Cowboy Corner

Cowboy Corner
By Michael W. Stout

Kentucky State Fair Goin' Country Again

Believe it or not, another year has passed and the calendar says it's August, meaning one thing: it's State Fair time!!! As usual, the State Fair's goin' country with a heaping helping of foot tappin', hand clappin', guitar slappin' country music. The guys of Rascal Flatts - Jay DeMarcus, Joe Don Rooney and Gary LeVox - closed last year's Kentucky State Fair with a bang, but this year, they're gonna kick it off in a big way on Thursday, August 16 when their "Still Feels Good" tour (named after their upcoming new album) rolls into Freedom Hall. If you thought last year's concert was the concert of the year to hit the Derby City, then you're going to be even more excited with this year's offering. This year's state-of-the-art concert even features a bridge hovering over the audience spanning the entire length of the arena floor, allowing the trio to be intimately close with its fans. Rascal Flatts will kick off this year's fair along with Jason Aldean. Tickets are $60, including fair admission through August 6 and for $55 after August 6.

Trace Adkins has been in overdrive as of late and his career is hotter than ever! He's gonna bring his brand of country music (proving that guys and gals alike love this country boy) to the Fair on Saturday, August 18 in the air-conditioned Freedom Hall. And if Adkins wasn't enough, fans will be treated to the impeccable showmanship of Dierks Bentley and everyone's bound to get a kick out of "Red High Heels" American Idol alum Kellie Pickler. Tickets for this must-see show can be purchased for $41 (which includes Fair admission) through August 8 and $36 after August 8. Tickets for this show as well as Rascal Flatts can be purchased by calling (502) 361-3100, by visiting all TicketMaster locations, or by logging on to www.ticketmaster.com.

If the State Fair admission and prices of corn dogs and roasted corn-on-the-cob put a hurtin' on your wallet, then you're in luck, as there are numerous free country concerts being offered once again this year in the fairground's old Cardinal Stadium. The Oak Ridge Boys have been a staple at the Kentucky State Fair for nearly a hundred years (well, not quite that many but certainly more than 20 years) and this year is no exception. The boys will bring their tight harmonies to the Fair once again on Sunday, August 19. If you've never had the chance to see and hear Gary Allan perform in person, then if you can't make it to any other free show, you won't want to miss his performance along with Eric Church on Tuesday, August 21. I guarantee Allan will knock you off your boots! Thursday, August 23, Jo Dee Messina is sure to be a crowd-pleaser with her in-your-face brand of country music along with "Brand New Girlfriend" crooner Steve Holy. And wrapping up the free country concerts at this year's fair is none other than the "Pure B.S.'er" himself, Blake Shelton. Shelton will perform along with one of country music's outlaws from days gone by, "Find Out Who Your Friends Are" singer Tracy Lawrence on Saturday, August 25.

Load up the kids and Grandma and Grandpa into the pickup truck and head on down to the State Fair 'cause it's gonna be a countrified good time. The fair runs August 16-26 at the Kentucky Fair & Exposition Center. For all the details, log on to www.kystatefair.org.

Vietnam Vets Honor Big & Rich

Big Kenny and John Rich, better known as Big & Rich, are burning up the charts with their recently released new disc, Between Raising Hell & Amazing Grace, and they just hit the top of the country music charts for the first time with the album's first release, "Lost in This Moment." Although the duo reveled in their long-awaited first #1 certification, nothing compares to the honor they were bestowed last month in honor of their poignant single "8th of November." Big & Rich received the Vietnam Veterans of America's President's Award for Excellence in the Arts last month during the opening ceremony of the organization's convention in Springfield, Ill. The much-talked about single and video for "8th of November" was inspired by Purple Heart recipient Niles Harris, who fought for the United States in Vietnam in 1965.

D-I-V-O-R-C-E, Country Style

"Born to Fly" songstress Sara Evans and husband Craig Schelske have accused each other of just about everything since filing for divorce last October, during Evans' run and imminent departure from the Dancing with the Stars competition. In court documents recently filed, Schelske claims that his estranged wife lied about her financial worth in legal documents by underreporting the worth of the value of her copyrights, royalties and the value of their home. In return, Evans is pushing for a trial date for the divorce, the sooner the better. It has been reported that the case could go to trial as early as December

Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles is flying solo these days, at least in her personal life. After some speculation of a possible divorce, it was recently confirmed that she and her husband, Atlanta, Ga. entrepreneur Todd Van Sickle, were officially divorced back in March of this year. Fortunately for Nettles, she and musical partner Kristian Bush are riding high professionally these days. They are currently touring with Kenny Chesney, their single "Everyday America" is climbing the charts and is currently being used as the theme song for ABC-Television's morning news program Good Morning America and the duo will be headlining a concert tour sponsored by Country Music Television, "CMT on Tour," also featuring Little Big Town and Jake Owen from September 27 - December 15.

Hot New Country Music

After recording several years for MCA Nashville, Georgia songbird and Mrs. Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, has jumped ship and signed with Big Machine Records. Her first single for the label, titled "Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love," was released to country radio just last month. A release date for Yearwood's next album has not yet been announced, so keep reading for details as they become available.

During his famed stint on ABC-Television's Dancing with the Stars, Flatwoods, Kentucky boy Billy Ray Cyrus shamelessly kept plugging his upcoming new album. Well, fans got the opportunity to pick up a copy of the much-hyped Walt Disney Records album, Home at Last, late last month. This disc includes the ballad "Ready, Set, Don't Go," a heart-felt tune Cyrus wrote when daughter Miley Cyrus first left Tenn. for Cal. to begin working on the Disney Channel's Hannah Montana. The album also includes "You Can't Lose Me" by famed tunesmith Dianne Warren, as well as covers of "Brown-Eyed Girl," "Over the Rainbow," "Put a Little Love in Your Heart," and "You've Got a Friend."

"Here's a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares)" singer Travis Tritt is hoping to cause a big stir with his brand new album, titled The Storm, upon its August 21 release. The disc which includes songs written by not only Tritt himself, but also 80's pop star Richard Marx, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Dianne Warren, was produced by none other than American Idol judge Randy Jackson.

As I reported last month, Kenny Chesney's next album is being titled Just Who I Am: Poets & Pirates and includes the smash debut single "Never Wanted Nothing More." Fans can mark their calendars for September 11 to head on down to their favorite record-buying spot to pick up a copy for their very own. Fans can look for songs penned by the likes of Grand Ole Opry staple Bill Anderson, David Lee Murphy, the former Mr. Lorrie Morgan Jon Randall, Rascal Flatts member Joe Don Rooney and Kenny Rogers' "The Gambler" songwriter Don Schlitz.

Rooney and the other two fellas of Rascal Flatts have set a goal to surpass the success of their previous albums with their brand new CD, Still Feels Good, which includes the debut single "Take Me There." Band member Jay DeMarcus recently said, "Musically, we always try to challenge ourselves to be better than we were the album before and I think we got really, really close to the heart and soul of what Rascal Flatts was on Me and My Gang and with this album I think we're even closer. We've been able to pull things out of ourselves and [producer Dann Huff's] been able to push us to be better than we thought we could be and we've been surprised in the studio. We've found some really great material to cut and we've written some great things and we're really excited to explore even more of what the heart and soul of Rascal Flatts is." Still Feels Good is scheduled to hit stores on September 25.

The eternal Vocal Duo of the Year, Brooks & Dunn, continues to make great music and the tradition will continue on October 2 when they release their brand new CD, titled Cowboy Town. The disc will include their current single, "Proud of the House We Built." And if this weren't enough excitement for Kix & Ronnie, as well as all their fans, it was recently announced that the pair will be honored with their very own star on the famed Hollywood Walk of Fame next year.

The "Okie from Muskogee" himself, Merle Haggard, recently recorded his first-ever bluegrass album in a mere two days in Kentucky boy Ricky Skaggs' studio just outside of Nashville. Titled The Bluegrass Sessions and scheduled to hit stores on October 2, the disc includes bluegrass versions of some of Haggard's classics (including a duet with Alison Krauss on "Mama's Hungry Eyes"), a medley of Jimmie Rodgers songs and a cover of the Delmore Brothers' "Blues Stay Away from Me," as well as some brand new material. Marty Stuart performed guitar and mandolin on the disc and wrote the CD liner notes.

The release date for probably the most highly anticipated album of the year has finally been set by record executives. Carrie Underwood's sophomore album, the follow-up to her smash debut album, Some Hearts, has been scheduled to be released Oct 23. The 2005 American Idol winner, who was recently named the World's Sexiest Vegetarian by People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), has sold over 6 million copies of her debut album. Although the new album has not yet been titled, Underwood remains in the recording studio with producer Mark Bright and she expects to have a good number of self-penned tunes on the disc. Keep reading in the months to come for further details.

Toby Keith MIA from CMA's, FOREVER!

It may sound like a classic case of psychological sour grapes, but country's rowdy Oklahoman Toby Keith has vowed that he will be missing in action from all future Country Music Association Awards programs. Keith claims that he has not been given enough CMA awards throughout his career. Although he has received 27 nominations throughout his illustrious career, Keith has only taken home a mere two trophies - the 2001 Male Vocalist of the Year and the 2005 Video of the Year awards. He recently told Nashville's The Tennesseean newspaper, "I'm done with it, but I tried to keep that quiet. I don't want this to be sour grapes...It never worked for me. I gave it a full shot." Period!

Well, that's it for another month. I hope to see you out at the State Fair. Always remember: "Keep your boots shined up and your hat on straight, 'cause country music is comin' your way."