(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 shares her recipes at CMT.com.)
Down on Music Row, they're not referring to this year's event as the CMA Awards. They call it the Kix & Ronnie Show after Brooks & Dunn's wins last week.
Brooks & Dunn were hired as hosts of the Nov. 6 show and performed the opening song, "Building Bridges." They had no way of knowing that CMA voters were going to award them single of the year and music video of the year for "Believe" and that Ronnie Dunn and Craig Wiseman would share the song of the year honor for writing the hit. Rascal Flatts were recognized as vocal group of the year, the only other category featured on the show before Brooks & Dunn were named vocal duo for yet another year. Keep in mind, fans, Dunn and his sidekick Kix Brooks had no idea the night would go that way for them, but if you love country music, you love "Believe."
The surprise of the night for me was Carrie Underwood being named female vocalist. I'm not saying Carrie doesn't deserve the award. She does, but so do the other four nominees -- Sara Evans, Faith Hill, Martina McBride and Gretchen Wilson. Honest to God, when they said Carrie's name, I threw up both hands and said, "What!" That's exactly what I did -- and exactly what Faith did, too. I knew Carrie would take home the Horizon Award, but I assumed one of the other four would be named female vocalist. A real beauty, Carrie sang great and is a major act whose album just went quadruple platinum, so she got the trophy.
For some reason, the show lacked excitement. With 19 performances, the music didn't move me like it did in past years. There were special moments, however, like Brad Paisley's incredible guitar playing on "She's Everything," Dierks Bentley giving his all when he sang "Every Mile a Memory," Sara Evans' flawless vocals (and ringless finger) on "Real Fine Way to Start" and George Strait singing "Give It Away." Vince Gill's soaring vocals on "What You Give Away" was lyrically perfect.
Keith Urban was named male vocalist in absentia. A most touching moment was when Dunn read the note written from Urban, written while he's in an alcohol abuse rehabilitation center, thanking the CMA, Capitol Records, his management, fans, family and producer Dann Huff and also sending his love to his wife Nicole. The audience gave Keith and his note a well-deserved standing ovation.
Congratulations to a deserving bunch of winners. To Faith: This, too, shall pass. Just close your eyes and let your name lead you!
BMI Honors Writers/Names Icon
The best part of the recent BMI Awards in Nashville came when the ever-wonderful John Anderson honored BMI Icon recipient Merle Haggard with a killer version of "Workin' Man Blues." The Hag led the crowd in a standing ovation. Martina McBride's performance of Merle's classic "Today I Started Loving You Again" was breathtaking. Seated, Hank Williams Jr. grabbed an acoustic guitar and started singing "Are the Good Times Really Over (I Wish a Buck Was Still Silver)" but lost his thread and forgot the words.
"What's the line, Merle?" Hank asked. Hag eased up the steps, removed his hat -- revealing his balding, white hair as he bent over Hank to sing into the microphone. When Hank suddenly kissed Merle's head, chills ran all over me. I said, "Bless Hank's heart. He never got to kiss his own daddy."
Merle sang "Mama Tried," and it was over. I mentioned my feelings to a few friends. The next morning, Haggard associate Frank Mull called me, and I told him how Hank's kiss affected me. Later that evening, both Merle and Hank were performing at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in downtown Nashville. Frank told them my feelings, and then called me back to ask me to repeat what I had said. By then, Hank had already left the building, but Merle told Frank that he'd actually felt the presence of Hank Williams Sr. that night. More chills.
Bits and Pieces From the BMI Awards
"I'm here to see Merle Haggard," gushed a stunning Alison Krauss.
It's always special to get a hug from the great Bobby Braddock.
"I wonder who does Ronnie Dunn's hair?" some lady asked.
Songwriter Even Stevens explained to my escort, Dan Rogers, how I fed him doughnuts in my office and kept him from starving in the early days. He and Eddie Rabbitt were so skinny.
I shook hands with BMI prez Del Bryant and his brother, Dane. Two great men of the music industry -- Sony BMG Nashville chairman Joe Galante and CMA President Clarence Spalding -- crossed the room to give me a hug.
BNA newcomer Sarah Johns from East Kentucky and her date, Jason Sellers, sat next to us, as did attorney Mike Milom and his wife and BNA/VP Debbie Swartz. Montgomery Gentry were at the next table with manager John Dorris. Randy Owen sat with his manager, Dale Morris.
The legendary Earl Scruggs was with his son, Gary, at table No. 22. The Country Music Hall of Fame member's younger son, Randy, led the band for the BMI event and was later named musician of the year at the CMA Awards.
Hall of Famers Jim Fogelsong, Bill Anderson, Eddy Arnold, Kris Kristofferson, Frances Preston, Jo Walker-Meador and, of course, Haggard were recognized as was Nashville mayor Bill Purcell.
Then I said hello to BMI's big winner, Toby Keith, who shared the Robert J. Burton Award with co-writer Scotty Emerick for "As Good as I Once Was," BMI's most-played song of the year. Toby also shared songwriter of the year honors with Vicky McGehee and Ed Hill.
"I won song of the year honors tonight," Toby told me exclusively. "I wrote the most-performed song of this year. Why am I not nominated by the CMA in any category?" Toby pointed to his BMI trophy and continued, "No entertainer of the year nomination. No male vocalist. No single or song or album nomination. The most performed song of the year? I just don't understand."
Well, if I understand it correctly, there are 6,000-plus voting members in the CMA. Toby thinks he'd get the awards if they were decided by the fans -- rather than by those working in the music industry. He may be right.
Here and There
With wife Faith Hill by his side, Tim McGraw honored his late father, baseball great Tug McGraw, recently in Philadelphia during a fundraising event for the Tug McGraw Foundation, a national organization that supports research to improve the quality of life for brain tumor patients and their families.
Kellie Pickler's Small Town Girl debuted atop Billboard's country album charts. The American Idol finalist met her all-time hero, Martina McBride, at Sony BMG's party following the CMA Awards. The newcomer got all teary and actually openly wept. Kind and gentle Martina took Kellie's hand and introduced her all around the room.
You won't want to miss CMT Giants honoring Reba McEntire airing Saturday night (Nov. 18) at 8 p.m. ET/PT featuring Dolly Parton, Trisha Yearwood, Faith Hill, LeAnn Rimes, Wynonna, Martina McBride and Jennifer Nettles and appearances by James Denton, Barbara Mandrell and others. Plenty surprises on this show that was recently taped in Hollywood.
While you're at it, you can catch Southern Fried Flicks With Hazel Smith airing Sunday (Nov. 19) at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CMT. I'm cooking chicken and dumplings, my guests are the Grascals -- and George Strait is starring in Pure Country. Girls, you ain't seen nothing until you see George Strait shirtless.
See this week's Hot Dish Recipe of the Week: Chicken and Dumplings.