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Interview:
Hoedown Headliners Ready For A Party
 

By GARY GRAFF
of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK

Detroit's annual Downtown Hoedown usually defines the current state of country music.

This year it will celebrate the genre's resilience.

As Nashville has bailed out from paralyzing flood waters, country musicians have stepped out to help their community in a variety of ways, from telethons and benefit concerts to financial donations and even serving food to the homeless and to relief workers. And they've kept the Grand Ole Opry shows on schedule, even though the legendary venue itself has suffered substantial damage.

This year's Hoedown gives the artists a chance to get out of town, show that the show must go on and also spread the word about the status of and need for help in country music's capitol. The Hoedown is doing its part, too, collecting Nickels For Nashville around Hart Plaza throughout the weekend.

So you can count on messages of solidarity from the Hart Plaza stage — as well as the usual wide range of country styles from this year's 33 local and national acts, including the three headline attractions...

UNCLE KRACKER

During his days in Kid Rock's Twisted Brown Trucker band or even before, Uncle Kracker never saw country music in his future, much less a headline spot at Detroit's Downtown Hoedown.

Sure, the Mt. Clemens-raised singer (real name Matt Shafer) had an affinity for the twang, mostly thanks to hearing the country music his father played around the house. But as he garnered rock and pop success with Kid Rock and with his first solo albums, he never would have predicted a chart-topping country single — the 2004 duet with Kenny Chesney, "When the Sun Goes Down" — or even having country radio embrace "Smile," the first single from his latest album, 2009's "Happy Hour," which also hit No. 2 on Billboard's Adult-Contemporary charts and has been certified platinum.

"I kind of like the back door," says Kracker, 35, who resides in Harrison Township with his wife and three children. "I would have loved to have made a country album years ago if anybody would have let me or helped facilitate it in any way, shape or form.

"But maybe it's better it's happened this way. I think it's good I haven't been shoved down anybody's throat. I really have a genuine passion for country, and I think that audience appreciates that, and that's why they're willing to give me a chance, y'know?"

Now, following "Smile's" multi-format success, Kracker is hoping to keep "Happy Hour" going. Country singer Jesse Lee is a featured guest on the track "Me Again," but the album's next single features a more formidable collaborator — Kid Rock, who co-wrote and produced the song "Good To Be Me.” He has gone back into the studio to record a duet part for the single version, which is just starting to surface and will be released to radio later this month.

"It was my favorite song on the album," Kracker notes. "About a month ago, there was an idea for this to be the new single, and I just texted (Rock) and told him and he said, 'Why don't I just hop on there and we'll have a fun summer.' Literally the next moment he went in and did it and sent it to me and I was like, 'Sweet!'

"It's probably the easiest thing I've done in 10 years, and I couldn't be happier. Usually I get one and done as far as singles go, so to get the chance at another one, and then to have 'Good To Be Me' be it, I couldn't ask for much more."

Uncle Kracker performs at 10:20 p.m. Saturday, May 15.

DIERKS BENTLEY

Seven years and five albums into a hit-laden country career, Dierks Bentley gets to achieve another long-held ambition this weekend.

"I've always wanted to do the Hoedown," he says. "I know all about it. I know how much fun it is. I want to be the guy people walk away from saying, 'He was the best guy ... the most fun.' I'll play some songs that have serious content, but it's going to be a pretty uptempo, rockin' show."

Ironically, however, it comes on the eve of the most left-field album Bentley's made so far.

"Up on the Ridge," which is due out June 8, takes the 34-year-old Phoenix native in a blue-grassed influence direction, incorporating guests such as the Del McCoury Band, Alison Krauss, Miranda Lambert, Jamey Johnson and Nickel Creek's Chris Thile. Bentley and company cover Bob Dylan's "Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)" and U2's "Pride (In the Name of Love)," while Kris Kristofferson joins in on a version of his "Bottle to the Bottom."

"I've been thinking about it for years," Bentley says. "I love the bluegrass and the acoustic community around here (in Nashville). I thought I was going to make a pretty straight-ahead, hard-core bluegrass record and then a country record and put 'em both out, but I wound up making one that combined the best of roots, country and bluegrass."

Bentley will preview a few of the new songs at the Hoedown and acknowledges that the change in musical direction is "a fairly large risk." But he's also confident his fans will follow him down this road.

"That's why country's such a broad spectrum," Bentley explains. "If it leans pop and leans rock, why can't it lean a little grassy from time to time? Bluegrass songs are some of my fans' favorite songs, so I just made the record I wanted to make and threw caution to the wind — 'Let's just make a great record and not worry about the marketing or defining the music.' I'm very proud of it."

Dierks Bentley performs at 10:05 p.m. Friday, May 14.

ZAC BROWN BAND

Coy Bowles "can't remember much" about this year's Grammy Awards. And neither can his bandmates in the Zac Brown Band. The Atlanta sextet was only the fifth country act to win the coveted Best New Artist award, and guitarist/keyboardist Bowles says that the group didn't expect to win.

"So I kind of went into shock once they called our names," Bowles says with a laugh. "I just yelled as loud as I could and started slapping people. And afterwards, we all sat around talking and nobody could remember walking to the stage or being up there or anything."

Ironically, the Zac Brown Band is not exactly a new act, forming in 2002 and releasing a couple albums on its own before its major label debut, 2008's "The Foundation," went double platinum and launching five country singles — three of which went No. 1 — and four that hit the Top 40 of the pop charts. Earlier this month, the group released a live album — "Pass the Jar," which features a guest appearance by Kid Rock, among others — and Bowles says it's "about 85 percent" finished with its next studio album, which is tentatively titled "Get What You Give."

"We're really proud of it," Bowles, 31, reports. "It steps in a direction of maturity without going over people's heads. It's just been seasoned a little bit — it's still the same wine, just a couple of years older and it tastes a little sweeter, that kind of thing.

"I think, honestly, we couldn't make a better album as a follow-up to ‘The Foundation.’ It's really representative of where we are now."

The Zac Brown Band performs at 9:15 p.m. Sunday, May 16.



The 2010 99.5 WYCD Downtown Hoedown takes place Friday through Sunday, May 14-16, at Hart Plaza in downtown Detroit. Admission is free. A schedule and other information can be found at www.wycd.com.



Web Site: www.wycd.com

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