COUNTRY BEAT: Clay Walker, Dixie Chicks, Vince Gill …

Walker opens Houston rodeo; Chicks hit #1 on radio chart; Gill in MADD show.

Clay Walker, a hometown favorite, kicks off the 69th Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo on February 13 at the Astrodome. Alan Jackson performs on February 14, followed by Hank Williams Jr. on February 15, Alabama on February 17, Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen on February 19, Neal McCoy and Rascal Flatts on February 20, Lonestar and Brad Paisley on February 22, Kenny Chesney and Phil Vassar on February 24, Brooks & Dunn on February 26, Jo Dee Messina on February 28, Martina McBride and Lee Ann Womack on March 2 and LeAnn Rimes and Billy Gilman on March 4. Noncountry artists appearing will include Diana Ross, Gladys Knight, Duran Duran, Barry Manilow, Def Leppard, Destiny’s Child, 98 Degrees and Patti LaBelle. …

The Dixie Chicks‘ “Without You” (RealAudio excerpt) takes the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart this week, knocking Sara Evans‘ “Born to Fly” to #3 after one week at #1. Lonestar‘s “Tell Her” is at #2, Tim McGraw‘s “My Next Thirty Years” is at #4 and Jamie O’Neal‘s “There Is No Arizona” is at #5. Debuting this week are Clay Davidson‘s “Sometimes,” at #54; Kenny Rogers‘ “There You Go Again,” at #58; and Hank Williams III‘s “I Don’t Know,” at #60. …

Nashville songwriter Bob DiPiero will host “MADD About Bob,” a series of concerts to benefit Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The first show, featuring Vince Gill, Jeffrey Steele and Al Anderson, is set for February 8 at Nashville’s Belcourt Theater. …

Sacred Hearts & Fallen Angels: The Gram Parsons Anthology — which spans the career of the late alt-country pioneer from his days with the Byrds and the International Submarine Band through his solo work — is set for release in April. Due April 17, the 46-song, two-CD Rhino Records package includes input from original Byrds Chris Hillman and Roger McGuinn, rare photos, and tributes from Black Crowes lead singer Chris Robinson and Emmylou Harris, Parsons’ duet partner. Tracks include “Blue Eyes” (RealAudio excerpt), from the Submarine Band; “Hickory Wind” (RealAudio excerpt), from the Byrds; and his duets with Harris on “We’ll Sweep Out the Ashes in the Morning” (RealAudio excerpt) and “Love Hurts” (RealAudio excerpt). …

Emmylou Harris will be the subject of a 45-song collection, Emmylou Harris Anthology: The Warner/Reprise Years. The anthology includes 23 top-10 country singles, including six #1 songs — as well as many tracks never available in the United States on CD. “Fools Thin Air,” “Mama Help” and the Rodney Crowell-penned “Precious Love” are single B-sides that now make their CD debuts. Additionally, “Driving Wheel” and “Pledging My Love,” from Harris’ White Shoes album, and The Ballad of Sally Rose‘s “White Line,” “Rhythm Guitar” and “Timberline” will make their CD debuts on the set, due April 17 from Rhino. …

Garth Brooks, who announced his retirement last year, will perform March 2 at a private luncheon sponsored by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers at Nashville’s Country Radio Seminar. Brooks also announced that he will serve as executive producer and music consultant for a made-for-television movie. “Call Me Claus,” to air on cable’s TNT network next December, is a Christmas comedy with Whoopi Goldberg and Sir Nigel Hawthorne. …

Collin Raye will provide halftime entertainment at the Hula Bowl in Hawaii on Saturday (January 20). … Dale Watson has recovered from an overdose of pills and alcohol during the holidays, the Austin Chronicle reports. Depressed over the death of his fiancée in a recent car wreck, Watson was hospitalized in Austin on December 28 after mixing alcohol, Sominex and Benadryl. His road manager discovered Watson in his hotel room and took him to a hospital emergency room. After treatment, Watson was transferred to a counseling center for several days and has resumed performing. The honky-tonk singer is known for such songs as “Wine Don’t Lie” (RealAudio excerpt). …

Emmylou Harris will inaugurate the Year of the Iron Snake at the Tibet House Benefit, on February 26 at New York’s Carnegie Hall. Other artists performing at the benefit, meant to preserve the culture of the Chinese-occupied Tibet, include Patti Smith, David Bowie, Moby, Natalie Merchant, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Nawang Khechog and Dana Bryant. The event’s artistic director is Philip Glass. …

The country music Web site CountryCool.com will shut down at the end of January due to money problems, according to the Tennessean. The site was launched in 1996 and was based in Fairfax, Virginia. CountryCool.com opened a Nashville office last year with eight employees, but closed that office and laid off workers after three months. …

Rodney Crowell‘s hit-studded 1988 album, Diamonds & Dirt, leads a series of Legacy albums being reissued in expanded and remastered form on February 6. Diamonds yielded five #1 songs, including “After All This Time” (RealAudio excerpt). Also included in Sony Nashville/Legacy’s American Milestones series are Charlie Rich‘s Behind Closed Doors, which was #1 for 21 weeks in 1973; Kris Kristofferson‘s self-titled 1970 debut; and the hugely influential instrumentalist Joe Maphis‘ 1957 album, Fire on the Strings. …

Lorrie Morgan and Sammy Kershaw are recording a duet album titled I Finally Found Someone. Due in April, the project will include six Morgan/Kershaw duets as well as three solo recordings by each artist. The duo will perform the title track at the January 18 Bush inaugural bash at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., according to a spokesperson for Morgan and Kershaw. They also plan to tour together later this year. The first single from the album, “He Drinks Tequila,” will be released on January 29, with a video clip following in February. …

Billy Gilman begins recording his third album in February, reports the Associated Press. The 13-year-old said he’s been approached to do acting gigs on “7th Heaven” and “Touched by an Angel,” but has made no decisions on acting. …

Nashville songwriter Don Schlitz wrote the score for a new musical set for Broadway’s spring season, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” Schlitz has written several hits for Kenny Rogers, including “The Gambler” (RealAudio excerpt) and “The Greatest.” The $8 million show is said to have a spectacular set, with a model of the Mississippi River onstage. The last Nashville-scored production on Broadway, Roger Miller‘s “Big River” musical about Huckleberry Finn, won a Tony in 1986. …

Tickets have gone on sale for Fan Fair, set for downtown Nashville on June 14-17. Artists already committed to appear are Alan Jackson, Andy Griggs Bill Engvall, Billy Gilman, Billy Ray Cyrus, Brad Paisley, Collin Raye, Jo Dee Messina, Joe Diffie, Kenny Chesney, Lonestar, Martina McBride, Montgomery Gentry, Patty Loveless, Sara Evans, Susan Ashton, the Kinleys, Tracy Byrd, Travis Tritt, Trisha Yearwood and Vince Gill. …

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. …

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

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.” …

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. …

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. …

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. …

— sonicnet.com staff report