Porter Wagoner," boasted Keith, who has a fine first chart single, "Pickin' Wildflowers." Jamie O'Neal and Josh Gracin sounded and looked great on the big screen.
Newbie Amber Dotson looked me up. She's been busy on the George Strait tour, searching for hits and working on her half-finished CD for Capitol. I walked with her and co-manager Donny Kees to the stage. Her long, honey-colored naturally curly hair framing her pretty Texas face reminded me of a young Rita Hayworth. What's best about Amber, she sings country.
What can you say about Mark Chesnutt? Except that he is the best honky-tonker around. I've loved Mark since he hit in 1990 with "Too Cold at Home." What you see is what you get with Mark, and what you see is a Texan who knows how to sing. You can hum Mark's hits.
Scheduled to close the Saturday show was Trisha Yearwood. I was so happy to see her. Always a beauty, Trisha was especially lovely in her trendy apricot colored over-blouse with multi-colored piping and jeans. Stately, thin and tall, her long blonde hair was hanging loose. She looked regal -- much more regal than Camilla Parker-Bowles who wed England's Prince Charles that day. Trisha and I embraced for a long time.
"I'm so happy to see you," she gushed. "I haven't sung in three years, and I'm nervous."
Trisha told me she doesn't miss Nashville, but she misses singing. She assured me she is happy and doing fine.
"Did Garth come?" I asked.
"Not this trip," she replied. "The girls are in the middle of soccer competition."
"How is he?"
"Fine," she said as they rushed her off to a meet-and-greet with fans.
One of the all-time great singers in any genre, Trisha opened her mouth in song and brought the house down. Like at the 2005 CMT Music Awards a couple of nights later when Reba McEntire, Martina McBride and others had tear-filled eyes following her performance, fans wept, screamed and gave Trisha a well-deserved standing ovation.
I'm looking forward to Trisha's new single, "Georgia Rain," and her upcoming CD later in the year.
David Ball opened the show Sunday morning, and I watched and heard him from the booth. I hope radio keeps him in my face with great songs like "Riding With Private Malone" and "Thinkin' Problem."
Trick Pony was next, followed by Billy Dean. Billy has every right to be thrilled with his hit "Let Them Be Little." It was good to spend time with Brady Seals, lead singer of the new group, Hot Apple Pie. I've known Brady since his Little Texas days when he'd play keyboards and climb atop the piano. Miranda Lambert, a pretty girl with a good future, did a fine job Sunday afternoon. A songwriter's showcase followed.
Joe Nichols took my breath away. With movie star good looks and curly black hair, he possesses one of the best country voices around. I've started an all-out crusade to promote Joe Nichols. Women who love men -- and men who are man enough -- can become a part of this free-for-all campaign. Each day, all you do is ask five people, "Have you heard Joe Nichols sing today?" until everybody in the universe knows his music.
It was good seeing Tracy Lawrence sober and singing great. Several years and many songs ago, Tracy was a real mess when I blatantly told him, "I must love you more than you love yourself. God has given you a great voice, and you're destroying it." Years later, Tracy introduced me to his wife by saying, "If it wasn't for this woman, I might be dead."
Louise (Mrs. Earl) Scruggs says Travis Tritt is the greatest male singer in country music. Louise is not far from right. What a voice he has. Travis closed the show big time.
Anna Nicole Smith Came to Town
Don't ask me how Anna Nicole Smith rated a front row seat at the Grand Ole Opry, but she did. After seeing her on an awards show where she pushed up her bosoms -- and rumors followed like "she must have been on something" -- I was surprised she got a front seat of honor and horrified to learn she joined the Opry square dancers. While dancing, I've been told Anna Nicole unwrapped her wraparound dress to reveal she was wearing a nude colored bra and white thong.
Howard Bellamy Weds Again
Photos of the Bellamy Brothers' Howard Bellamy with his new bride, the former Jennifer Wright, made me smile. With his white hair and moustache, Howard looked like he could have been his bride's grandpa. Word is Howard surprised his bride with a 4.5-carat wedding ring. The couple wed in Vegas April 6.
Gretchen Wilson, flirting with both sides of the Atlantic, is off to Europe to talk about her Here for the Party deluxe DVD package.
After winning the best video prize at the 2005 CMT Music Awards for "Days Go By," Keith Urban called his mom in Australia. Good sons do that.
Trick Pony got their faces painted on the side of Bobby Labonte's NASCAR truck. Cool.
Condolences to Kimberly Roads of the group, Big Town, on the sudden passing of her husband, 41-year-old Steve Roads, who died of a heart attack. Also sympathy to Aaron Tippin on the death of his dad, killed driving his pickup on a narrow, curvy road near his North Carolina home. The 78-year-old Tippin was a World War II fighter pilot and his son's hero.
President George W. Bush has artists on his iPod that I have in my CD player: George Jones, Kenny Chesney and Alan Jackson. Somebody tell the prez to add George Strait, Lee Ann Womack and some good bluegrass.
Sara Evans did a great job hosting Nashville Star as a fill-in for ailing LeAnn Rimes. Rimes is on vocal rest for damaged vocal cords from coughing during a recent bout with bronchitis.
Willie Nelson will host his 32nd Fourth of July Picnic in Texas at the Fort Worth Stockyards. Bob Dylan and Los Lonely Boys will join Willie and 20 other acts for the event.
The late Johnny Cash would have loved Loretta Lynn receiving the CMT Visionary Award bearing his name.
See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Beef Roast a la Hazel.