Cowboy Corner

Cowboy Corner
By Michael W. Stout

Country Music Heats Up State Fair

The temperatures were unseasonably mild during last month's Kentucky State Fair, but country acts such as Hank Williams, Jr., Reba McEntire, Willie Nelson, Kentucky's own Montgomery Gentry, Oak Ridge Boys, Martina McBride, Travis Tritt, George Jones, Sara Evans, Toby Keith, Jamie O'Neal, Chad Brock and Carolyn Dawn Johnson brought the temperatures to an all-time high. The rowdy boys of country music, Montgomery Gentry, Toby Keith and "Bocephus" himself, Hank Williams, Jr., kicked the fair off in high gear to a nothing-short-of-enthusiastic, sold-out crowd. Montgomery Gentry made its home state proud and proved that they deserve the title of Country Music Association Vocal Duo of the Year, paving the way for "How Do You Like Me Now?" singer Toby Keith, followed by the headlining ticket-seller, Hank, who partied on past midnight.

Although I missed the "Girls' Night Out" show, I understand the highlight was the grand finale, when Reba was joined onstage by Martina, Sara Evans, Jamie O'Neal and Carolyn Dawn Johnson for a medley of women's `anthem' songs, drawing this tour to a close with an appropriately selected show-stopping rendition of The Judds' "Girl's Night Out."

The Oak Ridge Boys continue to amaze as they pack Cardinal Stadium year after year with the same hits, displaying their consistent perfection in the delivery of a crowd-pleasing tune. Two of country music's legends, the "King of Country Music," George Jones and one of the original outlaws, Willie Nelson, proved that classic country music is still hip, as fair-goers couldn't seem to get enough of either, jumping up and screaming at the top of their lungs for more, as if they were teeny-boppers at last month's N'Sync concert. Both Willie and George proved to all the newcomers in country music that they can still draw a capacity crowd, thank you very much!

Travis Tritt, known for his long, flowing locks of hair and skin-tight leather pants, emerged over a decade ago as a member of an updated batch of country outlaws, but time, a wife and two children have tamed him into a quite mature country crooner with a hard-core rock edge. He had not only the ladies in Cardinal Stadium screaming for more, but their male counterparts sitting next to them as well. For an opener, Travis brought along his buddy Chad Brock, who catapulted up the country charts with "Yes!," proving that a former WWF wrestler really can belt out a country song.

Unfortunately, our monthly print deadline arrived before the close of the fair, therefore I cannot report on the much-anticipated closer, Alabama and Kenny Chesney. Our hats are off to the Kentucky State Fair Board and our friends at Triangle Talent for yet another successful fair chock full of country music!

Music City Remembers Titanic

If you're looking for an out-of-town getaway celebrating the unofficial end of summer over Labor Day weekend, then look no further than Music City U.S.A., Nashville, Tenn. When it comes to the close of any day, visiting regular country music attractions like the Grand Ole Opry, the General Jackson showboat, the Opry Mills shopping extravaganza, the historic Ryman Auditorium and the brand new, state-of-the-art Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum, there's no better place to wind down and relax than the extravagant Opryland Hotel, which has much more than just nine breath-taking acres of indoor gardens and waterfalls to enjoy. This summer, Nashville's indoor haven has offered a must-see exhibit for the entire family: "Titanic: The Artifact Exhibit." This spine-chillingly unforgettable exhibit's run at the Opryland Hotel has been extended from August 31 to September 8, due to popular demand. Exhibit-goers have the opportunity to look at some 300 artifacts from the most celebrated shipwreck in history.

Upon entry, each "passenger" receives a boarding pass with the name of an actual passenger on the doomed maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic, which ended in the largest aquatic tragedy to that point history during the wee hours of the morning on April 14, 1912. Throughout the display, visitors can hear actual interviews with survivors of this fateful voyage while viewing items such as one of the ship's portholes, lighting fixtures (including one of the cherubs from the grand staircase), plumbing fixtures, tools used on board, dishes, ceramic tiles, the ship's bell, parts of her hull, numerous personal belongings of passengers who fell victim to the Titanic's fateful meeting with an iceberg and much more. Upon the conclusion of this heart-wrenching voyage throughout the remainders of this extraordinary shipwreck, visitors will learn the fate of the passenger on their boarding pass received upon embarking on this near 90-minute voyage. History buff or not, this is an emotional exhibit no member of your family will soon forget.

Wynonna Creates A Buzz

Ashland, Kentucky native Wynonna's life has been full of excitement lately. On a personal note, Wynonna last month announced that she will marry her longtime security guard and road manager, D. R. Roach. As you may recall, there were rumors of romantic involvement between the two shortly after Wynonna's divorce from Arch Kelley III, the father of her children, Elijah and Grace. The future Mr. Judd says, "We've literally walked through fire together. Two years ago I fell in love with my best friend and now asking her to marry me makes me complete." Although they have been side-by-side for a number of years, Wynonna says, "We laugh constantly and learn something from each other every day." The happy couple has not yet set a date to exchange vows.

On a professional note, Wynonna will fulfill a lifelong dream this month when she makes her Grand Ole Opry debut on September 15. Although she has been on the road as a country singer for nearly two decades, about half of that time along with her mother, Naomi, as the multiple award-winning duo The Judds, Wynonna has never had the chance to perform on the historic stage of America's longest running radio program. If you can't cruise to Nashville to share in Wynonna's excitement, never fear, as you can catch her performance live on Country Music Television, as every Saturday night's live Opry broadcast moved from TNN to CMT and expanded from a half hour to a whole hour just last month.

Congratulations, Wynonna and best of luck, both personally and professionally!

Country Codas

Condolences are in order for the family of Billy Byrd, best known for his slick guitar pickin' with the legendary Ernest Tubb in the 1950s. Byrd died at the age of 81 of natural causes on August 6. Besides playing for Ernest Tubb, Billy exhibited his guitar playing skills on the Grand Ole Opry with the likes of George Morgan and Little Jimmy Dickens. He also designed the semi-hollow body Gibson Byrdland electric guitar along with Hank Garland. Billy is survived by his wife, Glenna C. Byrd, four daughters, eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

We would also like to extend our deepest sympathies to Grand Ole Opry member Bill Anderson upon the death of his mother, Elizabeth Anderson, last month. Ms. Anderson passed away at the age of 89 at her home in Decatur, Ga. of natural causes on August 19. Her death precedes the induction of her famous son into the coveted Country Music Hall of Fame by a matter of a few months.

Reba Prepares To Make A Huge Splash

Besides the brief "Girls' Night Out" tour this summer, Reba McEntire has been out of the country music spotlight for quite sometime, but that doesn't mean she's been sitting around eating bon bons. Reba ended her critically acclaimed run on Broadway as the lead in Annie Get Your Gun earlier this summer and she's about to make a huge splash on the airwaves, both television and radio. She will star in her very own sitcom, appropriately titled Reba, at 9 p.m. EDT on September 14 on the WB Network. She will play a Texas soccer mom called Reba Hart, whose world seems to be falling apart. Naturally, Reba recorded the theme song for her show, titled "I'm A Survivor." The tune will be included on Reba's next album, titled Greatest Hits, Volume 3: I'm A Survivor, along with a cover of Kenny Rogers' "Sweet Music Man," as well as a duet titled "Myself Without You" with Bluegrass fiddler extraordinaire and songstress Alison Krauss.

Break a leg, Reba!

Washington, D.C. Goes Country

It seems like every other week the President of the United States of America is inviting some country artist to the nation's capitol for a special performance. Fortunately, country fans are invited along this time as PBS airs In Performance at the White House: The President's Own, featuring Toby Keith and Larry Gatlin at 8 p.m. EDT on September 6. This special concert, which was taped July 30 at the White House for President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush, celebrated the 200th anniversary of the United States Marine Band performing at the White House. On the special, Toby will perform "Oh! Susanna" and "Heart To Heart," while Larry Gatlin will sing "Houston (Means I'm One Day Closer To You)," "God Bless America," and "This Land Is Your Land." Toby and Larry will close out the show with "America The Beautiful" along with Nell Carter, known for starring in the sitcom "Gimme A Break." Crank up the ole VCR as this one sounds like a keeper.

Terri Clark Pleads Guilty

As you will recall, I reported a few months back that Canadian country singer Terri Clark was arrested for driving under the influence in Nashville on May 1. Well, Terri pleaded guilty to charges of reckless driving in a Nashville courtroom last month. Terri was forced to pay $350 plus court costs, was ordered to attend an alcohol education class and was placed on supervised probation for six months.

Country Family Album

Country music is apparently in the midst of a baby boom. The Oak Ridge Boys' long-bearded mountain man, William Lee Golden, and his wife, Brenda, welcomed a son named Solomon into the world on August 10, making this his fourth son (three from a previous marriage). One of William Lee's older sons filled in for dear ole' dad with the Oak Ridge Boys during the birth, but he made it back on the road with the boys in time for their annual performance at the Kentucky State Fair last month.

If you've been wondering why you haven't seen or heard much out of Shania Twain lately, there's been a very good reason. The reported size 2 country diva has not been able to fit into her skimpy little outfits in recent months, as she and her producer / husband, Robert John "Mutt" Lang, welcomed their first child, son Eja, into the world on August 12. The proud parents have kept a very low profile around their new home in Switzerland and have kept details of this pregnancy and birth quite secret.

When it rains, it pours, but on a positive note, when it comes to the Sons of the Desert, who have been in the spotlight for the past year, as they were featured on Lee Ann Womack's global smash hit, "I Hope You Dance." Band members and brothers Tim and Drew Womack are both expectant fathers. The brothers' wives, Brita and Tara, respectively, are due within three weeks of one another in March and April of next year. This will be Tim and Brita's second child, while it will be Drew and Tara's first.

Congratulations to all the new and soon-to-be new parents!

There's some good news and bad news on the marriage front in country music. First, the good news. Martie Siedel, the fiddlin' Dixie Chick, is reportedly engaged to be married to a college professor in Ireland named Gareth MaGuire. Keep reading in months to come for further details. And now, moving on to the bad, Bluegrass and country fiddler and singer Alison Krauss and Pat Bergeson, her husband of four years, recently got divorced. Alison was granted custody of their two-year-old son, Samuel.

Well, that's it for yet another month and for that matter, another summer. Always remember: "Keep your boots shined up and your hat on straight, `cause country music is comin' your way."