Cowboy Corner

Cowboy Corner
By Michael W. Stout

Country Artists Heat Up the Derby

One of the more successful country-to-pop crossover artists, the recently wed LeAnn Rimes, kicked off the Kentucky Derby Festival last month when she performed a three-song mini-concert atop a barge in the middle of the Ohio River, opening Thunder Over Louisville, the annual festival fireworks extravaganza,. In addition to her smash hit "How Do I Live," with a military color guard as a backdrop and gigantic American flags flying overhead, LeAnn belted out a rousing rendition of "The National Anthem."

Hot newcomer Steve Holy, who has enjoyed great chart success with his debut single, "Good Morning Beautiful," will heat up the Derby festival when he takes the stage May 1 at the waterfront Chow Wagon on the banks of the Ohio River. Admission to this concert will be free with a Kentucky Derby Festival pin.

Louisville will be shining bright with country stars on Derby day, as well as Derby eve. Singers including Nicholasville native John Michael Montgomery, George Strait, Travis Tritt and Lee Ann Womack will reportedly attend the elite Barnstable-Brown charity ball on May 3, followed by the running of the 128th Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May.

ACM Awards This Month

Red-headed country music superstar and sitcom actress extraordinaire (WB's Reba) Reba McEntire has not only signed on as the host of the 37th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards program, which will take place in Los Angeles on May 22, but she will also return as next year's Mistress of Ceremonies. And if that weren't enough, Reba is also nominated along with Alabama and Brooks & Dunn for the ACM's Home Depot Humanitarian Award, which recognizes artists who are "committed to serving others." Fans can vote for their favorite country humanitarian by logging on to www.homedepot.com/acm before 10 p.m. EDT May 22. The winner will be announced during the third hour of the awards show, which will air live on CBS TV, beginning at 8 p.m. EDT. As I reported last month, Brooks & Dunn and Toby Keith top the list of nominees with six nods each, followed by Alan Jackson, Tim McGraw and Travis Tritt, with four nominations each.

The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation will take advantage of country music's invasion of California for the ACM awards by hosting its 8th Annual Sizzlin' Country concert at Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank on May 21. Chely Wright will host this hot show, which features Trace Adkins, Tammy Cochran, Carolyn Dawn Johnson, Blake Shelton, Jeffrey Steele, Tommy Shane Steiner, Trick Pony, keith urban and the Doo-Wah Riders.

Country Legal Woes

"What Mattered Most" and "Heather's Wall" singer Ty Herndon had a scare in his hometown of Los Angeles on March 31. Herndon was held up at gunpoint. A car with four men in it pulled up beside him as he was walking to a restaurant on Beverly Boulevard, two men jumped out and forced Herndon to hand over his wallet. Although he was understandably shaken up by the event, Ty was otherwise unharmed.

Yet another country artist has had a run-in with the law. Big-haired country singer and instrumentalist Mr. Connie Smith, Marty Stuart, was arrested and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol and violating the implied consent law at twelve minutes past midnight on April 2. The Hendersonville, Tenn. resident, known for hits "Hillbilly Rock," "Now That's Country," and "The Whiskey Ain't Workin'" and "This One's Gonna Hurt You (For A Long, Long Time)" with pal Travis Tritt, had reportedly been seen drunk in a local retail store earlier that evening prior to his 1989 Cadillac being pulled over. He was scheduled to appear in court on April 23, so due to deadline, I'll report the court results next month.

Following the 1998 death of their famous mother, the "First Lady of Country Music," Tammy Wynette's daughters, Jackie Daly, Tina Jones, Gwen Nicholas and Georgette Smith sued Tammy's doctor, Dr. Wallis Marsh, for mistreatment of the country legend for the last six years of her life. Tammy's daughters accused Marsh of wrongful death and sued for $50 million in damages. Although both parties have agreed to keep details confidential, the lawsuit has finally been settled outside of court. Four years following her death, the life of Tammy Wynette continues to be celebrated through her music, which included smash hits such as "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad," "Golden Rings" along with ex-husband George Jones and her signature tune, "Stand By Your Man."

Dolly Returns Home for 17th Season of Dollywood

International superstar Dolly Parton returned to her "Tennessee Mountain Home" of Pigeon Forge last month to kick off the seventeenth season of her popular theme park, Dollywood. Dolly introduced the park's $10 million attraction, Adventures in Imagination, April 5 and 6. This new area includes a witty simulator ride called "Smoky Mountain Wilderness Adventure," in which wild inventor Clovis takes riders on a voyage through the great Smoky Mountains in his contraption he calls the S.S. Dolly, along with Dolly herself as riders' personal tour guide. This new area is also home to "Chasing Rainbows," a high-tech interactive museum offering a glimpse into the career and personal life of the country music star. Also included is a new gift shop called Inspirations and a brand new donut factory. Returning for the second year is Dollywood's Festival of Nations. This event, which was brought back by popular demand, runs through May 12 and includes some incredible entertainment and cuisine from countries around the globe, including Russia, Australia, Ireland, Trinidad, Spain, Ecuador, Italy and France.

During Dollywood's opening weekend, I had the opportunity to ask Dolly about her future musical plans. She told me, "I have not been on tour nor had a band together in ten years. So, I just put a new group together since my last two albums, The Grass Is Blue and the Little Sparrow album, [which have] a lot of the mountain music and bluegrass and country stuff. I have a new [CD] that I did up here at Southern Sound Studios in Knoxville and I used all people from up here [in eastern Tennessee]. We're calling [the band] the Blue-niques because we're still doing bluegrass, but it's kind of unique bluegrass. The CD is called Halos & Horns and it will be out in July. There are several spiritual things, but there's life songs as well." Dolly joked, "I represent halos and horns, don't I?" She continued, "There's a lot of good songs, a lot of good gospel stuff, inspirational stuff, in addition to the mountain stuff and the bluegrass [on the new album]. It's a good mixture of things and I produced it myself."

As for touring, with the exception of a May 17 concert titled "Families of Freedom, Families of Promise Rally" in Minneapolis sponsored by the Citizens' Scholarship Foundation of America established after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, Dolly and the Blue-niques don't plan to hit the road until later this fall, which will hopefully include a stop here in the Derby city.

My family and I highly recommend a trip to Dollywood this summer and while you're there, be sure to stop off at Dolly's own Dixie Stampede dinner theater, which Dolly personally guarantees to be "the most fun place to eat in the Smokies." The show, which visitors watch while pigging out on a country meal, features incredible stunts performed on horseback, a friendly rivalry between the North and the South, comedy, magic, music, a heaping portion of patriotism and even fireworks. The show will soon include a brand new grand finale featuring a video of Dolly singing a newly recorded song. Dolly recently filmed the song during a visit to the Dixie Stampede in Myrtle Beach.

Country On The Tube

In addition to the 37th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards on May 22, country music will be well represented on television this month. The Dixie Chicks, who seem to be on an extended hiatus this year, will be heading to Las Vegas' MGM Grand this month to perform on the "VH1 Divas Las Vegas" show on May 23. This fifth show in the Divas series will air live on VH1 at 9 p.m. EDT and will raise money for VH1 Save the Music Foundation, a non-profit organization which restores instrumental music programs in public schools across the nation. Natalie, Martie and Emily will join Mary J. Blige, Cher, Celine Dion and Shakira for this special concert.

The career of the "Redheaded Stranger," Willie Nelson, will be celebrated on cable's USA Network on Memorial Day. "Willie Nelson & Friends: Stars & Guitars" was taped April 14 at downtown Nashville's Ryman Auditorium. The special will include performances of Willie hits, as well as special duets with Willie himself by artists including Ryan Adams, Jon Bon Jovi, Sheryl Crow, the Dixie Chicks, Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, John Hiatt, Norah Jones, Toby Keith, the Mark Knopfler Band, Dave Matthews, Brian McKnight, Aaron Neville, Ray Price, Keith Richards, Richie Sambora, matchbox twenty's Rob Thomas, Hank Williams III and Lee Ann Womack (who is enjoying great radio airplay as Willie's duet partner on "Mendocino County Line").

Statler Brothers Final Concerts Announced

As I reported a few months back, The Statler Brothers, known for hits such as "Flowers On The Wall," "I'll Go To My Grave Loving You," and "The Class of '57," plan to retire from touring later this year. The quartet, which includes brothers Don and Harold Reid, Phil Balsley and Jimmy Fortune, has announced its final three concerts: October 24 in Huntsville, Ala., October 25 in Asheville, NC and October 26 in Salem, Va. Although they will no longer be traveling the nation's highways and byways to perform live concerts, they plan to continue to record.

The "most awarded act in the history of country music," the Statler Brothers have enjoyed a very successful career, which included The Nashville Network's most popular show, the musical variety show appropriately titled The Statler Brothers Show. According to their publicist, "The reasons cited for their decision to retire were simply to free themselves of a rigid travel schedule and to spend more time at their Shenandoah Valley homes."

Country "Breaks"

Country crooner and songwriter Lyle Lovett, best known for his tall hair and his former title of Mr. Julia Roberts, suffered several breaks in his leg in late March when he was trampled by a bull on his Texas ranch. Lovett is reportedly "recovering nicely" but has been forced to postpone several concert dates during his recuperation. He plans to finally return to the stage this month when Houston's new Hobby Center opens on May 11. Lyle will perform with fellow songwriters Guy Clark, Joe Ely and John Hiatt.

And while we're on the subject of country "breaks," the "King of Country Music," the legendary "Possum," George Jones also suffered a break last month. George slipped at a fast food restaurant in the Nashville area and twisted his ankle. Although he originally thought little of the fall, he had his foot x-rayed several hours later as it began to swell and pain set in. Doctors determined that George had broken his foot and ordered him to wear a foam boot brace for six weeks. Although he was forced to reschedule a few concerts, he was planning to resume touring before the end of the month.

Best wishes to Lyle and George for speedy recoveries!

Well, that's it for this month. I'd like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a happy and safe Derby. Always remember: "Keep your boots shined up and your hat on straight, `cause country music is comin' your way."