If you’re coming out of retirement, it apparently pays “big money” to be Garth Brooks: Records have been released showing that he was paid more than a million dollars by the town of Rosemont, Illinois to launch his comeback tour in the Chicago suburb last year.

However, the payout is not pain-free — it has led to a legal controversy involving the Illinois Attorney General.

Initially, the town of Rosemont refused to release financial documents about the deal to the Chicago Tribune, saying it would compromise future negotiations with other artists. The Tribune argued that the contract and financial documents should be considered public records since the arena is supported by tax dollars, and filed a Freedom of Information act.

After a five-month legal battle, Attorney General Lisa Madigan sided with the Tribune and ruled that Rosemont was violating state open-records laws.

So — fans are probably wondering. What exactly was in these “secret” documents?

They show that Brooks was paid $100k for each of his 11 sold-out shows, plus a discounted rental rate to use the venue. A Rosemont spokesperson told the Chicago Tribune that the town made more than 2 million dollars as a result of the deal.

There’s no comment yet from Brooks’s camp. The star, meanwhile, was busy this week playing a much smaller surprise club gig during the Country Radio Seminar in Nashville, and continues to sell out shows on his World Tour with wife Trisha Yearwood.

By Chris Willman

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At an industry panel at the annual Country Radio Seminar conference in Nashville Thursday, programmers debated whether “bro-country” is on the wane, just part of a nice mix, or will continue to be dominant indefinitely. But what’s become clear over the last few days of CRS is just how many amazing country songs are on the immediate horizon. Will these be the ones that get the spins and come to define country music this spring, summer, and fall? Only your friendly neighborhood conglomerate knows for sure.

At the annual Universal Music Group showcase at the Ryman, 16 artists came out to do one acoustic song each — well, Keith Urban got two, probably because he’s such a mean guy and pitched a diva fit backstage (that’s a joke) — and it amounted to the best two-hour country concert of this or any recent year.

Among those debuting brand new material were Urban, Kacey Musgraves, Eric Church, Chris Stapleton, the Brothers Osborne, and Mickey Guyton, while Dierks Bentley, Josh Turner, Little Big Town, and others played their current hits. Every one of the above-named artists simply killed it, by any known standard, and you were left leaving the Ryman with the Pollyanna-ish feeling that the format is ridiculously healthy.

Although Musgraves has been performing “Biscuits” on tour for a while, her performance of it at the Ryman was the first time most radio programmers had heard the first single from her sophomore album, which the host pointedly proclaimed would be “on your desk” the moment they got back to their hotel rooms. (The official add date for radio isn’t until mid-March, which is also when it goes on sale on iTunes.) Will this usher in the Musgraves/radio marriage we’ve all been waiting for? Possibly: It’s like a combination of her previous two most whimsically cutting message songs, CMA Song of the Year “Follow Your Arrow” and “Step Off,” as Musgraves advises the world’s busy-bodies to “Mind your own biscuits, and life will be gravy.” One lyrical couplet got a huge laugh inside the Ryman: “Pouring salt in my sugar won’t make yours any sweeter/Pissing in my yard won’t make yours any greener.”

Urban premiered a rollicking new anthem for a generation in which he proclaims himself “a child of backseat freedom, baptized in rock ‘n’ roll.” The hook: “I learned everything I need to know from John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16.” If that doesn’t sum up the 2015 country ethos without actually invoking the word “country,” nothing does. He followed that by closing the UMG showcase at the so-called Mother Church by bringing out Eric Church to duet on his current single, “Raise ‘Em Up.”

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Minutes earlier, Church had debuted a song of his own, unexpectedly, even to himself, it would seem. He told the crowd of radio honchos that he’d planned on playing “Wrecking Ball,” but just before he came on-stage, someone reminded him how he’d played that tune at last February’s label showcase. Church is a no-repeat kind of guy, apparently, so, he said, “I’m gonna play something nobody’s heard,” a song he suggested wasn’t even in a finished state. “I don’t know if it’ll be cut or anything,” he added.

What followed was a riveting ballad about Alzheimer’s, inspired by the singer’s experiences trying to relate to his stricken grandfather when he was a teenager, spoken as if to a doctor: “I don’t mind at all remembering for him/He don’t have to get why I adore him/He don’t have to know me/’Cause I know who he is.”

In another musical setting, the song could have played as sentimental or treacly, but Church’s raggedy electric guitar accompaniment made it tough as well as tender. If he does get around to finishing and recording it, expect it to be a highlight of his next album.

On the lighter side, a label rep gifted Church with a onesie bearing a huge image of the artist’s sunglasses-clad face, in honor of his wife having given birth to a boy 11 days ago. “That is just scary,” Church said, looking at the infant-wear. “That’s frightening.”

Asked Urban, “Did you tell ‘em how much sleep you’re getting, Eric?” “It’s like back in the club days,” Church responded. “Without the drugs.” During the “Raise ‘Em Up” duet, Urban shot his counterpart a look when he sang “make some love, and then babies come,” and Church answered, “Yes, they do.”

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Birth and death were recurring themes, in fact, throughout the UMG showcase, occasional bro-ishness notwithstanding. Josh Turner started the show by singing his currently rising “Lay Low,” and the announcer noted that Turner hadn’t been laying low, given how many kids he’s had over the last decade. “Yeah, there is some laying low involved in having four children,” Turner retorted.

All rapport over the sexual implications of that terminology aside, it is encouraging that a song that could end up as the most-played of 2015 (at least, that’s what Universal’s people swear their research is leading them to believe) is truly about laying low and not getting laid. And when Turner climaxed the song by getting trademark-low with the final note, it was the first high point of the day.

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On the country-death-watch side of things — most recently heard in moving radio hits like “I Drive Your Truck” and “Drink a Beer,” neither of which was actually a truck or beer song — the showcase offered a couple of additions to that subgenre. 

Canaan Smith debuted a new song called “Bronco” by saying, “This is a slice of life that was ugly for me,” explaining how he lost his brother in a car crash when they were kids, yet continued to memorialize his sibling by thinking of his sweet ride, the title automobile. “It takes a lifetime of prayers on bended knee/Tryin’ to come to peace with your memory.” 

Smith said he was reluctant to put “Bronco” on the EP he has coming out March 24, since the album that will follow in the summer will have that tune as the title track, but he couldn’t wait to get it out.

Chris Stapleton got the first standing ovation of the showcase with another death-themed song, “Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore,” written after his father passed away in October 2013. The dad in question was a coal miner, and in his honor, Stapleton brought “the first piece of coal he ever pulled out of the ground” to the stage of the Ryman and placed it on a chair in front of him as he sang this simple but tear-jerking eulogy. Two years ago, Stapleton was unveiled as an artist to the crowd at this same annual showcase, and he got an ovation then, too, but it’s taking this long to finally get a freshman album out… which Universal’s people swear is imminently on the horizon for 2015.

One thing we can say almost for sure: “Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore” won’t be one of the singles, unless we somehow time-travel back to the Carter Family era. But with whatever single does get the push, it’ll be interesting to see if the radio programmers who keep giving him ovations can put their money where their feet is and make Stapleton a star.

Not enough loss for you? David Nail started his trip to the stage by talking about how he’d lost his grandmother last year, and how not being able to leave his tour to attend her funeral had prompted the new ballad he was unveiling, which was likely called “Home” (unless they come up with something else in deference to the Dierks hit of the same name). 

“I thought I’d closed the door on songs about this type of thing… Maybe two people in the room have heard this,” Nail said, adding that premiering it for such an influential audience was “probably a recipe for disaster.” 

It wasn’t: “Home,” which doesn’t turn out to be so funereal after all, is a simply stunning evocation of how “the fields and the sky and the stones” of where you grew up remain “in your blood and your bones.” It’s the kind of roots-honoring song that half the artists in country music have tried to write at some point but few have gotten as right as Nail.

Amid all this birth and demise, was there any room for lust, or does that belong strictly to the Sony and Big Machine label groups? Ah, the Universal artists did not let us down there, either, even though the all-acoustic setting did lend itself to some solemnity. Little Big Town took advantage of that sparseness to reproduce their already-spare current hit, “Girl Crush,” which sounds so unlike anything else on country radio that everyone is waiting for it to develop into a world crush. 

The Brothers Osborne got a standing ovation of their own by debuting a song (due March 9) in which they promise to “tear the T-shirts off each other” (presumably meaning not the other brothers, but their respective girlfriends). The great female hope of 2015, Mickey Guyton, beautifully bashed an ex with the bluegrass-flavored “Nice Things,” from a forthcoming freshman album.

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And, while it was hardly a premiere, Vince Gill got seriously romantic in bringing out the program’s only oldie, “Whenever You Come Around,” by explaining that “this is a song inspired by a smile on the face of a woman I had never met” — future wife Amy Grant, back in 1993. 

Gill got a standing O just for coming out, as he does every year, even though it’s been eons since these radio people allowed the most-liked fellow in country music to have a hit. “I’m not gonna quit sending you records,” he swore. “Just rest assured, it’s okay either way,” he added.

Us to radio: No, it’s not okay either way. If you would actually play all the songs and artists that get you on your feet at CRS every year, the format would live up to its promise and truly be the soundtrack to our lives, not just our happy hour. Truly commit to programming “Biscuits” — and all the other aforementioned great new tracks — and we believe your ratings will be gravy!

by Chris Willman

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As the annual industry conference Country Radio Seminar got underway in Nashville Wednesday night, Garth Brooks could be found doing a secret club show. But, amazingly enough, that wasn’t even the hottest 1990s revivalism ticket in town. There was an even bigger buzz about a ’90s-themed showcase featuring the likes of Douglas Douglason, Shelton Van Ricky, and his sister Shelby Shelton. If those names sound unfamiliar, they should — they have, until now, existed solely in the imaginations of Dierks Bentley and his band. They invited a few hundred guests to the Stage to see the debut of Hot Country Knights, their fictional and bewigged cover group. Guests including Miranda Lambert, Kip Moore, Randy Houser, and Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley got in on the joke, too, in or out of period costume.

Bentley has been teasing fans with the Hot Country Knights concept for a while, setting up Facebook and Twitter accounts for the pseudo-group and some of its imaginary members. The conceit is that the Knights were Nashville’s greatest cover band before breaking up over severe intra-band conflicts on the eve of Y2K… with their personalities, wardrobes, and musical tastes apparently all having been in hibernation for the last 15 years. The Spinal Tap-style comedy occurred not just between songs but also during, as Bentley and the group’s other lead singer (played by his real-life bass player, Cassady Feasby) battled for control of the band and gave each other the middle finger even in the middle of songs. But there was nothing unduly funny about the music itself, as the Hot Country Knights ripped through two hours of extremely well-rehearsed material, mostly overlooking potentially campy ’90s songs and concentrating on the era’s harder-rocking hits.

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Lambert, wearing a headband and stealing Bentley’s colorful sunglasses to play the role of Shelby Shelton, brought the house down with her rendition of Shania Twain’s “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?” Her voice wasn’t nearly as high as Kelley’s, who, playing “Ronnie Buns,” made good on his promise to stretch a falsetto note on “My Maria” out to unreasonable lengths; he also did some 2010s-style butt-wiggling you won’t usually find in Lady A’s act. In contrast to Kelley’s hilariously dated Western wear, ballcap-wearing Kip Moore was perhaps a bit too embarrassed to dress up in period garb for the occasion, and thus played himself (as Bentley’s character, ever stuck in the past, failed to recognize his famous duet partner). Though nobody held it against him, Moore was also the only guest unable to keep a straight face through the comedy, cracking up repeatedly as he tackled David Lee Murphy’s “Dust on the Bottle.”

"This s—- again?" Bentley said more than once during the show, as he battled for control of the lead vocals with his surlier looking counterpart. Midway through the show, these two bickering bandmates seemed to put their middle fingers away and forged a peace. They launched into John Michael Montgomery’s "Grundy County Auction," figuring that "he (Montgomery) solves everything." Bentley’s Doug Douglason was nicer to his Slash-styled lead guitar player, holding a box fan up to the guitarist’s hair to create a wind effect, then, when that failed, just blowing on his locks. An encore was inevitable, if only because a pre-recorded chant of "One more song!" was pumped loudly over the sound system. Yet the encore choice of Travis Tritt’s "T-R-O-U-B-L-E" inevitably proved prophetic, climaxing with the bass player smashing Shelton’s acoustic guitar to bits, leading to a staged fistfight that went from the stage into the audience and eventually out the door into the Nashville snowfall.

Also turning in an expert musical-comedy turn was Bentley’s fiddle-player and real-life band leader, Dan Holchalter, who turned out to be a slumming Russian violinist, Terotej “Terry” Dvoraczekinsky. The Russkie fiddler went from being the group’s most cheerful number to swilling vodka, eventually taking over the microphone to do a heavily accented and deeply bitter version of “Achy Breaky Heart,” one of the set’s few truly campy choices.

Among the other song choices: Alan Jackson’s “Chattahoochee” as the opener, plus Collin Raye’s “Little Rock,” Shenandoah’s “Church on Cumberland Road,” Tracy Byrd’s “Watermelon Crawl,” Sawyer Brown’s “Some Girls Do,” and Mark Chesnutt’s “Too Cold at Home” (sung by Randy Hauser in a seeming impression of John Anderson).

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Given the weeks or months of rehearsal that went into these rock-solid covers, not to mention the connective comedy tissue, will the Knights see the light of day anywhere besides CRS? Bentley’s rep says a few more surprise gigs may occur over the next few months. A suggestion: Even though Moore appeared here because he’s been booked as Bentley’s opening act on tour this summer, it might not be too late to rethink things and have Dierks and his band open for themselves… even if the Knights would be likely to hold out for a headlining slot.

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The song “Mama’s Broken Heart” is, of course, best known as performed by country superstar Miranda Lambert. However, the song was written by the formidable Nashville trio of Brandy Clark, Kacey Musgraves, and Shane McAnally – and Musgraves in particular did not want to give the song up. Lambert reportedly had to “beg” for the Grammy-nominated tune, which of course ended up being one of the most beloved country hits of 2013.

Country fans are likely aware of that particular story; however, they may not realize songwriter Clark’s close association with the song as well. In this exclusive performance, Clark takes on the tune in a manner completely different from Lambert (or Musgraves, had she cut it, for that matter)…showing off a smooth, almost slinky, and slightly humorous delivery that gives an entirely new feel to the composition.

Clark was recently nominated for Best New Artist and Best Country album at the 57th Grammy Awards held earlier this month.

The Oscars took a solemn turn when Tim McGraw took the stage Sunday night. Dressed in a tuxedo and his signature black cowboy hat, the country superstar sang Glen Campbell’s nominated song, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” sitting on a stool without his guitar — or anything else to detract from the emotional lyrics penned by Campbell with Julian Raymond as a love letter to his family.

Why Glen Campbell’s Oscar Nod Is Monumental

McGraw was handpicked by the Campbell family to fill in for the ailing legend. A first-time Oscar nominee, Campbell was unable to travel to Los Angeles for the show due to his deteriorating health. The 78-year-old “Rhinestone Cowboy” was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2011 and had to be moved into a memory care facility last year. Raymond tells Rolling Stone Country that, sadly, Campbell doesn’t understand their nomination.

Click here for complete Oscars coverage, and download the Yahoo App for instant insider updates.

"I was so pleased that the Grammys gave him a Lifetime Achievement award when he could still understand what it was and appreciate it. But this is a whole different deal," says the pop-country icon’s producer and co-writer. "It’s a cliché thing to say, but I’m just so happy to be nominated, for him and his family. I feel just so happy that this whole thing is creating a brand-new legacy for him and getting some of those great old songs heard. As we joke, he’s lived a thousand lifetimes. He’s just amazing in so many ways."

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Penned during the earlier stages of Campbell’s illness, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” is the final song of the legendary entertainer’s 60-year career, written and recorded for his 2014 documentary, Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me. The bittersweet love song sends the poignant message that the silver lining of Alzheimer’s is that he won’t feel his loved ones’ pain as they watch him succumb to the disease. His wife, Kim Campbell, tells Rolling Stone Country that making music acted as a speed bump in the early progression of his Alzheimer’s.

"Music utilizes all of the brain, not just one little section of it," she says. "Everything’s firing all at once. It’s really stimulating and probably helped him plateau and not progress as quickly as he might have. I could tell from his spirits that it was good for him. It made him really happy. It was good for the whole family to continue touring and to just keep living our lives. And we hope it encourages other people to do the same."

Kim and daughter Ashley Campbell attended the Academy Awards, stopping to pose with McGraw and wife Faith Hill on the red carpet. “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” was nominated alongside songs from Selma, The Lego Movie, Beyond the Lights and Begin Again.

The Oscars are this Sunday and as we reported last month, country legend Glen Campbell is up for an award in the Best Original Song category. As you probably know, Campbell is suffering from Alzheimer’s, so Tim McGraw will be filling in for him at the ceremony, performing the nominated tune, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You.”

Tim of course is no stranger to Hollywood. He’s starred in films like The Blind Side, Friday Night Lights, and one of our favorites, Country Strong.

But you know, he’s not the only artist to make the move from Music City to Tinseltown:

—Tim’s wife, Faith Hill, starred opposite Nicole Kidman (who of course, is married to another country powerhouse, Keith Urban) in 2004’s The Stepford Wives.

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—Carrie Underwood made her feature film debut in 2011’s Soul Surfer.

—There was Billy Ray Cyrus’s memorable role (and fight scene with Justin Theroux!) in David Lynch’s 2001 film, Mulholland Drive

—In addition to starring and garnering an Academy Award nod for the title track of the 1980 film 9 to 5, Dolly Parton’s showed off her acting chops in classics like Steel Magnolias and The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas.

—Critics thought Dwight Yoakam was robbed of an Oscar nomination in 1996 for his performance in Sling Blade.

—Toby Keith showed off his, er, dramatic range in 2008’s Beer For My Horses.

—In addition to starring in two TV sitcoms, Reba McEntire made a cute cameo in the 1994 film version The Little Rascals.

Plus don’t forget, Sissy Spacek won a Best Actress Oscar in 1981 for her portrayal of country icon Loretta Lynn in the biopic, Coal Miner’s Daughter.

So what’s your favorite movie starring a country artist? Tell us! Tweet us at @YahooMusic.

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Brantley Gilbert recently debuted the video for his moving single “One Hell of an Amen,” in which he detailed the lives of two very brave men whose lives ended in two very different ways. At the end of the video, he added a cryptic shoutout to “Kory and Jon.” Wonder who those men might be?

As it turns out, the song was actually written for real friends of Gilbert’s: Kory, who lost a battle with leukemia; as well as Jon, a hometown hero who died in the line of duty defending others in Iraq. In this look behind the scenes — exclusive to Ram Country — Gilbert and his team, including the director of the video, detail the story behind the shoot.

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As Gilbert himself explains: “I don’t write about things that I don’t experience…[but] these two experiences really hit home for me. When you see the video for this song, there are actors that play Kory and Jon, but the still pictures that you see were given to us by the families. The bandana is the actual bandana Kory wore during chemo. It says a lot but it means a lot.

"This song is not about death to me, it’s about fighting the good fight," he continues. "It’s about shedding light on what these boys stood for and what they went out doing. The song and the video are sort of the ultimate goodbye – a tribute to the boys, the good fight and the legacy they leave behind. Any time you go out fighting for your life, or fighting for your country, that is one hell of an Amen.”

Gilbert is currently nominated for the first-ever Renegade Award at the iHeart Media Music Awards, which recognizes artists who break boundaries while remaining true to themselves. His latest album, Just As I Am, took home the American Music Award for Favorite Country Album in 2014.

Love is in the air for Valentine’s Day – and one of the most enduring love stories ever was that of the late Johnny Cash and June Carter. That’s not just in the eyes of American music fans: even the Brits think so, too! 

In 1984, the “Man In Black” wrote a good old-fashioned pen-and-ink letter to his beloved wife. It was just voted as the “Greatest Love Letter of All Time,” according to the UK’s Daily Mail. Cash was up against some stiff competition too, beating out notes from poet John Keats, Winston Churchill, King Henry the 8th (to Anne Boleyn), Richard Burton (to Elizabeth Taylor), and more! 

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Cash penned the letter from Denmark to his wife on her 65th birthday. It’s on the short side but very, very sweet: 

"We get old and get used to each other. We think alike. We read each other’s minds. We know what the other wants without asking. Sometimes we irritate each other a little bit. Maybe sometimes take each other for granted. But once in awhile, like today, I meditate on it and realize how lucky I am to share my life with the greatest woman I ever met. You still fascinate and inspire me. You influence me for the better. You’re the object of my desire, the #1 Earthly reason for my existence. I love you very much." 

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