(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.)
Of all the many attractions in Tennessee, it was country music -- and one particular superstar -- that brought U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to Music Town.
Obviously agog with excitement during his recent visit to the Grand Ole Opry, Rumsfeld was enjoying the show from the front row when he accepted Dolly Parton's invitation to join her onstage. When the applause died down, he exclaimed, "You are terrific!"
He also thanked the troops for their service to our nation and thanked country music stars for supporting the troops by performing in Iraq, Afghanistan and other locations overseas. Troops at Camp Victory in Baghdad watched Rumsfeld's appearance live via satellite at 4 a.m. Iraq time.
Days later, the word I got was that Rumsfeld, back in D.C., cannot quit talking about the wonderful music he heard in Nashville and his great new friend, Dolly. As a matter of fact, someone who knows told me Rumsfeld made his plans to come down when he knew he'd get to see Dolly.
When the Opry's big red curtain was opened earlier in the evening, the entire audience greeted Dolly with a standing ovation. Backed by the Grascals, Dolly and the band performed "Viva Las Vegas" and followed it up with her favorite song -- the self-penned classic, "Coat of Many Colors" -- and Tennessee's state song, "Rocky Top." On the second show, Dolly's former singing partner, Porter Wagoner, joined her for a few tunes, including their first duo hit from 1967, "The Last Thing on My Mind."
It was freezing cold outside, yet Jo Dee Messina was wearing what looked like a bib -- with her entire back bare. She performed a couple of her hits. I hear Jo Dee's new CD contains a photo of her covered in little more than the song titles.
Newcomers Hanna-McEuen also performed a couple of songs. Those cute, talented boys are the sons of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's Jeff Hanna and John McEuen.
I got hugs from the Whites and Bill Anderson. "How ya doin'?" asked Anderson. "Not as good as you, Mr. 'Whiskey Lullaby'," I replied, referring to the Brad Paisley-Alison Krauss hit Anderson co-wrote with Jon Randall. I'm such a hillbilly, I loved the royal blue Manuel suit with white piping Anderson was wearing and told him so.
Little Jimmy Dickens told me he'd just returned from eight days at the Mayo Clinic. "All this is new," said the 84-year-old Dickens, patting his chest. Dickens is another Manuel suit wearer.
"So glad to see you," said the lovely Dolly. She asked about my health and my recent hospital stay. Dressed in white and her red lips smiling, Dolly, as always, looked terrific.
Joe Nichols sang as great as he did at Country Expo in Indianapolis. Riders in the Sky, who performed their 5,000th show recently in Ohio, sang one of their Western songs.
Pretty and talented, Catherine Britt sang like an angel and looked like a model in her short black dress and long blond hair. "Got a scoop for you," she allowed, then noting that her next single, "Is This Where We Both Say Goodbye," is the duet she recorded with Elton John.
The beautiful Connie Smith told me she loved me, adding, "My husband [Marty Stuart] loves you, too." Marty, according to Connie, was performing in Texas.
After that, I went home reminiscing about Dolly and three other Country Music Hall of Fame members who hailed from East Tennessee -- Chet Atkins, Carl Smith and Roy Acuff. The town of Luttrell, Tenn., alone, can claim two superstars -- Chet and hillbilly hottie Kenny Chesney. Thinking of them and all the beauty of East Tennessee left me wondering if it's the water or the moonshine or the Great Smoky Mountains that's responsible for the natural born talent of all those stars.
Dierks Goes Platinum
The whole world knows Today's Katie Couric came to Music Town last week and went riding around with that cute Dierks Bentley in his truck with his dog, Jake. Capitol Nashville's Fletcher Foster called the gal who books the Tonight Show to say, "Dierks Bentley is having a platinum celebration tonight. But right now, he's with Katie Couric, driving around Music Row in his truck." So Dierks got his first Tonight booking for May 16.
Couric showed up at Dierks' party, and was I surprised to see that she is tiny -- about an inch taller than Brenda Lee and Little Jimmy Dickens. She seemed smitten by Dierks, fanning like a schoolgirl when he sang his next single, "Come a Little Bit Closer." Katie also rode around with Big & Rich in their retro red, finned Cadillac convertible, visited Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, bought boots and a jacket at Robert's Western World, had Kenny Chesney sing three songs on Today and welcomed Martina McBride, Sara Evans and Diamond Rio to the show.
I hear Trisha Yearwood renamed her current single "Georgia Rain." If the rumor I heard is true, the song's original title was "Albany Rain." "Georgia Rain" is more commercial. Nobody ever heard of "Rainy Night in Albany," but everybody knows that "Rainy Night in Georgia" has been sung in every musical genre. Trisha, you smart girl.
Chris LeDoux's Honors Are Still Rolling In
The journey continues for the late Chris LeDoux. The singer and rodeo pro will be honored and remembered with the Academy of Country Music's Pioneer Award during the 40th annual ACM Awards. His biggest supporter in the music business, Garth Brooks, will accept the award on behalf of LeDoux's family during the May 17 awards show in Las Vegas. LeDoux will also be inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame on July 16 in Colorado Springs, Colo. In 2000, LeDoux underwent a successful liver transplant, but he lost his battle with cancer on March 9 at the age of 56.
Larry the Cable Guy is No. 1 on the country album charts for a fourth consecutive week.
Lonestar's Michael Britt and his wife Rene welcomed a new baby daughter, Hillary Quinn, on April 25.
Montgomery Gentry's Eddie Montgomery was a judge at last week's bourbon tasting contest in his hometown, Lexington, Ky. Don't you know MG's sponsor, Jim Beam, had the edge? The event benefited the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and the Cancer Center at Lexington.
Tracy Lawrence recently served as the celebrity guest of the Alzheimer's Association's annual fundraising dinner in Fort Worth, Texas. Tracy is working to increase an awareness of the disease.
Travis Tritt and Sony Music Nashville have parted ways.
Watching the Dixie Chicks' video of "Goodbye Earl" on CMT reminded me how great they are and how much I miss them. I see that banjo playing Emily and Charlie Robison named their new twins Juliana Tex and Henry Benjamin. With Emily on banjo and her sister Martie Maguire on fiddle, the Dixie Chicks gave the instruments a better reputation. Nowadays, I notice acts try to emulate the Chicks but fail miserably. Record execs eyeball a generic act dancing across a stage wearing tight, short, low-cut outfits and say, "Oh, they're good as the Dixie Chicks." Unless the banjo player can play like Earl Scruggs, Charlie Cushman, Dave Talbot or Emily and unless the fiddle player can play like Aubrey Haynie, Jimmy Mattingly, Shadd Cobb or Martie, don't go there. Don't try to fool fans.
See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Fruit Cocktail Cake.