by Chris Willman

image

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.

image

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).

image

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.

image

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."

image

Getty Images

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.

image

—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.

image

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.

image

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! 

image

Getty Images

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." 

image

Eric Church has been selling out arenas since his Outsiders Tour kicked off back in September, but he made headlines last week when he played a show in Salt Lake City. Instead of the dazzling sets, lights, videos and other elements normally associated with his tour, the audience got a scaled-back, acoustic set after most of Church’s crew had fallen ill with a stomach virus.

image

Something like a little stomach bug has a huge impact on an expensive, highly choreographed production like an arena tour. In a recent interview with CBS News, Church’s team estimated that the nine-month road show costs around $19 million to produce.

Some of those costs include the following:

—$3 million: Stage

—$3.9 million: Fourteen trucks and buses

—$2.5 million: Lighting, audio, and video

—$2 million: Crew, which Church’s tour manager says “generally puts in 18-hour days.”

Those costs go up even more when artists like Jason Aldean play the largest venues out there. Huge stadiums generally cost between $1.2 and $1.8 million each show. In order to save money, artists have gotten creative and collaborative. Billboard reported last year that when Aldean and Billy Joel had back-to-back shows at the Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, they split production costs, sharing the stage itself and labor – saving an estimated $500,000 to $700,000.

image

Brandy Clark was nominated in two categories — for her album 12 Stories, as well as the prestigious all-genre New Artist group — at the 2015 Grammy Awards on February 8. She didn’t take home either trophy, but she’s a winner overall in terms of the impact her music has made on Nashville and country fans overall. 

image

In this exclusive interview, the game-changing artist discusses how the Grammys extended her (already growing) audience, why it’s a great time to be a woman in Nashville, the reason why female artists actually have much more freedom within songwriting than male artists, and how stereotypes in country music just aren’t relevant anymore. Having come off a highly successful 2014, Clark is ready to continue forging her own path in 2015.