(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.)
It was 10 p.m. on Aug. 13. As usual, I turned the television to the local news. Right off the bat, the words "breaking news" splashed across the screen. Before I could catch my breath, the anchor announced the stage had collapsed at Sugarland's concert at the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis and crashed into the first rows of the audience.
The initial report was that at least four were dead and 30 or more injured. Of course, we later learned that six people died and more than 40 were transported to area hospitals.
Praying and crying, I bolted from my bedroom and into my office to dial the home number of Kevin Freeman, one of the hosts of the Jim, Deb and Kevin morning show at radio station WFMS in Indy. I was fearing for the lives of Corbin, the handsome ninth grader who's the son of Jim Denny, along with Deborah Honeycutt's two sons and show producer Gator's five kids, who were likely sitting near the stage.
Thankfully, Kevin assured me all the radio folks I've known and loved all the years had escaped injury, as had their precious children.
But I was also thinking about the country music fans who attended the show. After years of attending the station's Country Music Expo, I realized the Indiana fans are the best on earth. At April's event, fans line up around the building to hug us and get an autograph. So many fans I know by name, including Patty and Terry Semich and the two wonderful guys from Chicago who attend every year. The deputy sheriff I first met there when he was just 10 is now taller than I am and proud to serve the law.
For the five who lost their lives, I send love, sympathy and prayers to each of the families. Did I know them? No, but I know about country music fans, and my heart aches for those who weep.
The great people of Indiana love country music. There were thousands of them in the audience who came to hear Sugarland because they love their music and love them as individuals. Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush are in shock over what happened. Aside from the much bigger issue of the deaths and injuries, Sugarland lost a lot of their equipment, including Kristian's guitars, when the extreme wind gust hit the grandstand area.
There were a lot of heroes, especially those who pitched in to help those who had been injured. One other real hero, though, is Helen Rollens, Sugarland's road manager. She stared at the sky that night and determined her act should not go onstage. In doing so, Helen saved the lives of Sugarland, their band and road crew. God bless her, and bless all who helped the injured to survive.
God bless Indianapolis. God bless Indiana. And God be with all of those who travel the highways. Keep them safe, and bring them home to their loved ones.
Luke Bryan's Star Rises
Several months ago, I said it looks as though Luke Bryan is heading for superstardom, and I was right. His latest project, Tailgates & Tanlines, sold 145,296 copies its first week out to top Billboard's country albums chart and hit the No. 2 spot on the all-genre Billboard 200.
His current single, "Country Girl (Shake It for Me)," has sold over 1 million downloads, and he's gearing up to headline this year's CMT on Tour that kicks off Sept. 15 in Huntington, W.Va.
Alan Jackson, Toby Keith in Europe
More than 30,000 fans turned out in Sweden and Norway for Alan Jackson's concerts. The fans knew his songs and sang along. The crowds in Norway were especially moved when Alan paid tribute to the recent shooting tragedy in that country by singing "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)." The names of those who lost their lives were shown on a screen against a backdrop of roses with the Norwegian flag.
Toby Keith's Locked & Loaded international tour begins Oct. 30 in Edinburgh, Scotland, before heading to Manchester and London in England and then to the Netherlands, Germany, Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark before wrapping up in Berlin.
Everything's New for Martina McBride
Country music's most-played female on radio for the past 11 years is Martina McBride, and she's titled her 11th album Eleven. Everything's new for Martina these days. She's now working with Morris Management (Kenny Chesney's managers), producer Byron Gallimore (who also produces her friend, Faith Hill) and Republic Nashville (headed by Big Machine Label Group's Scott Borchetta). And she's seriously involved in songwriting, penning six of the 11 tracks for the new album to be released on Oct. 11.
Keith Urban's Real Estate Transaction
Last fall, the ever-wonderful Keith Urban performed at a fundraiser in Knoxville, Tenn., that generated $250,000 for the Moll and Charlie Anderson Family Foundation, a major underwriter of Habitat for Humanity homes in the area. Single parent Regina Olum, her son and mother will reside in the home. Keith recently returned to Knoxville for a concert and to deliver the house keys to the family.
Reba McEntire will perform at the next fundraiser. Thank the Lord for big-hearted Keith Urban and the bighearted Andersons.
Alabama for Alabama
For the second time this year, Randy Owen, Teddy Gentry and Jeff Cook of Alabama will be reuniting to assist tornado victims in Alabama. In July, they hosted and performed at an all-star concert in Birmingham. They'll appear Sept. 2 at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater with all proceeds benefiting the Tuscaloosa Storm Recovery Fund. Although they performed in Birmingham and have made some special appearances with Brad Paisley, the Tuscaloosa show will be the band's first full concert in seven years.
Love and Theft Return as a Duo
Love and Theft were a trio signed to Lyric Street Records until the label shuttered its doors. One of the three got married and is no longer with the group. The remaining twosome, Eric Gunderson and Stephen Barker Liles, are now a duo and have been signed to Sony Music Nashville.
Remember the guys opening shows for Taylor Swift? Remember Taylor writing a song titled "Stephen?" Liles is the man and is about the cutest thing you'll ever see.
Vince Gill Remembers at Opry Celebration
Congratulations to Vince Gill, who recently celebrated his 20th anniversary as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. One of his Opry pals, Little Jimmy Dickens, joined him, along with Vinnie's former boss, Emmylou Harris. Also there were Martina McBride, the Time Jumpers and Vince's wonderful wife, Amy Grant, and his equally-wonderful daughter, Jenny Gill.
There's nothing more entertaining than an Opry evening with Vince. He remembers the history. Vince's first song of the evening was Billy Grammer's biggest hit, "Gotta Travel On." Grammer died a few days before. I found it very cool when Vince reached back and recalled the King of Country Music -- the late Roy Acuff -- telling him to sing the song that brought him to the Opry. With that, he closed with "When I Call Your Name."
Guy Clark's Smartest Song
Guy Clark's new live album, Songs and Stories, features one of my favorite songs, "Homegrown Tomatoes." I love to fry some bacon, slather white bread with Miracle Whip and lay down the bacon with some sliced red tomatoes that are well salted and peppered. I'd rather have bacon and fresh tomato sandwiches than steak.
I always think of Guy Clark. There's not a whole lot of us smart enough to write about something as wonderful as homegrown tomatoes.
Taylor Swift has announced she'll take her Speak Now tour to Australia and New Zealand in March 2012.
Lady Antebellum will launch their Own the Night tour on Nov. 11 in Knoxville, Tenn. If this isn't enough, their hotter-than-a-jalapeno album, Need You Now, has been certified quintuple platinum for shipments of 5 million copies.
Kellie Pickler will make her television acting debut during the fourth season of 90210. She'll perform her new single, "Tough," in the role of a country singer named Sally. Kellie will knock a homer with this.
See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Chicken Spaghetti