New York City hosted the 39th Annual Country Music Association Awards last month, allowing for a very unusual awards show with some interesting duets, including Dolly Parton and Elton John; Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles with Bon Jovi and Willie Nelson plus Paul Simon and Norah Jones. Tying Brad Paisley for the most nominations this year (six each), Lee Ann Womack's return to traditional country music gained the songstress three trophies: Album of the Year for There's More Where That Came From, Single of the Year for "I May Hate Myself in the Morning," and Musical Event of the Year along with George Strait on "Good News, Bad News." Paisley personally went home empty-handed, although his stellar duet with Alison Krauss, "Whiskey Lullaby," earned songwriters Bill Anderson and Jon Randall the Song of the Year trophy. The only other multiple winner was the "wonder from Down Under," Keith Urban, who took home the Male Vocalist of the Year and the coveted Entertainer of the Year trophies. Gretchen Wilson pulled a minor upset over Sara Evans to take home the title of Female Vocalist of the Year, while Dierks Bentley beat out Sugarland for Horizon Award. Although not present at the ceremony, Toby Keith did manage to land the Music Video of the Year award for "As Good As I Once Was," which was directed by Michael SaloMonday
And the winners are: Entertainer of the Year: Keith Urban; Female Vocalist of the Year: Gretchen Wilson; Male Vocalist of the Year: Keith Urban; Vocal Duo of the Year: Brooks and Dunn; and Vocal Group of the Year: Rascal Flatts.
Horizon Award: Dierks Bentley; Album of the Year: Lee Ann Womack's There's More Where That Came From; Single of the Year: Lee Ann Womack's "I May Hate Myself in the Morning"; Song of the Year: Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss' "Whiskey Lullaby"; Music Video of the Year: Toby Keith's "As Good As I Once Was"; Musical Event of the Year: George Strait and Lee Ann Womack's "Good News, Bad News"; and Musician of the Year: Jerry Douglas - dobro.
During the awards ceremony, the family of the late Grand Ole Opry pioneer DeFord Bailey was on hand as the legend was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. The "Rhinestone Cowboy" Glen Campbell humbly thanked his family, fans and the industry as he became a Hall of Famer. And 1980's supergroup Alabama were unfortunately cut short by show producers as they were making their acceptance speech as the newest members of the Hall of Fame. Lead singer Randy Owen never got his turn at the mic before the commercial break, but released his acceptance speech, in which he intended to thank the group's manager Dale Morris, booking agent Barbara Harden, RCA Records, BMI and country radio and fans for their great support in helping to raise money for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Lucky for fans though, if they didn't hear enough from Alabama on the awards show, the group will release a three-disc box set on January 31. Titled Livin' Lovin' Rockin': The 25th Anniversary Collection, the set will include nine never before released tunes, live versions of several hits and some original classic recordings.
Congratulations to all the winners!
Louise Mandrell Closing Theater Doors
Time is running out for Louise Mandrell fans to take in the entertainer's high energy show at her Pigeon Forge, Tennessee theater. I had the great privilege of sitting down with Mandrell last month to discuss her farewell season, which will end with two New Year's Eve shows featuring her baby sister, Irlene Mandrell.
Following the advice of fellow country entertainer Lee Greenwood, Mandrell prayed for a new venture in her career and she says she was blessed with her very own theater eight years ago. But come next spring, the Louise Mandrell Theater will become The Miracle, a high-tech production of the life of Christ. Mandrell decided to close this chapter of her life in order to spend more time with her husband, who suffers from a debilitating nerve-ending disease known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD). Following experimental treatments in Germany earlier this year, Mandrell's husband, John, is in remission.
Although the disease is in remission, Mandrell states, "It took an act of God to move me out of here. God blessed me bringing me here and He gave me a miracle that took me away from here, which is my husband's illness going into remission." She stresses that she's not going home to take care of a sick husband, she says, "I'm going home to spend time with my husband while he feels good. We're not promised tomorrow, so I'm going back to Nashville."
Although Mandrell is at peace with her decision to sell her theater and move back to Nashville to pursue other projects, it was a difficult decision to leave Pigeon Forge. She says, "It's gonna leave a hole in my heart-I love this place. I've never lived anywhere that's been more home for me. I came here because I wanted to raise my teenager and settle down in one spot, but I loved it so much, I stayed longer." She continued, "I've never seen anything as easy as coming here [to Pigeon Forge] and fitting in. It's flag-waving, Bible-belt, east Tennessee and that describes me. It was an easy fit."
Anyone who has had the great fortune to experience a Louise Mandrell show knows that Mandrell is a true entertainer in every aspect of the word and it is evident that she loves what she does. She says, "I'm paid to throw a party every night and that's to entertain people here at my theater and yet I'm the one getting all the attention, so what's not to love. Entertainers that don't love people are in the wrong business. I could probably go home and never sing again-what I couldn't do is go home and not have some sort of relief of spending time with people. I just love people-it's the people, not the music."
Mandrell cannot stress enough that the closing of the Louise Mandrell Theater does not mean that she is retiring from the music business like her big sister Barbara Mandrell did. "It was everything I hoped it would be here, but, from here, I have a new direction that I'm taking."
Although she has no plans to announce just what this new direction will be until she has signed a contract, Mandrell will always make the Lord the top priority in her life. "Everything I do in life is based on God's direction for me. I will always be visiting churches and singing in church, speaking somewhere because I love the Lord."
Mandrell's New Year's Eve show is not going to be a retirement party, but a celebration of eight wonderful years in Pigeon Forge. When speaking about the final show, she told me, "I'm having a really hard time just like the cast working toward this New Year's Eve knowing it's our last day together." She promises that this show is not going to be focused on her last performance, but rather New Year's Eve.
In closing, Louise Mandrell wants to reiterate to her fans that she is not leaving the music business. She says, "My intent is to go to Nashville. I can't do anything on the road as big as I've done here [at the theater]-it's time to move on to a different type of performance. I will let [the fans] know if they'll keep checking the website [louisemandrell.com] and early next year I'm sure I'll have some announcements. I WILL be singing again."
I'd like to extend my personal thanks to Louise for the generosity and hospitality she has extended to me and my family throughout the years and I wish her the best in her future endeavors. Keep reading in the months to come as I assure you her future plans will be exciting.
Walk the Line Hits Theaters
The late, legendary "Man in Black," Johnny Cash, has been quite the buzz around the waterin' hole as of late and the buzz is only going to increase. The highly-anticipated, big-screen biopic of the singer's rocky rise to fame, Walk the Line, has finally opened in theaters to rave reviews. There is already talk of Oscar nominations for Joaquin Phoenix, who portrays Cash and Nashville native Reese Witherspoon, who portrays the belle of Cash's ball, his loving wife June Carter Cash. Phoenix and Witherspoon even accepted the challenge of performing their own vocals in the film, which are reportedly haunting renditions of the late Cashs. Although I have not yet had the opportunity to see the movie for myself, I hear it is a must-see movie that promises to have the same impact as Loretta Lynn's Oscar-winning biographical movie, Coal Miner's Daughter starring Sissy Spacek.
Although critics and fans alike are raving about Walk the Line, there is one person not quite as keen on the film: Cash's daughter Kathy Cash. She says the film portrays her mother, Cash's first wife, Vivan Liberto, as "basically a nonentity in the entire film except for the mad little psycho who hated [Cash's] career." She also says the movie does not address the children's pain from their father's drug abuse and their parents' divorce and claims it falsely portrays her grandfather, Ray Cash.
In other Johnny Cash news, a brand new Broadway production titled Ring of Fire: The Johnny Cash Musical will debut March 12 at New York City's Ethel Barrymore Theatre. The performance will include 38 songs from Cash's illustrious career and will include country singer Lari White and Tony Award winner Jarrod Emick.
Dolly Wows Evansville
Smoky Mountain angel Dolly Parton may be on the brink of 60 years old, but you'd never know it by her aggressive work schedule. Like a fine wine, the singer, songwriter, actress, author and business woman keeps getting better with age. Since returning to rootsy, mountain and bluegrass music nearly eight years ago, Parton has received rave reviews and continues to wow the crowds. She brought her "Vintage Tour" to Evansville, Indiana's Roberts Stadium last month and entertained the nearly sold out crowd for 95 incredible minutes, pleasing country and rock fans alike. Living up to the tour's title, nearly 90 percent of the set list pre-dated 1980. Parton revisited a bevy of her signature classics like "I Will Always Love You," "Jolene," "Applejack," "Coat of Many Colors," "Two Doors Down," and "Here You Come Again." The other half of the show weighed heavily on material from her brand new disc, Those Were the Days, a peace-loving collection of folk-rock covers from the 1960's and 1970's. In addition to the title track, Parton took the diverse audience on a musical journey with numbers like "Turn, Turn, Turn," "Crimson and Clover," "If I Were a Carpenter," "Me and Bobby McGee," and her current single, her rendition of the John Lennon classic "Imagine."
What sets Dolly Parton apart from all the rest is her grand ability to entertain. To the real observant concert-goer, it was obvious that Parton relied on a vocal track on a few numbers. In addition, it appeared that of the fiddle, guitar, dulcimer, lap harp, penny whistle, banjo and harmonica Parton appeared to be playing throughout the show, she was actually only genuinely playing the guitar and banjo, but no one seemed to mind. If Dolly Parton showed up to read the classified ads in the local newspaper, people would still pay to come and be entertained.
Although Parton has relied on some of the same between song banter and jokes for decades, the laughs and adoration are still there. On this night, she was especially playful and chatty with the audience and everyone went home satisfyingly entertained. They had just spent over an hour-and-a-half in the presence of a country legend and a consummate entertainer.
In addition to the coveted CMA awards last month, several of country's finest were honored with other awards. Just two days prior to being named the CMA Entertainer of the Year and Male Vocalist of the Year, Keith Urban was presented the CMA's International Artist Achievement award at a reception at New York City's Australian Consulate General. Urban was honored for "contributing to the awareness and development of country music throughout the world."
It was announced last month that the incomparable Dolly Parton will be honored by President George W. Bush. Bush selected Parton as one of 10 recipients for the 2005 National Medal of Arts from the National Endowment for the Arts. Unfortunately, due to her touring schedule, she was unable to attend the Washington, D.C. event but will receive the nation's "highest honor for artistic excellence" at a later date.
Kenny Chesney had a stellar year with his record-breaking "Somewhere in the Sun" tour, so much so that he took home Billboard magazine's Touring Award for Top Package. His highest-selling country tour of the year included Texan Pat Green, rocker Uncle Kracker and country's very own "Redneck Woman," Gretchen Wilson. Rascal Flatts captured the magazine's Breakthrough Artist touring award.
International superstar Shania Twain returned to her roots last month to receive her country's top honor. She was on hand in Ottawa at the close of CMA week to receive the Order of Canada. The honor read: "Today, she enjoys enormous success, yet she remains true to her roots. Dedicated to eliminating child hunger, she supports a number of food distribution agencies like food banks and breakfast programs in schools. From small-town Ontario to the pinnacle of the entertainment industry, her journey has inspired countless other emerging musicians."
Hats off to Keith, Dolly, Kenny, Rascal Flatts and Shania!
Mindy McCready Update
Following an emotional appearance on the nationally syndicated Oprah Winfrey Show last month discussing domestic violence and her suicide attempts, "Guys Do It All the Time" singer Mindy McCready got a little bit of a break in her legal woes. All charges against her were dropped in Kingman, Arizona, where she was charged in connection with an alleged con scheme involving a reported stolen pickup truck in Lake Havasu City, Ariz.
On the other hand, McCready's legal woes back home in Nashville have seemed to have gotten worse. Last month, her lawyers tried to get her DUI case thrown out, claiming a faulty field sobriety test. Well, the plan seemed to backfire as the judge moved the case to the Davidson County Grand Jury. If indicted, McCready could spend a minimum of 48 hours in jail and serve 11 months and 29 days probation.
Well, that's it for another month. I'd like to take this opportunity to wish you and your family a very happy holiday season. I urge you if you are in a position to help those less fortunate than you this season, please do whatever you can to spread some cheer. Always remember: "Keep your boots shined up and your hat on straight, `cause country music is comin' your way."