HOT DISH: Kenny, Keith, Gretchen and Friends at ACM Awards

Faith Returns, Dierks Transports His Parents and a Great Song Wins

(CMT Hot Dish is a weekly feature written by former Country Music magazine columnist Hazel Smith. Author of the cookbook, Hazel's Hot Dish: Cookin' With Country Stars, she also shares her recipes at

As expected, Kenny Chesney scored the ACM's entertainer of the year trophy, making him the newest Triple Crown winner. Proud-as-a-peacock Kenny, who just won the top prize, walked offstage with legend and presenter Barbara Mandrell, who whispered "Triple Crown." The little guy with the big smile had to stop and allow a whole other light shine on him.

Entertainer of the year is huge. The Triple Crown, baby, that's history. Along with Mandrell, Kenny joins Brooks & Dunn, the Dixie Chicks, Merle Haggard and Mickey Gilley to round out the ACM's Triple Crown winners -- the select few who have won the organization's best new artist, best artist (male, female, duo or group) and entertainer of the year.

It was around 2 a.m. in Belfast, Northern Ireland, when Keith Urban was surprised with his top male vocalist win. Keith's Be Here also got album of the year honors. Going international fast, Urban is hot on Kenny's hillbilly trail here in the States.

Unseating Martina McBride in her three-year winning streak as top female vocalist, a teary and surprised Gretchen Wilson picked up the trophy. For the third consecutive year, Rascal Flatts were named top vocal group. Brooks and Dunn, fearing the award would go home with another duo, happily collected their 14th ACM prize for top duo.

Great songs almost always come out winning. Such was the case with the single and song win for Tim McGraw's hit, "Live Like You Were Dying." Songwriters Craig Wiseman and Tim Nichols were joined onstage by McGraw. A second great song, "Whiskey Lullaby," written by Bill Anderson and Jon Randall and recorded by Brad Paisley with Alison Krauss, deserved winning its video and vocal event of the year honors. Due to the death of her grandmother in Illinois, Alison had to cancel attending the event.

It sure was good seeing jean-clad Faith Hill's long legs dancing to her new single, "Mississippi Girl." She must like that it debuted at No. 27 on the country chart. Personally, I like her better as a blond. And I'm trying to decide if I like Sara Evans blond highlights in her dark hair.

After flying his parents to California for his Tonight Show appearance, Dierks Bentley loaded them on his bus and brought them to Vegas for the ACMs. What a guy. I predict Dierks will be in the list of next year's winners.

Toby's Front Page News

On the eve of the ACM Awards show and the release of Toby Keith's new album, Honkytonk University, Nashville's daily newspaper, The Tennessean, ran a front page interview recapping much of what I've told you in my previous Hot Dish columns.

If it were a TV sitcom like Everybody Loves Raymond, we'd be falling all over ourselves with laughter at the comedic events of Toby's career. But believe you me, there's nothing funny about what Toby went through going from label to label to label, through no fault of his own. I do, however, find it amusing that Toby wrote a check out of his own account for $190,000 (I'd heard $100,000) to Mercury Records to purchase the album, How Do You Like Me Now?!. Mercury execs said there was no hit on the record and wanted Toby to record additional material. I've been told there was label talk of trashing the entire record. At this point, the album has sold nearly 4 million copies. I'm not good at math, but even I can see enormous economic differences in those equations.

Think about it: Maybe Toby has reason to be angry enough to start his own label. He has faith and talent, and his current record deal calls for one more "company" album.

A Country Funeral

Jimmy Martin made bluegrass music as perfect as anybody who ever breathed air. Ten years after Bill Monroe introduced his music to the world from the Opry stage in 1939, he became a member of Monroe's Bluegrass Boys in 1949. Martin and Monroe were architects of the high lonesome sound of the '50s.

Martin, the King of Bluegrass, suffered for months with bladder cancer and died May 14. The 77-year-old maker of music was a native of Sneedville, Tenn.

At his funeral, Jimmy Martin was "put away" the way he lived -- with bluegrass music playing and good friends and family on hand. His four children and various members of his Sunny Mountain Boys band through the years performed Martin's favorite gospel songs, including "Shake Hands With Mother Again" and "Will the Circle Be Unbroken." Martin recorded the latter song with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in 1972 for their album of that title.

During the service, there were fiddles, guitars, banjos, mandolins, upright bass and a Dobro. Nothing electric. Awesome harmony singing sent chills through the crowd. Former Sunny Mountain Boys Doyle Lawson, J.D. Crowe, Paul Williams, Vernon Derrick, Kenny Ingram and Audie Blaylock mingled with the Isaacs, Del McCoury Band, the Cherryholmes Family, the Whites, Tom T. Hall, Jim Lauderdale, the Grascals and scores of others.

As an entertainer and singer, Martin never strayed from his country ways. He kept a pen filled with hounds, and he'd hunt 'coon, rabbit or squirrel, not just for the sport of hunting, but also for cooking and eating. He was apt to say, "Come by the house. I got some groundhog stew on the stove."

Jimmy Martin was loud, brash and colorful in lifestyle and dress, but when he sang a song, it was sung. Nobody could do it better. "Boys, we tore 'em up out there," he'd say to his band after a show.

His red performing hat hung on a microphone by his casket. Grown men cried all over the church. It takes lots of food, lots of crying and lots of hugging for a country funeral.

News -- Old and New

LeAnn Rimes has been added to Fitzgerald-Hartley roster for management, joining Brad Paisley, Vince Gill, Olivia Newton-John, Dwight Yoakam and Buddy Jewell.

Lyric Street Records exec Doug Howard tells me Rascal Flatts' third album, Feels Like Today, has been certified double platinum.

Congrats to Dierks Bentley on debuting at No. 1 on the country albums chart with Modern Day Drifter. The hardest working guy in country music sold almost 75,000 copies during its first week of release.

Radio personality Bill Whyte -- who sowed his oats at WUBE/Cincinnati, WFMS/Indianapolis, WMIL/Milwaukee and WSM-FM/Nashville -- is recording a new comedy album at the Bluebird Café in Nashville. Watch out, Blue Collar Tour.

Universal South and Marty Stuart formed Superlatone Records to release creative offerings by the Mississippi native.

Michael Martin Murphey's first release in four years, Storm Over the Rangelands, is due out in the summer. His message songs ring out about ranchers and farmers split from the land by real estate developers.

Lila McCann sang the national anthem Friday (May 20) at the baseball game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Anaheim Angels.

Sprint partnered with the RCA Label Group to launch a two-week promotion for Brooks & Dunn's new single, "Play Something Country," the song the duo performed on the ACM Awards.

Spoke with musician Greg Kaczor, who was having breakfast on the road someplace. "What about the engagement ring you gave Terri [Clark]?" I asked. He explained, "It was designed by me and Kevin, the guy who owns Kevin's Gems out in L.A. It has a 2.2 carat princess cut diamond in the center that is surrounded by smaller diamonds equaling 6 carats."

The legendary Buck Owens announced he will have a statue of himself unveiled at his Crystal Palace in Bakersfield, Calif., on Wednesday (May 25) along with nine others: Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Bob Wills, George Strait, Johnny Cash, George Jones, Elvis Presley, Hank Williams and Garth Brooks.

They call it "essential" because the music and artists are that. I'm referring to the late Marty Robbins, the gifted vocalist and western song stylist, and beloved singer-songwriter Dolly Parton. Two new CD compilations, The Essential Marty Robbins and The Essential Dolly Parton, are due in stores June 28.

In my opinion, the national news media have little to do if they're poking fun at Kenny Chesney. What is the big freaking deal? Singer-songwriter weds actress. What's to laugh at? Leave 'em be.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Coleslaw.

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