(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 CMT.com.)
Looking rather patriotic in his red ball cap, loose white T-shirt, blue shorts and sneakers, Kenny Chesney was describing his "double-T" stage last week as I arrived at the Sommet Center in downtown Nashville. Words still ringing in my ears: "He's just inviting 15 people for the final rehearsal," promised PR rep Wes Vause. "Kenny wants you to come."
"No seats," I heard Kenny say as I waited for a chair. "Fans will stand in the sand."
"They stand anyway," I thought as Kenny continued and used the word "thrust." I learned the thrust is the long lane of the stage that reaches over the sand and into the audience to the first "T." At that junction, a second thrust begins and stretches 30 feet into the crowd to the second "T." Stars will be parading up and down the thrust during the shows to provide a special closeness to the fans.
"Lordy, I hope Kenny's crazed female fans don't pull him off that thrust and into the sand with them," I heard myself mumble to anyone who was nearby. Before performing at the rehearsal for his 2008 Poets & Pirates tour, Kenny welcomed each person with a hug, except me. He hugged and kissed me and told me he loved me.
As for the concert production, a golden curtain falls to show a skeletal face (wearing Kenny's hat), palm trees swinging in the breeze, a pirate's flag and ships rocking on the sea. As the curtain is slowly lifted to show total darkness on an eerie, empty stage, the seven-piece band and four-piece horn section appear out of nowhere. And in the middle of all this, an elevator raises Kenny onto the stage as he sings "Love Those Songs" with two huge screens on either side of the stage and another above. Kenny performs "Young" as his incredible life story in flashes in photos -- baby Kenny, little boy Kenny, first grade Kenny, football and baseball Kenny, etc.
"Big Star," "Summertime," "Keg in the Closet" and "Wild Ride" are just a few of the exciting hits Kenny brings during the one hour and 45 minutes. Fans, the big star is bringing you the biggest show of 2008. You will thoroughly enjoy it.
Kenny debuts his Poets & Pirates 2008 tour with shows Friday and Saturday (April 18-19) in Uncasville, Conn. His first stadium concert is on April 26 in Columbia, S.C.
After witnessing the rehearsal, I headed home knowing I'd just seen and been kissed by the biggest star in all of country music -- the performing machine, Kenny Chesney. I wish all the young acts could take humility lessons from Kenny. He hasn't changed one iota.
Brad Paisley's Perfect 10
I've been going to Music Row parties for more years than Brad Paisley is old, but I must say that the one Thursday (April 10) was one of the more entertaining and emotional events I've ever attended. It was billed as "A Perfect 10 With Brad Paisley" in celebration of 10 No. 1 singles, 10 million records sold and 10 years with Arista Records.
The singer's dad, Doug Paisley, once again pulled that old red guitar amplifier on stage for the attendees to see. This is the amp he took along to the many gigs his son played throughout his young years.
Arista's main man, Joe Galante, hosted the event and introduced Brad's compadres from college -- Kelley Lovelace (next door neighbor and co-writer) and Frank Rogers (record producer and co-writer), Chris DuBois (a co-writer and business partner who has been a friend since Brad's internship at ASCAP in Nashville) and Connie Bradley (ASCAP's vice president and Brad's former boss). Like a family affair, tears filled eyes with pride and memories.
The 88-year-old Little Jimmy Dickens was there in his red jacket, white shirt, blue slacks and cowboy hat. I can't even find the words to describe the look of love and pride in his eyes as he looked at Brad.
Brad mustered up all the strength he had to state his feelings, and it was not an easy task. He's accustomed to appearing in front of a crowd of 20,000 fans, but the party put him in the position of facing those who had been there on his team since day one of his career. Tim DuBois, the man who originally signed him to Arista, was there, as were all the hacks and flaks wearing the same proud smile they had when Paisley released his first CD. Brad sensed this and took it to heart.
He was on the verge of tears several times as he explained his love for his Nashville home and all his friends. Galante and staff commissioned Jim Sherraden at Hatch Show Print to design a huge career poster depicting the events of Brad's illustrious career.
Brad is proud of the fact that he's kept his music country, and he's thankful radio has played his records. Music City is lucky to call Brad Paisley its son, and Middle Tennessee is proud Brad calls it home.
Dierks on a Trek to Three Continents
Five short years ago Dierks Bentley was playing Music City's dives and hanging out at the Station Inn, learning musical chops from bluegrass musician Terry Eldredge. During 2008, Dierks is set to headline some of the biggest music festivals in the U.S., and he will also travel to Canada, England, Ireland, Norway, France and Japan before summer is over. He's the only country act tapped for Lollapalooza in Chicago, and he'll also travel to Sturgis, S.D., for Bike Week.
Years ago, George D. Hay, the Solemn Old Judge at the Grand Ole Opry, used to tell the hillbillies, "Keep it close to the ground, boys." He knew if this great music went to the singer's head and didn't come from the heart, there'd be trouble. As long as we've got Dierks working his butt off on the hillbilly highway, the music is in good hands. Dierks does keep it close to the ground.
Movies and More Movies
Josh Turner will be featured in Billy: The Early Years, a movie about Billy Graham that's being filmed in Middle Tennessee. Turner will play the role of Graham's musical counterpart, George Beverly Shea. They need extras to be featured in the movie.
And speaking of extras, when Disney execs put out the word that they needed extras for the Hannah Montana movie, would you believe 6,000 kids showed up for the audition?
Toby Keith took a touring break in March to star in Beer for My Horses, his second film, which he produced jointly with CMT.
Randy Owen Honored for Charity work
As a member of the legendary group Alabama, lead singer Randy Owen was showered with well over 150 music industry awards. Next month, though, he will be honored not for his music but for his heart. Friends of the National Library of Medicine have chosen him to receive the Paul G. Rogers Public Service Award for his many years of work with St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Randy will be honored during ceremonies in Washington, D.C., on May 13.
It was 1989 when Danny Thomas approached Randy about working with St. Jude in Memphis. Busy Randy first said no, but once the he visited the hospital and saw the kids, he found time. Thanks to Randy, Country Cares for St. Jude Kids became a reality through fundraisers at country radio stations all across this great land of ours. More than $315 million has been raised to date. Thanks, Randy.
The Cowboy Is Numero Uno
King George Strait moved more than 160,000 copies of his new Troubadour album to make his third No. 1 Billboard 200 pop chart and his 11th debut at the top of the country albums charts. Just so you know, the Cowboy is always No. 1 on the Hazel Chart. Whew!
See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Pinto Bean Casserole.