(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 all I could do last week to not tell you all about Big & Rich, Gretchen Wilson and all the bighearted folks giving back. But it was a secret. A great big wonderful secret.
My heart aches when I think of all those brave men and women who proudly served in our military and returned home with physical and emotional issues. So when I heard about the upcoming event and the big secret, I was excited. It was the kind of event that separates country music and its people from the rest of the world.
If I understand the facts presented to me, it was Big Kenny who was sort of ramrodding the date at the Woods Amphitheater at Fontanel, the property that was the former home of Barbara Mandrell. The show on the Big & Rich/Gretchen Xtreme Music tour kicked off on a dramatic note when Big Kenny and Shaun Meadows skydived into a field near the venue while a whole bunch of folks looked on.
The skydive may not sound like a big deal, but as a member of the U.S. Air Force's 22nd Special Tactics Squadron, Meadows lost both legs in July 2008 during a combat reconnaissance patrol in Afghanistan when he was hit by an improvised explosive device.
Big & Rich, Gretchen, Cowboy Troy and others had performed hit after hit when the stage got quiet and they invited Meadows, his wife and their son onstage. By then, the vet was teary-eyed, but he had no clue what was coming next. Kenny, John Rich and Gretchen just spilled the truth and told them the family will soon be living in a $300,000 home that will be specially built to meet their needs. The house should be finished and ready to move to in March.
Big & Rich and Wilson and their managers who own Fontanel donated all proceeds from the show to help build the home which will be a joint venture with the Operation Finally Home charity, Goodall Homes and LP Building Products. All products for the home have been donated by various companies in Middle Tennessee.
With sweat mixed with tears, Big Kenny said from the stage, "This is as good as it gets."
I wondered if buses brought servicemen and servicewomen from nearby Fort Campbell. There were a bunch of them there, and they were applauding the loudest when they found out the Meadows family was being given a new home.
I'm so proud of our people and equally proud of all the good folks in Tennessee -- the Volunteer State -- who have pitched in to help a hero. God bless the Meadows Family and everyone involved in making this blessing happen.
Pistol Annies Shoot High With Debut Album
What about them Pistol Annies?! Their hotness consists of Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley, and they hauled off and debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's country albums chart and No. 5 on the all-genre Billboard 200 chart with their debut album, Hell on Heels.
Lambert cannot believe how the fans have embraced the group. Monroe, humbled by the response, is encouraged by the way the country music community has embraced them.
Presley allows, "Pistol Annies have been an organic, artistically-driven project from the start, and we are proud our couch dreams have become critically and commercially successful."
Hell on Heels has been praised by The Associated Press, The New York Times, The Washington Post -- and me!
NBC's Sunday Night Football is richly blessed to have the beautiful and talented Faith Hill perform the show's opening theme again this season. Her performance of "Waiting All Day for Sunday Night" will launch the show throughout the NFL season.
"I wait all year for Sunday night," Faith says. "Somehow, the season wouldn't feel the same without seeing everyone from NBC Sunday Night Football over the summer when we record and film the opening. It makes the wait feel shorter."
Fans will be happy to learn Faith is currently in the studio recording what will be her first release of new music in six years. I can't wait!
Darius Rucker Reclaims Headliner Status
Darius Rucker has been a headliner before, so he's not the least bit nervous to headline the Darius Rucker show. Of course, Hootie & the Blowfish weren't exactly country, but he is! His solo debut album went platinum and his follow-up, Charleston 1966, is gold. As a solo artist, Darius has been opening country concerts, but now he's got top billing and has up-and-comers opening his concerts. All four of his opening acts at various shows on his new tour have guested on CMT's Southern Fried Flicks -- Rodney Atkins, Frankie Ballard, Justin Moore and Thompson Square.
And Darius is ready. As he explains it, "I haven't headlined a tour since Hootie, so to say I'm excited is an understatement."
Dierks Rides Again for Kids
Dierks Bentley revs up for another Miles & Music for Kids motorcycle ride and concert set for Oct. 16 right here in Nashville. The first guests he's announced are folks I love -- the Eli Young Band and Josh Thompson. The hour-long ride begins in Columbia, Tenn., and ends in downtown Nashville at Riverfront Park.
During the past six years, Dierks and his friends have raised more than $1.6 million for Children's Miracle Network hospitals throughout the nation. May God continue to bless Dierks and his friends as they help to find a cure for childhood diseases by supporting this very worthy cause.
Jason Aldean Packs 'Em In
Artist manager Clarence Spalding has been a friend of mine ever since he hit Nashville. He was one proud man the other day when he told me one of his clients, Jason Aldean, drew 28,000 fans at an amphitheater near Chicago and 29,000 the next night in Pittsburgh.
Both shows sold out before the band got to town. Congratulations, Jason and Clarence.
Tony Bennett's Country Connection
It must have been three decades ago when Martha Hume hosted a party for her husband Chet Flippo at the Lone Star Café in New York City. Kinky Friedman and the great songwriter Doc Pomus were there. Dr. Hook's Dennis Locorriere went with me. Linda Ronstadt, record executive Jerry Wexler, writer Pete Hamill and an array of greats and near greats filled the room when in walked Tony Bennett.
I gave Chet a wide-eyed look, and he told me the gent with Tony was the singer's son. Seems the son had been talking with Chet about helping resurrect Bennett's floundering career. Chet wrote a powerful piece on Bennett for New York magazine. Needless to say, it worked.
I smile each time I see Bennett's name, especially with his upcoming duets album that includes some wonderful country singers. I'm proud Chet did his part all those years ago to help give Bennett's career a rebirth, and I'm proud Carrie Underwood, Faith Hill and Sheryl Crow are included on Tony's new album.
Tour Bus Company Has New Client
The name Hemphill is synonymous with country music. The Hemphill Brothers Coach Co., based in Whites Creek, Tenn., has been outfitting tour buses ever since the current owners -- Joey and Trent Hemphill -- were knee-high to their dad Joel, who began the business. The brothers have more than 80 coaches and a client list that includes Kenny Chesney, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Adele, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tom Hanks and others.
Unlike most of their customers, the Hemphill Brothers' latest client doesn't sing or attend music events for a living. That client is President Barack Obama.
See the Hot Dish recipe of the week: Chess Pie.