(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.)
There was a world of difference in Joe Nichols last week and what he was like when he made his previous appearance with me on CMT's Southern Fried Flicks. This time, he wasn't nervous or edgy. He was sure of himself and ready to admit past problems.
In fact, Joe seemed a lot like George Strait, the superstar he'll emulate in October when he begins rehearsals in New York City for the Broadway production of Pure Country. Joe will be taking on the role of Rusty, and George was cast as Dusty in the film version.
Lorrie Morgan has been cast in the role of Rusty's ruthless manager, Lula, portrayed in the film by Lesley Ann Warren. Familiar with his work, Lorrie calls Joe an amazing talent, and she's very excited about working with him on Broadway.
But for now, Joe has a wonderful country album titled Old Things New that will be released Oct. 27. The first single is "Believers," a song that says all you think and know can (and will) come to pass if you only believe. I like to say, "Just believe. Don't worry or complain, and the wonderful things of life will fall in your lap." Some call it a miracle, but we know the maker of miracles, don't we?
Between now and October, there are beau coups of fair and festival appearances in Joe's future. These days, he looks to tomorrow with a positive attitude and a smile. With his marriage to Heather, Joe's life is just the best. He readily gives her credit for getting him over the hill that was almost a mountain.
New York is a mighty big town, and Joe just smiles and shakes his head when it's mentioned. Heather loves the idea of living there. She accompanied him up there in June when he performed at the Songwriters Hall of Fame and blew away those music industry bigwigs wearing their expensive gowns and suits. Joe was the man the crowd was talking about at the end of the night.
Joe is always there to help people, too, and he hasn't forgotten the men and women in uniform. He went to Iraq last year and plans to perform there again if and when he's needed. More recently, he finished a show Raleigh, N.C., and jumped on his tour bus to appear in Easley, S.C., at a public school catering to students who have not been successful in a typical school environment. When Joe read the invitation to visit, he immediately recognized that the kids had the same symptoms he experienced during his iffy childhood. Joe sang to them and talked to them. But more important than that, he gave them hope.
Rehab did Joe a world of good. It's worth noting that his favorite song on the new album is titled "An Old Friend of Mine." It's about finally saying goodbye to his old friend -- the bottle. Wait until you hear it.
Zac Brown Is Blessed
Zac Brown is a happy man. He called me a few days ago after being in Nashville for the taping of Larry the Cable Guy's Hula-Palooza Christmas Luau, a special airing on CMT in November.
Since topping the country chart with "Chicken Fried," Zac has been busier than a set of jumper cables at a country funeral. His follow-up, "Whatever It Is," was a woman's song sung by a man. It's no wonder the single went gold. "Toes" is out there now. Every time I see the video, it makes me want to go back to Destin, Fla., and put my toes in the water and another part of me in the sand.
Daughter Justice is 2, and she was busy kissing her daddy while he was talking to me on the phone. And I could hear little Lucy chattering like 15-month-old girls do. With another daughter due in September, Zac plans to stay close to home until the baby arrives. (They'll name her Georgia.) With Zac's wife receiving doctor's orders for bed rest, they're getting some help from his mother-in-law and a nanny.
Over the holidays in 2008, the Zac Brown Band and Kellie Pickler accompanied Kid Rock to Iraq to entertain our troops. "Best thing I did all year," allowed Zac. Then he mumbled sweet words about the babies and their mama. "She is so beautiful," Zac concluded.
With a wife who loves him and a third daughter on the way, Zac says he is blessed. I'll tell you what, Zac, I feel blessed to know you.
Sending love and prayers to Billy Currington, Gary Allan, Kevin Costner and their band members who were in harm's way at the Big Valley Jamboree in Canada when the stage collapsed on Aug. 1. One fan was killed and 75 injured. When you're talking about a tragedy such as this, the loss of material possessions pales in comparison. However, Gary Allan's Gibson J-200 acoustic guitar was destroyed. Autographed by George Jones and the late Waylon Jennings, he'd had the guitar throughout his career.
"Didn't You Know How Much I Loved You" is the follow-up single to Kellie Pickler's Top 10 hit, "Best Days of Your Life."
If you really want to know newcomer Justin Moore, the singer tells me his self-titled debut album is a reflection of who he is.
Tim McGraw is set to perform as part of the NFL's kick-off night in Pittsburgh on Sept. 10 when the Tennessee Titans and the Steelers and open the pro football season.
Taylor Swift's "You Belong With Me" is up for best female video at the MTV Video Music Awards.
Carolwood Records trio Love and Theft will be eating my cooking in my kitchen next week. Their debut album will be released Aug. 25.
Whisperin' Bill Anderson is recording a new album.
I became a huge Eric Church fan after seeing him perform recently at the Grand Old Opry. The boy can perform -- and he's much cuter than his pictures.
Jack Ingram will join Toby Keith for three concert dates at the end of August.
My favorite TV show, Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader, hosted by Jeff Foxworthy, will debut for a new season on Sept. 21 on CMT. Look for themed episodes, including a country music week. Please don't call me that week. I don't want to miss anything!
See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Easy Chicken Pie.