Cowboy Corner

Cowboy Corner
By Michael W. Stout

A Good Ole Country Christmas

If you and your family are looking for a special holiday experience this season, there are a couple spectacular options within a few hours drive. First off, pack the car and head to Music City U.S.A., Nashville, Tennessee, for Gaylord Opryland's "A Country Christmas" celebration. Opryland Hotel flipped the switch illuminating nearly two million holiday lights on November 17 with the help of hot country duo Thompson Square and award-winning Christian trio Point of Grace. In addition to the holiday lights, the festival offers something for the entire family, from two-year-olds to 92-year-olds. New York City's famed holiday staple, the Rockettes, are kicking their heels high in the air during the "Radio City Christmas Spectacular" celebrating its tenth year at the famed Grand Ole Opry House. Country fans won't want to miss the high-energy "Louise Mandrell's Christmas Dinner Party" featuring a festive meal, followed by a Mandrell holiday concert along with special guest gospel singer Christy Sutherland.

Country fans will also want to plan on taking a trip down the Cumberland River on the General Jackson Showboat for its Christmas dinner show titled "A Country Christmas on the Cumberland." Gaylord Opryland has teamed up with DreamWorks this year, offering a vast number of opportunities for kids of all ages to meet characters like Shrek, Fiona, Puss in Boots, the Kung Fu Panda himself, Po, and Madagascar characters like Alex, Gloria, King Julien, and everyone's favorite penguins.

"ICE!" features more than two million pounds of ice carved to tell the story of Merry Madagascar, as well as 20-foot ice slides, so grab your hat and gloves for a once-in-a-lifetime display. The free show "Holiday Shrektacular" will cause you to move it, move it and get up and dance along with Shrek and friends. And if you hadn't gotten enough of Shrek and friends, you can enjoy the ShrekFeast breakfast buffet, which includes one-on-one meetings with Shrek, Fiona, and Puss in Boots. The first-class "A Country Christmas" will run through January 3. For more details, call 888-677-9872 or log onto ChristmasAtGaylordOpryland.com.

If the family's up for a little lengthier road trip, pack the car, your gloves, hats, and scarves and head to the Great Smoky Mountains in eastern Tennessee for Dollywood's annual "Smoky Mountain Christmas" festival. Country legend Dolly Parton's theme park at the foothills of the Smokies has been transformed into a winter wonderland, with more than four million holiday lights. The park offers a variety of holiday shows, including the brand new "Dollywood's Christmas on Ice!" featuring skaters from Ice Theater of New York, "Christmas in the Smokies," "Twas the Night Before Christmas," "O' Holy Night," and "Appalachian Christmas," as well as sounds of the season by Dollywood's own award-winning Southern Gospel quartet The Kingdom Heirs. In addition, kids of all ages will have a chance to visit Santa's Workshop, experience "The Polar Express 4-D Experience" which allows you to enjoy highlights from the heartfelt film in 3-D while sitting in a motion seat choreographed to the movie, a nightly Parade of Lights, and many down-home tastes of the season. Dollywood's "Smoky Mountain Christmas" festival will run through December 30. For more info, call 866-857-2123 or log onto Dollywood.com.

If you're looking for a country Christmas celebration a little closer to home, then you're in luck as husband and wife Vince Gill and Amy Grant will bring their "12 Days of Christmas" show to Louisville's Palace Theatre on Thursday, December 15. Tickets for this show cost $39.50 -$79.50 and can be purchased by calling 502-583-4555 or by logging onto LouisvillePalace.com. And if free is more your speed when it comes to celebrating the holiday season country-style, the second annual CMA Country Christmas, hosted by Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles, will air on ABC-Television on December 1. This special will include holiday performances by country artists Lauren Alaina, Vince Gill, Faith Hill, Little Big Town, Martina McBride, Brad Paisley, Kellie Pickler, Rascal Flatts, Darius Rucker, Sugarland, and Keith Urban.

Sugarland Returns to Indiana

Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush, who make up Sugarland, the reigning CMA Vocal Duo of the Year, returned to Indiana for the first time since the August 13 stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis, which claimed seven lives and injured more than 40. The duo made an emotional visit to the tragic site, viewing for the first time the remains of their mangled stage equipment still twisted and crumpled beneath the toppled stage on the fairgrounds outdoor grandstand stage. Their visit took place on the afternoon of October 28, a few hours prior to their "makeup" concert held at downtown Indianapolis's Conseco Fieldhouse, a free concert which was used to gather donations at the door, raising funds for the Indiana State Fair Remembrance Fund.

Prior to Sugarland's performance, the last show of their nearly two-year "Incredible Machine Tour," Nettles made the following emotional comments: "We are all changed by what happened then. Obviously we are here in October — we were supposed to do this show in August. Obviously, the stage is different, you are different, and we are different. We are all changed by what happened then, but we are going to try to give you the best show that we can and to celebrate healing with you and to celebrate life and music with you here tonight."

Opening the show were Indiana native musician Corey Cox and actress Rita Wilson (Tom Hanks' wife). When Sugarland accepted their trophy for CMA Vocal Duo of the Year last month, Nettles simply stated, "Thank you so much to the fans. I'd love to dedicate [this] to them this year…Thank you to the good folks of Indiana. This is for the fans."

Young Artists Dominate the CMA Awards

When the 45th Annual Country Music Association awards were handed out last month in Nashville, the evening practically belonged to the youngsters of country music. Twenty-one-year-old Taylor Swift captured the most coveted prize, Entertainer of the Year, her second win in that category, the first being back in 2009. The young brothers and sister trio The Band Perry was the top winner, walking away with three trophies. The trio was named New Artist of the Year and their smash debut single, "If I Die Young," earned them the Single of the Year trophy and the Song of the Year trophy for Kimberly Perry for writing the hit.

The evening was pretty magical for Jason Aldean, as he took home his first-ever CMA trophies: one for Album of the Year for My Kinda Party and one for Musical Event of the Year along with Kelly Clarkson for "Don't You Wanna Stay." It was bound to be a celebratory evening in the Shelton household as Blake Shelton and wife Miranda Lambert continued their reign as Male and Female Vocalist of the Year for the second consecutive year. Lady Antebellum was named Vocal Group of the Year for the third consecutive year, and Sugarland was named Vocal Duo of the Year for the fifth consecutive year. During the ceremony, Faith Hill fans were in hog heaven as the beauty debuted her brand new single, "Come Home," marking her first CMA performance in five years.

And the winners are: Entertainer of the Year: Taylor Swift; Female Vocalist of the Year: Miranda Lambert; Male Vocalist of the Year: Blake Shelton; New Artist of the Year: The Band Perry; Vocal Duo of the Year: Sugarland; and Vocal Group of the Year: Lady Antebellum.

Album of the Year: Jason Aldean's My Kinda Party; Single of the Year: The Band Perry's "If I Die Young"; Song of the Year: The Band Perry's "If I Die Young," written by Kimberly Perry; Music Video of the Year: Kenny Chesney & Grace Potter's "You and Tequila"; Musical Event of the Year: Jason Aldean & Kelly Clarkson's "Don't You Wanna Stay"; and Musician of the Year: Mac McAnally (guitar).

Congratulations to all the winners!

Other Country Awards

Billboard Magazine passed out their prestigious Billboard Touring Awards during a ceremony in New York City on November 10 and country music was well rewarded. Kenny Chesney's "Goin' Coastal Tour," which featured Zac Brown Band, Uncle Kracker, and Billy Currington, won the Top Touring Package award. Taylor Swift's "Speak Now Tour" won the Concert Marketing & Promotion award, while Jason Aldean's impressive headlining tour won the Breakthrough award.

SESAC's annual Nashville Music Awards were handed out last month and Lady Antebellum's Hillary Scott was the big winner of the evening. She was named Songwriter of the Year, her Hillary Dawn Songs publishing company was named Publisher of the Year along with EMI Foray Music, and she was honored for co-writing four of the year's most performed songs: "A Little Bit Stronger," "Just a Kiss," "Our Kind of Love," and "Need You Now." In addition to Scott's wins, Chris Young's "Tomorrow" was named Song of the Year.

Chesney & McGraw Team Up for Stadium Tour

Country fans will want to flock to Cincinnati's Paul Brown Stadium, home of the Cincinnati Bengals, on July 1 for a sure-to-be unforgettable musical experience. Two of the biggest names in country music today, Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw, just announced their "Brothers of the Sun" tour, which will also feature Grace Potter & the Nocturnals and Jake Owen. On each stop of the tour, following the opening sets, McGraw will take the stage to perform his complete concert, followed by Chesney performing his full concert, and wrapping up the night, the two will take the stage together for some duets and special musical memories.

McGraw and Chesney first toured ten years ago and they are both very excited to reunite for the fans. McGraw says, "Our friendship was forged on the road, so it's going to be a blast heading out with Kenny again. We'll be having as much fun onstage as the fans will be having in the audience." Chesney says, "When I went out with McGraw in 2001, I was just trying to find my place in the world, to learn all I could…It's so wonderful that a decade later Tim and I are still doing it, still trying to record the best songs that we can and still having fun doing what we're doing. The chemistry and the friendship and how much we've both been through in our lives to get where we are today, we're going to bring all of that, every emotion, to the stage, and I think that's going to be really fun for the fans to watch."

If you're unable to attend the July 1 show in Cincinnati, never fear, as the "Brothers of the Sun" tour will also be in Nashville's LP Field on June 23, Chicago's Soldier Field on July 7, and additional shows will be announced in the near future for Indianapolis's Lucas Oil Stadium and Cleveland's Cleveland Browns Stadium.

Keith Urban Undergoes Throat Surgery

Early last month, the country "wonder from Down Under," Keith Urban, announced that he would be undergoing minor outpatient surgery for a polyp on his vocal chords sometime in November (NOTE: at press time, no news had emerged whether or not Urban had yet undergone surgery). The singer expects a full recovery, but the process "will require complete voice rest followed by an undetermined period of recuperation." Leading up to the surgery, Urban canceled performances that required him to sing multiple songs, including performances on November 12 and 26 at the Grand Ole Opry, and he has postponed his previously scheduled January 18 "All for the Hall" benefit concert for the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum. Fortunately for fans, Urban was able to perform on the 45th Annual Country Music Association Awards show last month.

Best wishes, Keith, for a quick and complete recovery!

Well, that's all for this month, and for this year! I'd like to take this opportunity to wish you and your family the happiest holiday season ever and urge you, despite the hard economic times, if you are able to reach out and help others this holiday season, please do so. Always remember: "Keep your boots shined up and your hat on straight, 'cause country music is comin' your way."