Here's what you didn't know about Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert's wedding: It was fraught with feedback and public peeing.
Here's what you didn't know about Trace Adkins after his devastating house fire this month: It has turned him into Rain Man.
These and other tidbits came out backstage at the 40th annual CMA Music Festival, which wrapped up Sunday with a late-night Taylor Swift performance. Swift, Brad Paisley, and other performers came backstage at LP Field to talk to the media about the festival as well as anything and everything else going on in their lives. If you want to hear some of the stars' previously untold secrets, read (and watch) on...
Shelton talked about prospects for having everyone on board for a second season of his hit series The Voice. "I'd love to do it again," he said. "Whether or not they get all four of us back, I think that's still up in the air a little bit. But I think everybody involved wants that to happen. The reality of it is, you've got four different artists that are doing completely different things, and a network that has a time schedule they want things to happen in. Who knows what'll happen. But I'd hate to miss it."
Blake admitted there are some incriminating photos of him out there somewhere, connected to his wedding to Lambert—no, not from the honeymoon, but right before the ceremony. "I realized that things were changing at this moment, not just for me but Miranda, and that people were interested in us in a big way. Because they had gotten everybody into the chapel and there was a little bit of music playing before I was to step in and the wedding was gonna start. I was standing out there talking to the pastor, and I had to pee, so as I was talking to him, I just walking over to the building by where we were talking and I was peeing—and a helicopter flew by, like really low. I remember saying, 'You don't think that's...? Noooo.' (But) sure enough, a Texas Ranger came around and said, 'There's a problem.' I didn't know what kind of picture they may have gotten of me. But I knew the world (might) know just how nervous I was that day."
We're still waiting to find out which paparazzi got the shots of Shelton's... relief. Meanwhile, we'd like to meet the pastor who doesn't blink when the groom takes it upon himself to, um, find relief in the middle of a pre-nuptials pep talk. Maybe, as in the Miranda song, he just understands a heart like Blake's.
Shelton wasn't done telling tales out of school. "The coolest moment of the wedding, I think, was when Miranda came down the aisle with her dad and they stopped right in front of us, and Ashley Monroe was playing the song that Miranda walked down the aisle on. She stopped right there and we just had this moment where we were looking at each other. It was starting to get me, and I looked over at Rick (Miranda's dad), and he cries a lot anyway, so he was starting to cry." Awwww...
Story's not over. "All of a sudden you could hear a little bit of feedback. And Miranda began to (whisper) under her breath to Ashley: 'Could you turn the guitar... [pause] Turn the guitar off... [rolling eyes, exasperated] Turn it aw-aff!' And it killed the whole moment, with the feedback that was coming. So I realized, I'm marrying... it's good old Miranda."
Shelton was not the only one telling tales on his better half. There was also Trace Adkins for that. Adkins was a surprise attendee at the CMA Festival—not because he wasn't announced ahead of time, but because his Nashville home just burned down, and he certainly would have been excused if he'd opted out of his busy schedule last week. But he showed up, indulging in some tragicomedy and showing off an expert sense of coming timing as he related events following the disaster.
"Uh, my house burned down," he announced upon getting to the podium in the press room, drawing a big laugh for his cut-to-the-chase bluntness. It turns out this is his involuntary mantra now. "I've felt like Rain Man for the last few weeks," Adkins explained. "Every time someone asks me, 'Trace, what do you want to eat?' 'My house burned down!' So let's get that out of the way. My house burned down. I was on a plane on my way to Anchorage... and I landed and my phone blew up. As soon as I talked with Rhonda and I found out that she and the kids were okay, there's this huge sense of relief that comes over you, because you realize that the rest of it is just stuff."
But in the wake of the fire disaster, he narrowly averted a PR disaster. He'd gone up to Anchorage early before some gigs scheduled in Alaska, to fish. "Rhonda goes, 'There's nothing you can do here. Just stay up there and fish.' And Rhonda's an old publicist—she worked at Arista Records. I said, 'Honey, I need you to put on your publicist hat for a second and see that headline: 'Trace Adkins' house burns down, his family's homeless, and he goes fishing.'" The assembled press laughed heartily, knowing that would have been just the angle. "So I came home. And she was right: Wasn't nothing I could do."
Adkins announced that his new album comes out August 2 with the title Proud to Be Here. "I am proud to be here. I'm proud to be anywhere... That song takes on even more meaning for me now. It's an autobiographical song for me anyway, because of some of the well-publicized near-death experiences I've had."
Taylor Swift doesn't have a spouse to tell on, and she saves the dishing on boyfriends for her music. But there were other things to talk about, like her current tour. Swift's 45-minute set at the CMA Festival was a drastically scaled-down version of her touring show, with no dancers, sets, or costume changes. But it still had the special effect of her walking across the length of the LP Field floor to get to a stage in the rear, where she wrapped up "Mean" before launching into a ukelele version of "Fearless."
"Mean" is her current top 10 country hit. In the past, some have wondered if Swift's songs might be too pop for the country format, but this is definitely the first time anyone wondered if one of Swift's tunes might be too bluegrass for country. Not to worry. It is, after all, just about the catchiest singalong anyone has written since "Happy Birthday to You."
She just laughed when I mentioned that I hoped this augured well for a Taylor Swift bluegrass album someday. Anyway, "it's just really fun to see 'Mean' do so well," she said, "especially based on the fact that it came from me going through a really tough time and writing that song because I felt so powerless... And hearing that song being sung louder than my voice is coming through the PA in a stadium is sort of the coolest experience of my life. Because when you write a song and it comes from such a vulnerable moment in your life, and then you get to stand on a stage and get the acclamation that 50,000 people have gone through that too and they're singing along, it's kind of wonderful."
The night before her CMA Festival performance, she'd just been in Detroit doing the first of four stadium headlining shows she has on the books for this year (the others being in arenas), and "I have a permanent smile on my face because of it."
She had an awfully good answer at the ready when someone asked if there were any goals left for her to achieve, after winning the Grammys' Album of the Year, the CMAs' Entertainer of the Year, and—just a few nights earlier—the CMT Awards' top prize: "You know, any award that you've won once is definitely a goal to win that award twice, possibly."
Miranda Lambert made it sound like the family that works apart stays together. "Marriage is great," she said. "It's been awesome. We got married and saw each other for a week, and then I haven't really seen him since then." (A lot of women would say that really does sound like the awesomest possible marriage.) "We passed in the hall earlier! But it's routine for us to have our time together and then separate and go be who we are."
Touring with Shelton is not in the cards for another few years, probably. When they do it, they plan to do it in style. "We did a little mini-tour in 2009, Blake and I, to see if both of us could live through it, and we did. It almost killed him, but we made up. Right now, it's so crazy, because our careers have started to rise at the same time... That's a big step, to do a big tour together. We have Faith and Tim's shoes to fill, and Soul 2 Soul was huge... not that I'm comparing it to that. It's just that we want it to be that big and that important, and until it will be, we're not gonna step out on that limb. When the time comes, I'd also love to have a duet with him. We've just been taking it slow."
One thing Lambert is not taking slow is her own career. She makes no secret of her ambition. "Some part of me wants to be home for two months straight, but... I have a real strong desire to build an empire. That's what I'm trying to do. So to build an empire, you don't take time off work."
Hence, the short honeymoon. "The week after we got married, I had the week off, then I went straight into the studio that Sunday. Monday morning through Friday night I was there from 10 in the morning to midnight every day, recording my own (fourth) solo record... And then Saturday, the Pistol Annies came in and I completely switched gears."
That's right, she's recording two albums right now—one of them with her newish trio, Pistol Annies, which also includes the lesser-known but still-hailed singers Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley. They put their first single, "Hell on Heels," up for sale exclusively on their website Sunday (though Lambert says they're working on iTunes).
I asked if this is just a goofy side project or something she'll really take seriously, and Lambert was emphatic about which side Pistol Annies comes down on. "It's everything but a goofy side project for me," she said. "It's something that is so close to my heart and I'm so passionate about, I have to actually focus to make sure I'm focusing on Miranda Lambert sometimes." The other two members have been on tour with her, joining up on stage for "Hell on Heels" each night. "It gets lonely on the road,so it's great having two girls that do what you do and understand you and have moodiness just like you do--because they're songwriters and artists.
"It makes you feel good to know that you can still band together. I feel like it hasn't been done for a really long time, since the Trio (with Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris, and Dolly Parton) and the Highwaymen (with Willie, Waylon, Kris, and Cash). It's time for artists that share a passion to join together creatively and not let politics and what people think is the right way to do it get in the way."
Asked what she thought about her husband's controversial co-star on The Voice, and any possible fan rivalries, Lambert just said, "Christina Aguilera fans are very intense. I thought my fans were intense!" Although she wasn't sure about the show when it was first pitched to Shelton, now, she said, "He's so involved with his contestants and now I'm attached to them and crying over their performances. It's really changed our life a little bit, as far as a different set of eyes watching us. And the bigger you get, the more people try to start up crap. It's like, we've been married for a month—will y'all just hold on? But I'm really happy for him. This is something that is huge not only for him but for country music, because he's representing our genre."
Shelton has felt the heat from that new set of eyes, having taken some guff for a supposedly homophobic comment on his Twitter account. If he already was offending some country fans with his steady stream of irreverent one-liners on the service, that was compounded when non-country fans began eyeing his every tweet.
"People who know me know that I'm just gonna say stuff every now and then, whether it's stupid or not, and I don't mean anything by it. Theres some people out there that are hiding in the bushes that are waiting to jump on something like that... I was sitting there watching Say Yes to the Dress and I was bored as hell with Miranda, so I sent out a tweet, and the next thing you know, I'm being burned. That's a learning experience for me. Because my fan base, they get it. But now that I'm on The Voice and it's a completely different group of people that I'm reaching, they don't get it yet. But I think they will." Asked if he had any advice for Tracy Lawrence, who's had a far worse controversy with some comments made on stage in Nashville, he said, "I would just tell Tracy, you've got to know when to shut up. And I'm damn sure learning." Those of us who rely on Blake's tweeting for entertainment sure hope not.
His next album is being rush-released to capitalize on his sudden ubiquitousness, between The Voice and a single, "Honey Bee," that made it to No. 1 in near-record time. "Our plan was to finish The Voice and then get back in the studio in July and finish the record and maybe put it out in September. And the damn song took off like that and messed up everything for us. So we got in there and finished it and now the record comes out July 12."
As if he weren't busy enough, he's on tour with Brad Paisley. He said he doesn't have any pranks planned, which part of the usual Paisley package-tour routine. "We cut a song together that's on his record, and I come out and perform it with him every night. So I just hump on his legs and things like that, just trying to make him as uncomfortable as possible... while he's playing a guitar solo. I figure that's good enough."
Here are some photos of other backstage guests, starting with the reunited Alabama, who played with Paisley on stage but did not hump his leg:
Chris Young, who's about to release his third album—and his first without a cowboy hat—was surprised with birthday cupcakes on the eve of his 26th birthday:
American Idol winner Scotty McCreery put in an appearance, as previously detailed in this blog space:
Rascal Flatts came by, unfortunately this time without CMT Awards co-winner Justin Bieber in tow:
And actress Kristin Chenoweth, who co-hosted the Saturday night show and has her debut country album on the way, provided one of the more amusing media room visits:
And one last lingering look at the real stars of the CMA Festival—the fans, doing the nightly cattle call from downtown to LP Field over the Cumberland River: