COUNTRY BEAT: Virgin Nashville, Alan Jackson, Sleepy LaBeef ...

Label to close; Jackson on Opry; LaBeef heads rockabilly show.

One of EMI's two Nashville record labels will be shuttered soon, a senior official of Virgin Nashville said on Wednesday (January 24). Although no official announcements have been made, Virgin Nashville will likely be closed by week's end. Virgin artists who will be affected are Chris Cagle, Clay Davidson, Jerry Kilgore, comedian Tom Mabe, comic act Roy D. Mercer and River Road. Virgin Nashville was launched in August 1998 by producer Scott Hendricks, who had been forced out as president of Capitol Nashville — EMI's other Nashville label — in 1997 by Garth Brooks, when Brooks was that label's biggest-selling artist. As a start-up label, Virgin had been achieving a respectable degree of radio success, but airplay is difficult to turn into album sales in a radio climate where a country single may take six months to become a hit. ...

Alan Jackson's Grand Ole Opry performance Saturday (January 27) will be aired on TNN that night from 7:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. CT. The Opry is spending January and February at its former home, the Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville. Jackson has been a member of the Opry since 1991 and will begin his 2001 tour three days later in Albany, New York. ...

Roots legend Sleepy LaBeef will head up an eclectic roster at "Rockin' at the Ryman," a benefit presented by the Rockabilly Music Foundation at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium on April 5. Also appearing will be the Jordanaires, Ronnie Dawson, Gene Vincent's Blue Caps, Rosie Flores, D.J. Fontana, Janis Martin, Jack Scott and Jerry Naylor. ...

Martina McBride will headline the post-race concert at this year's Country Music Marathon on April 28 in Nashville. The charity event drew 8,500 runners in its debut last year, and more than 10,000 are expected this year. ...

Garth Brooks announced in a Las Vegas press conference on Monday (January 22) that his Touch'em All Foundation donated nearly $3 million to children around the world last year. Grants were distributed to 88 charities in seven countries. The baseball-driven charity benefited from donations by 135 major league baseball players who pledged money based on such statistics as home runs, base hits, stolen bases and strike outs. Their donations were matched by celebrities, individuals, other foundations, and local and national business sponsors. ...

Dixie Chick Emily Robison will tape the TV show "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire" on February 1 in New York. She will join Metallica's Lars Ulrich, Gene Simmons of Kiss, the Backstreet Boys, Gladys Knight, Sisqó and Mark McGrath from Sugar Ray. The show will air in mid-February. ...

The Country Music Association may move its awards show to November to avoid competing with other awards events, country.com reports. The show, usually held in September or October, may move to November 7 — during a TV sweeps week — to avoid butting heads with the Latin Grammys, the Emmys and a bluegrass music awards show. ...

Nashville's Brooklyn Cowboys will launch their "Doin' Time on Planet Earth" tour on February 1 at Gino's in Boone, North Carolina. Joining country-rock veterans Walter Egan, Fredro Perry and pedal steel player Buddy Cage is the group's new singer, Lona Heins, who has worked with Pam Tillis, Garth Brooks and Kenny Rogers. Other members areJeff "Stick" Davis, founding member and bass player for the Amazing Rhythm Aces, keyboardist Michael Webb and 5 Bucks vocalist Brian Waldschlager. Other immediate dates — all in Georgia — include the Monkey Barrel in Gainesville on February 2, JP's in Valdosta on February 3, J.J. Cagney's in Savannah on February 5, Rafters on St. Simons Island on February 6, Charley B's in Albany on February 7, Brandy House in Atlanta on February 8, and the Loft in Columbus on February 10. ...

Doc Watson performed at a protest against a planned Federal Express hub in Greensboro, North Carolina, on Sunday (January 21), the Associated Press reports. Watson played to a packed house at Guilford College at a concert organized by the Piedmont Quality of Life Coalition and the Piedmont Classic Guitar Society, who said they hoped the concert would raise awareness about the environmental and noise pollution they say a new FedEx hub could bring to Greensboro's Piedmont Triad International Airport. ...

Wanda Jackson, Ace Cannon, Narvel Felts, Big Al Downing, Ray Walker (of the Jordanaires), Billy Burnette and Rocky Burnette are among artists committed to playing Rockabilly Fest 2001, scheduled to be held in Jackson, Tennessee, on June 29 and 30 and July 1 at the Jackson Fairgrounds. Proceeds from the festival and related activities are to help fund an international rockabilly hall of fame and museum to be located in Jackson. ...

A lawyer for Tim McGraw will ask a New York judge to drop all charges stemming from a scuffle McGraw and Kenny Chesney had with sheriff's deputies last June, after a George Strait festival date near Buffalo. Lawyer Thomas Eoannou argues there was insufficient reason to charge the singers, the Associated Press reports. A judge in Orchard Park, New York, is scheduled to hear arguments in the case on February 8. ...

Kinky Friedman and Billy Joe Shaver are teaming up for a five-date Texas run and possible future touring. The Two Moving Parts tour unites two of Texas' legendary country songwriters, Friedman being famous for such songs as "Sold American" (RealAudio excerpt), and Shaver for such songs as "Old Five and Dimers Like Me" (RealAudio excerpt). The decision to tour was a "sperm of the moment moment," Friedman said. Friedman and Shaver, who lost his son and musical partner, Eddy Shaver, to a heroin overdose on New Year's Eve, kick off the minitour on January 31 at Austin's Broken Spoke. They'll also play San Antonio's Carlsbad Tavern on February 2, San Marcos' Cheatham Street Warehouse on February 3, Houston's McGonigal's Mucky Duck on February 5 and Dallas' Poor David's Pub on February 6. …

Jon Langford of the Mekons and Waco Brothers has an exhibition of his art on display in Nashville's Attic Gallery. Langford specializes in paintings and headstones of such country music icons as Patsy Cline, Bill Monroe, Hank Williams and Bob Wills. The Attic Gallery was opened last June by musicianJerry Dale McFadden, who has played with the Mavericks, Sixpence None the Richer and SWAG, and his wife, Julie McFadden. …

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° and Patti LaBelle. ...

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. ...

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. ...

— sonicnet.com staff report