(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.)
Taylor Swift gave her fans a surprise Christmas present by digitally releasing a new song, "Safe and Sound," on Dec. 22. The track is part of the soundtrack for the upcoming film, The Hunger Games, featuring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland and others.
Taylor co-wrote the song with Joy Williams and John Paul White of the Civil Wars and musician-producer T Bone Burnett, whose film projects include O Brother, Where Art Thou, Walk the Line and Crazy Heart.
The Civil Wars also perform on "Safe and Sound," but Williams and White have been involved in another high-profile project with Burnett, too.
They're featured on the Chieftains' Voice of Ages, a project celebrating the Irish band's 50th anniversary. Burnett and Chieftains frontman Paddy Moloney produced the album which includes the Civil Wars' "Lily Love." Although Williams and White are Americans, Moloney told Rolling Stone he could hear strains of Irishness in the song they wrote.
The Pistol Annies also contribute a track to Voice of Ages, set for release on Feb. 21. The album also includes the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Punch Brothers, Bon Iver, the Decemberists, Imelda May, Paolo Nutini and others.
Rascal Flatts' Big Year
2011 was a huge year for Rascal Flatts. Of course, all three members cried when they were invited to join the Grand Ole Opry, but they also enjoyed their first network television special and their collaboration with Justin Bieber on the album track and video for "That Should Be Me."
The trio will kick off 2012 with their Thaw Out tour in January. There's a new album on the horizon, and a summer tour is also coming up.
Martina McBride Seeks Tent During George Strait Tour
Martina McBride will join King George Strait on his 2012 tour which kicks off Jan. 27 in Lafayette, La. Martina is hoping George will set up a tent like he did six or seven years ago when she was the opening act. The tent gave her and the others a chance to hang out with King George. Like me and the rest of the world, Martina thinks George is awesome.
Dierks Bentley, Darius Rucker at Super Bowl
Dierks Bentley and Darius Rucker will be performing at Super Bowl Village before the Feb. 4 game in downtown Indianapolis. Some of you may watch Madonna during the halftime show, but for me, it's Dierks and Darius.
Reba McEntire, Ricky Skaggs, Lonestar Head Across Pond
Reba will be joined by Ricky Skaggs and Lonestar when she headlines the International Festival of Country Music at London's Wembley Arena on Feb. 26. Then the team will travel to Ireland, Switzerland and Germany for similar shows. That's big-time country music news across the pond, and it's good to see Lonestar together again.
Nashville Connection Highlights Kennedy Center Honors
The 34th annual Kennedy Center Honors show was telecast last week, and celebrities honored this year included Meryl Streep (actress Anne Hathaway did a dramatic split onstage to honor the film star), Neil Diamond, Tony Award winner Barbara Cook, jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins and cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
James Taylor was among those honoring the famed cellist, but the ones who impressed me to tears were fiddler Stuart Duncan, mandolinist Chris Thile and upright bassist extraordinaire Edgar Meyer. These three instrumentalists brought Yo-Yo to his feet, and he blew them a kiss. Music City and country fans everywhere, be proud of Stuart, Chris and Edgar.
Kid Rock Teams Up With a Church
Kid Rock's nonprofit organization joined with Detroit's Hartford Memorial Baptist Church before Christmas to distribute 100 gift certificates for Meijer retail and grocery stores along with more than 300 gift baskets.
Kid lives in suburban Detroit, where he and his foundation were honored this year for their philanthropic contributions. Just a few weeks before, Kid was in Nashville for a concert at the Ryman Auditorium. He presented all the money to local charities, including the Nashville Rescue Mission.
The man they call Kid Rock is a great guy. And he has a home right here in Music Town.
Montgomery Gentry Get Bullish in the New Year
I see where the Montgomery Gentry have teamed up with the Professional Championship Bullriders for a 2012 tour. With 10 dates already confirmed, others are still being added.
The tour features 35 of the nation's top riders on the backs of some of the meanest bulls in the world. And once the dust has settled, the fans will have an added bonus -- a Montgomery Gentry concert. Just think about the pairing of the toughest superstars in bullriding and the rowdiest duo in country music. It sounds like a night of entertainment!
"Our audiences cross over," said Troy Gentry.
"Yeah, people say we're crazy," said Eddie Montgomery. "We will be in the audience every night."
Danny Gokey Engaged
American Idol contestant Danny Gokey has announced plans to marry his girlfriend, model Leyicet Peralta, in late January. He signed with 19 Recordings/RCA Nashville in 2009 after he was named third runner-up on Idol. He released his debut album, My Best Days, in 2010 and charted three singles but was later dropped from the label.
The Milwaukee native was a truck driver and the music director at a Baptist church when his wife, Sofia, convinced him to audition for American Idol. Four weeks after the audition, she underwent routine surgery for congenital heart disease and died from complications. Danny and his wife had been together 12 years.
Vince Gill, Amy Grant Are Tennesseans of the Year
It came as no surprise to anyone in this town or state when the Christmas Day headline in The Tennessean, Nashville's daily newspaper, read: "Vince Gill and Amy Grant -- Tennesseans of the Year."
The country music superstar and the Christian music icon have grown into a couple on a mission to serve others here and all around the world. Vince was the marshal of the Nashville Christmas Parade and was joined by Amy, their daughter Corrine, his daughter Jenny and her husband and Amy's two daughters and son from her first marriage.
I've been amazed at the unselfishness of Vince and Amy. Vince hosts an annual Junior Golf charity, and Amy hosts the Lipscomb University tree lighting for the local food bank. Both Vince and Amy met with Make a Wish kids before one of their two Christmas performances at the Ryman Auditorium.
They make an incredible couple. Vince is as handsome as Amy is beautiful. Between the two of them, there's not an evil bone in their bodies. I know Vince better than I know Amy, but I must stop and thank her silently for making this country music star a happy man. God bless them as they do for others without even thinking. They make this town a better place to live.
See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Red Velvet Cupcakes.