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> December is here, the holidays are upon us, and 1994 is drawing to a close. This has been a record year for country music right here in Louisville and throughout the world. Country music is more popular today than it has ever been and its popularity is growing every day. Country acts have performed all around the world and country record sales have been astronomical. This rising popularity of country music is forcing local record stores to increase their inventory to 50% country music.
Louisville played host to some of the biggest country concerts touring this year. Performers such as Michelle Wright, Mark Collie, Steve Wariner, Tim McGraw, Travis Tritt, Sammy Kershaw, Gibson/Miller Band, Little Texas, Lee Roy Parnell, David Ball, Toby Keith, BlackHawk, and most recently Vince Gill, Trisha Yearwood, and Larry Stewart all stopped off to play in Louisville. The Kentucky State Fair had a country line-up like no other this year with performers such as Reba McEntire, George Strait, Clay Walker, Lorrie Morgan, Boy Howdy, the Oak Ridge Boys, Brooks & Dunn, Faith Hill, Aaron Tippin, and Alan Jackson. We are very fortunate to have the opportunity to see and hear these megastars here in our very own hometown.
Nineteen ninety-four will be remembered as the year of the country tribute album, the most successful being Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles, which received the CMA Album of the Year award. Rhythm, Country & Blues paired country and R&B greats such as Vince Gill and Gladys Knight, Travis Tritt and Patti LaBelle, and Clint Black and the Pointer Sisters. Asleep at the Wheel joined several of their peers to honor Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys with Asleep at the Wheel: Tribute to the Music of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. Kathy Mattea rounded up friends to perform on Red Hot + Country, its proceeds going to AIDS research. Keith Whitley was honored with Keith Whitley: A Tribute Album, as was Merle Haggard with Mama's Hungry Eyes: A Tribute to Merle Haggard. Many country performers claim Lynyrd Skynyrd as a big musical influence and several joined to pay tribute on the recently released Skynyrd Frynds.
There has been a massive amount of hit CDs released this year from which to choose for all the country fans on your Christmas list this holiday season. It's no surprise that Garth Brooks enjoyed such success with In Pieces. Kathy Mattea had the comeback record of the year with Walking Away A Winner. Tim McGraw's Not A Moment Too Soon was certified triple-platinum and became the fourth longest running number one country album. Some of the most popular record sellers, such as Reba McEntire (Read My Mind), Vince Gill (When Love Finds You), and Alan Jackson (Who I Am), continued to ring up sales. I'm sure your friends and family would love to have some newcomers' CDs such as David Ball's Thinkin' Problem, Faith Hill's Take Me As I Am, and Neal McCoy's No Doubt About It. The latest smash release everyone will be asking for is The Tractors' self-titled debut release, which includes "Baby Likes To Rock It."
Greatest hits records and box sets make great gifts for your loved ones. Artists such as Alabama, Billy Dean, the Kentucky Headhunters, and Doug Stone have all recently released greatest hits albums. Maybe your friends would like the Bellamy Brothers' box set, 20 Years of Hits; the Everly Brothers' set, Heartaches & Harmonies; The Essential George Jones: The Spirit of Country; Chris LeDoux's American Cowboy collection; Willie Nelson's The Early Years; and who wouldn't love the Tanya Tucker box set.
Duet albums make great gifts and there are some great ones to choose from. Suzy Bogguss and Chet Atkins recently joined forces on Simpatico, Tammy Wynette joined both country and rock legends to make Without Walls, while George Jones joined several of his country music friends and peers and recorded The Bradley Barn Sessions. Speaking of Tammy Wynette and George Jones, the two went back in the studio and re-recorded "Golden Rings" for George's album. The couple, once married for six years and considered the King and Queen of Country Music, were so pleased with the song's turnout that they plan to record an entire duet album to be released in 1995. That's one we'll all be anxiously waiting to hear.
Why not support some local country musicians this holiday. You'll be able to find Karen Kraft's Takin' It Back, Brent Maveric's For God And Country, The Other Smothers Brothers' Puttin' Me Through Hell, and Crystal Ball, featuring some of Louisville's finest artists, at local record stores like Camelot Music, Musicland, ear X-Tacy, and Shively Records.
For all the readers on your Christmas shopping list, you can choose an autobiography of one of your favorite country performers. Naomi Judd tells the story of her rocky road of tribulation and poverty to her fairy tale success with daughter Wynonna in "Love Can Build A Bridge." Keep a lookout for the Judds' story on the small screen sometime in 1995. Naomi is the co-executive producer of this NBC miniseries which is currently being filmed, with a working title of "Naomi and Wynonna: Love Can Build A Bridge." Travis Tritt opens up his life in "10 Feet Tall and Bulletproof." Reba McEntire speaks candidly of her career and the loss of her band in a plane crash in "Reba: My Story." I highly recommend Dolly Parton's rags-to-riches story in "Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business." Dolly tells her life story in her own humorous way and even speaks about her cosmetic surgery and her seldom mentioned husband, Carl Dean.
Some great new CDs have hit the stores just in time for the holidays. Billy Ray Cyrus' third release, Storm In The Heartland, is bound to be a smash hit. George Strait has released Lead On, Aaron Tippin, Lookin' Back At Myself, and Ricky Van Shelton, Love And Honor. Shenandoah's new album, In The Vicinity of the Heart, includes the smash duet, "Somewhere In The Vicinity Of The Heart," with bluegrass great Alison Krauss.
If you are one who loves a good old-fashioned country Christmas, then you'll find it worthwhile to travel to Dollywood, Dolly Parton's theme park at the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, for a Smoky Mountain Christmas. Dollywood will be open Thurs. through Sun. till Dec. 11 and will be open daily from Dec. 15-30 (except Dec. 24 and 25) and will offer holiday shows, music, food, and more than 1.6 million twinkling lights. For more info, dial 1-800-DOLLYWOOD.
Opryland USA will have its most extensive Christmas ever this year with 2 million lights, holiday concerts, and even an ice rink. While in Nashville, be sure to stop by the amazing Opryland Hotel to see its 1.8 million lights, two-story gingerbread house, six miles of evergreen garland, and much more. Opryland USA's festivities will continue through Dec. 31 and you can call (615) 889-6611 for more details.
You can also enjoy Christmas In The Valley at Renfro Valley until Dec. 17. This will include a festival of lights, Santa's workshop, caroling, clogging elves, and "Christmas In The Valley," a holiday show filled with music, magic, and memories on Fri. and Sat. For more information, call Renfro Valley at (800) 765-7464.
You can fill the air with holiday cheer with new and traditional Christmas tunes by some of your favorite country performers. Pick up Trisha Yearwood's The Sweetest Gift, John Anderson's Christmas Time, and Sammy Kershaw's Christmas Time's A Coming, and I'm sure you'll run Scrooge right out the back door.
Speaking of Trisha Yearwood, I met up with her husband, Robert Reynolds of the Mavericks, during Trisha's recent stop in Louisville, and he said the two plan on spending their first Christmas together as a married couple at home in Hendersonville, Tenn., with family. He stated that "family is what Christmas is all about." Merry Christmas Trisha and Robert!
I hope you all have a good ole country Christmas and I wish you all a happy, healthy, prosperous, and safe New Year. If you are in a position to help, please remember those less fortunate than you this holiday season. And always remember: Keep your boots shined up and your hat on straight, 'cause country music is comin' your way.