COUNTRY BEAT: Joe Diffie, Del McCoury Band, Asylum Records …

Diffie 'steps in' for kids; McCoury to Merlefest; first Nashville woman label head quits.

Joe Diffie hosts the “Country Steps In For First Steps 2001″ concert on February 11 at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. Featured performers include Mark Wills, Keith Urban, the Martins, Chalee Tennison and Mike Snider. The event will include a silent auction with items donated by George Strait, Vince Gill, Kenny Rogers, Clint Black, Ricky Skaggs and others. Proceeds benefit the First Steps school for children and their families. Diffie’s son, Tyler, was born with Down Syndrome and attended First Steps school until he was 3. Over the years, Diffie has raised more than $600,000 for the school through his annual benefit concerts and golf tournament. …

The Del McCoury Band, Jim Lauderdale and Ricky Skaggs have announced they’ll play Merlefest. The annual Americana music festival, named for late guitarist Merle Watson, runs April 26-29 in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. Artists already booked include Mary Chapin Carpenter, Stacey Earle, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, the Lonesome River Band, Dolly Parton, Earl Scruggs Family and Friends, and Merle’s father Doc Watson. …

The only female record label head in Nashville has stepped down, the Tennessean reported. Evelyn Shriver’s resignation as president of Asylum Records came 10 months after Asylum had been shifted from the control of New York-based Elektra Records to Warner Bros. in Nashville. Shriver says she will start a new record label with former O’Kanes co-leader Jamie O’Hara as the first artist. Warner Bros. will keep Asylum as an imprint with a roster including Chalee Tennison Bryan White and Chad Austin. The label recently released Australian singer Kasey Chambers‘ American debut. …

Asylum under Shriver won Grammy awards for the George Jones album Cold Hard Truth and the Trio II project by Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt. …

Dolly Parton and Patty Loveless wrote original songs for the soundtrack to “Songcatcher,” due February 13. Parton sings “When Love Is New” on the soundtrack, and Loveless contributes “Sounds of Loneliness.” Also on the album are traditional folk songs sung by Roseanne Cash, Gillian Welch, Sara Evans, Emmylou Harris, Allison Moorer, Deana Carter, Maria McKee, Iris DeMent, Julie Miller, and Hazel Dickens. The film features Aidan Quinn and Janet McTeer and made its Sundance Film Festival debut in January 2000. …

Pam Tillis has been in the studio recording a duet with her father, Mel Tillis. Their duet on “Waiting on the Wind,” their first collaboration on an album cut, will appear on Pam Tillis’ upcoming album, Thunder and Roses, due March 6. …

T. Graham Brown is readying a live album for release in the spring. T. Graham Brown Lives features Bekka Bramlett on guest vocals and includes such Brown staples as “I Tell It Like It Used to Be,” “Darlene” (RealAudio excerpt), “Come as You Were” and “Wine Into Water.” …

Amy Rigby will play a series of clubs in January and February, Pollstar reported. The Nashville singer/songwriter opens in Killington, Vermont, on Thursday (January 11) and plays in Northampton, Massachusetts on Friday (January 12); New York on Saturday (January 13); Houston (February 1); Dallas (February 2); Austin, Texas (February 3); and Portland, Oregon (February 17). …

A memorial fund has been established for the late Eddy Shaver. Donations may be made to Billy Joe Shaver at P.O. Box 6695, Ft. Worth, Texas, 76115. …

“What an incredible honor this is,” said Brad Paisley about his Grammy nomination for Best New Artist, along with Shelby Lynne, Sisqó, Jill Scott and Papa Roach. “I was fortunate enough to end 2000 by being invited to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry, and now I’m starting out the new year with this Grammy nomination. I must admit I’m not familiar with all of the artists in this category. Until today, I thought ‘Papa Roach’ was a Nat Stuckey song. I need to buy a few records, do some listening and get to know these folks’ music. They’re probably wondering who I am too.” …

Ricky Skaggs and his band, Kentucky Thunder, will tape a Family Net television special in Nashville on Monday (January 8), focusing on Skaggs’ gospel album Soldier of the Cross. Joining them will be the Whites and Jerry and Tammy Sullivan. The taping, which is open to the public, will be held at 7 p.m. in the Gibson Bluegrass Café in the Opry Mills center, next to the Opryland Hotel. Airdate for the special has not been set. …

As services were being prepared Thursday (January 4) for the late Eddy Shaver in Waco, Texas, an accidental overdose of heroin was determined to be the cause of death, the Associated Press reported. No further details surrounding the circumstances of his death were available. Shaver, 38, who was taken to a Waco hospital late December 30, was pronounced dead in the early hours of New Year’s Eve. The guitarist and his father, Billy Joe Shaver, had been scheduled to play that evening at the Hilltop Bar & Grill in Spicewood, Texas. Instead, on New Year’s Eve, friends said, Billy Joe Shaver played the New Year’s gig at the Hilltop with his friend Willie Nelson, who led a tribute to Eddy. The week before his death, Eddy signed a recording deal with Antone’s Records in Austin, Texas, for a solo album. In October he married Irene Triola, who worked at Austin’s Saxon Pub, where the Shavers often performed. …

Willie Nelson will celebrate his 68th birthday on the road. The Country Music Hall of Fame member heads out on tour again beginning February 2 at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, Florida. For now, he’s booked 39 dates through an August 21 appearance at the Kentucky State Fair in Louisville. …

Mindy McCready fans will find a surprise in their McCready 2001 wall calendars. The singer poses nude for the month of August and there’s not a whole lot of cloth covering the rest of the year. …

Country comedians Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engvall, Ron White and Larry the Cable Guy are taking the Blue Collar Comedy Tour back on the road throughout much of 2001. They’ll start another leg of their tour Friday (January 12) at the Hersheypark Arena in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Theater dates are scheduled nationwide through May 4. …

Sara Evans has added more dates to her opening gig with Alan Jackson. She’ll open for him January 31 in Albany, New York; February 1 in Salisbury, Maryland; February 2 in Pittsburgh; February 3 in Auburn Hills, Michigan; and February 7 in Augusta, Maine. …

As a result of Kenny Rogers‘ face appearing on 1 million boxes of its Honey Nut Cheerios, General Mills is donating $50,000 in proceeds from sales of those boxes to America’s Second Harvest, the nation’s largest hunger-relief organization. …

Dolly Parton‘s second bluegrass album, Little Sparrow, is scheduled for a January 23 release. Guest artists include Rhonda Vincent, Alison Krauss, Chris Thile, Sonya Isaacs and the Irish group Altan. Parton includes a version of the Cole Porter song “I Get a Kick Out of You.” …

Jo Dee Messina‘s first headlining tour will start February 8 in South Bend, Indiana. She’s calling it the “Burn Tour 2001,” after Burn (RealAudio excerpt of title track), the title of her third album. Rascal Flatts will open dates during the 75-city tour. …

Nashville’s Gospel Music Association has signed with Dick Clark Productions to produce the annual Dove Awards show, the Tennessean reports. The production, held in the Grand Ole Opry House in April, has never been on network TV, something Clark said he was aiming for. …

Brad Paisley, Chely Wright, Billy Dean, Toby Keith and Mindy McCready are among the more than 20 country artists who will take part in the seventh annual Country in the Rockies, from January 27 to February 3, in Crested Butte, Colorado. Proceeds from the series of concerts and outdoor events help fund research efforts of the Frances Williams Preston Laboratories for Cancer Research, a division of the T.J. Martell Foundation at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center in Nashville. …

— sonicnet.com staff report