COUNTRY BEAT: Garth Brooks, Lucinda Williams, Dolly Parton …

Brooks plays acoustic set, talks new album; Williams single, album due soon; Parton added to MerleFest.

After sifting through some 14,000 songs, Garth Brooks says he’s approved just two for his upcoming album. In taking audience questions (and song requests) in a rare, hour-long acoustic performance Friday (March 2) at Nashville’s Country Radio Seminar (CRS), the singer — commemorating his commercial launch at the luncheon 11 years ago — said one of the tunes will be a duet with Trisha Yearwood. Brooks said he has rebounded from the commercial and critical drubbing he got for Chris Gaines, his rock-alter-ego project. “I got the living sh– kicked out of me for doing that,” he said. “But I had fun. And, if Paramount calls me [to work on the soundtrack to 'The Lamb,' a movie about Chris Gaines], I’ll work with Babyface and Don Was on it.” In his acoustic set, Brooks, who announced his retirement from performing last October, also performed some of his own favorites, as well as songs by Cat Stevens, James Taylor and Bob Seger. About his upcoming album, Brooks said he was aiming to make it the modern equivalent of what Seger’s music was to the 1970s: “I’ll sing cool, blue-collar stuff,” he said. …

A new Lucinda Williams single titled “Essence” is due March 27, the Austin Chronicle reports. It will be the first single from her upcoming Broken Butterflies album, scheduled for a May 22 release. She will perform at the Austin Music Awards on March 13. …

Dolly Parton and Rory Block have been added to the talent roster for the 14th annual MerleFest, scheduled for April 26–29 in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. Parton, whose latest album is Little Sparrow (RealAudio excerpt of title track), will perform on April 28th. Other artists scheduled for MerleFest include Earl Scruggs With Family & Friends, the David Grisman Quintet, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Bela Fleck & the Flecktones, Sam Bush, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Balfa Toujours, Vassar Clements, Peter Rowan, Jerry Douglas, Donna the Buffalo, Herb Pedersen, John McEuen, Jimmy Ibbotson Chris Hillman, Rhonda Vincent & the Rage, Tony & Larry Rice, Beth Nielsen Chapman, the Lonesome River Band, Tim O’Brien & the Crossing, the Del McCoury Band, and the Dan Tyminski Band. …

Although this week’s Country Radio Seminar (CRS) activities in Nashville are closed to the public, one CRS-involved concert will be available to country fans. On Saturday (March 3), prominent newcomers Jamie O’Neal, Rascal Flatts and Darryl Worley will appear in concert at Nashville’s Wildhorse Saloon. The event, billed as Country’s Class of 2000, was organized originally by the three acts’ record labels to counter the CRS New Faces concert, which is also Saturday night and is closed to the public. CRS and the labels eventually agreed to stagger concert times so that CRS-goers could attend both events. O’Neal rose to prominence this year with “There Is No Arizona” (RealAudio excerpt), Rascal Flatts had a hit with “Prayin’ for Daylight” (RealAudio excerpt) and Worley had radio success with “When You Need My Love” (RealAudio excerpt). Tickets are $10. …

Toby Keith‘s How Do You Like Me Now?! has been certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America. Keith received six Academy of Country Music Awards nominations this week. Gaining RIAA gold certification is the soundtrack O Brother, Where Art Thou?. …

Duane Jarvis has set a June 26 release date for his new album, Certified Miracle, in the United States and Canada. Guests on the new album include Buddy Miller and Joy Lynn White on harmony vocals and Richard Bennett on guitar. Jarvis co-wrote “Still I Long for Your Kiss” with Lucinda Williams and formerly played guitar in her band. …

Steve Earle will headline a contingent of artists taking part in the 500th broadcast of the two-hour, weekly syndicated radio series “Mountain Stage.” Others appearing on the May 4 broadcast will be Jesse Winchester, Bruce Cockburn, Amy Ray with the Butchettes and mandolinist Johnny Staats. …

Trisha Yearwood has released a new single, “I Would Have Loved You Anyway,” from her as-yet-unnamed upcoming album, due for a summer release. …

Merle Kilgore, who co-wrote “Ring of Fire” (RealAudio excerpt of Johnny Cash‘s version) with June Carter before she became June Carter Cash, will host the 2001 Legendary Acoustic Concert at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium on April 3. Other songwriters performing in the concert will be Gordon Lightfoot, Ray Parker Jr., Andrew Gold and Sharon Vaughn. The event is sponsored by The Nashville Songwriters Association International and is part of Tin Pan South 2001, a week of events, concerts and songwriting workshops, running April 2 though 7. …

Tim McGraw‘s forthcoming album, Set This Circus Down, includes 14 tracks and is due for release April 24. The track listing is: “Cowboy in Me,” “Telluride,” “I Guess You Get Used to Somebody,” “Unbroken,” “Things Change,” “Angel Boy,” “Forget About Us,” “Take Me Away,” “Smiling,” “Set This Circus Down,” “Angry All the Time,” “Let Me Love You,” “Grown Men Don’t Cry” and “Why We Said Goodbye.” …

Johnny Cash quietly celebrated his 69th birthday at home in Hendersonville, Tennessee, on Monday (February 26). The singer is recovering from pneumonia after being released from a Nashville hospital Wednesday (February 21). That same evening, he won the Grammy Award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance, for “Solitary Man” (RealAudio excerpt) and “You’re the Reason God Made Oklahoma,” and duet partner Shelly West — will release “You’ve Just Been Robbed by Jesse James” as a single April 9. …

Bill Anderson will host his fifth annual City Lights Festival in Commerce, Georgia, on June 28 and 29. Charley Pride, Little Jimmy Dickens, comedian T. Bubba Bechtol, Billy Walker and Jeannie Seely will also appear. …

This year’s Orville H. Gibson Guitar Award winners include: Emmylou Harris, Best Female Acoustic Guitarist; Alabama‘s Jeff Cook, Best Male Country Guitarist; and Shelby Lynne, Best Female Country Guitarist. …

Asleep at the Wheel are compiling a best-of album for a late-April or early-May release. The Very Best of Asleep at the Wheel will comprise 14 tracks and include such songs from the group’s live shows as “House of Blue Lights,” “My Baby Thinks She’s a Train,” “Miles and Miles of Texas,” “The Letter Johnny Walker Read,” “Route 66″ and “Big Balls in Cowtown” (RealAudio excerpt), which will be the first single and video. …

An exhibit of original Patsy Cline letters called “Love Always, Patsy: Letters From the Jewelry Box” will go on display March 5 at the Smithsonian-affiliated Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. The exhibit is built around a series of letters Cline wrote to a young fan between 1955 and 1959, just as the singer’s career was getting underway. …

LeAnn Rimes has informed her fans, via a note on her official Web site, that she will not take part in Fan Fair 2001, due to “conflicting prior commitments.” Rimes, who publicly disavowed her new album, I Need You, is in a battle with her label, Curb Records, over her contract. The musical portions of Fan Fair are presented as record label concerts, in which artists from a particular label follow each other onstage. …

Tracy Byrd will perform a concert and host a bass fishing tournament and golf tournament in Beaumont, Texas, from March 30-April 1, to benefit the Children’s Miracle Network. Joining Byrd in the March 30 concert at the Beaumont Civic Center will be Sammy Kershaw, Brad Paisley, Bill Engvall, and Mark Chesnutt. …

Radney Foster and his wife, music journalist Cyndi Hoelzle, say they plan a new Web zine to be called PureSpunk.com, dealing with roots music. Scheduled for the first issue of the zine are a feature on Rodney Crowell, 10 Questions with Keb’ Mo’, the “coolest gigs” in America, short fiction and a Song of the Month Club. …

The late Tammy Wynette will be the subject of a new musical coming to Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. “Stand by Your Man: The Tammy Wynette Story,” named for her signature song “Stand by Your Man” (RealAudio excerpt) and her 1979 autobiography of the same name, is scheduled to run September 13 through October 28. Auditions for the 10-member cast will be held at the Ryman and in New York in April. Wynette died in 1998. …

The CMA Awards ceremony has officially been moved to November 7, placing the live CBS telecast in the ratings sweeps period for the first time. The move lengthens the eligibility period for awards from 12 to 13 months. Held in September for many years, the show was moved to October last year to accommodate telecasts of the Olympic Games. Vince Gill will host for the 10th straight year. (Sonicnet.com’s parent company, Viacom, also owns CBS.) …

Dwight Yoakam is in the running for a gospel award. His song “Miner’s Prayer” has been nominated for a Dove Award in the Bluegrass Recorded Song of the Year category. The song was recorded by New Tradition on their June album, Cradle, Cross, Crown. The 32nd Annual Dove Awards will be held April 26 at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville. …

Reba McEntire will headline a summer all-woman tour. Scheduled for the tour, to run July 10 through August 13, are Martina McBride, Sara Evans, Jamie O’Neal and Carolyn Dawn Johnson. …

BR5-49 and the Warren Brothers have been added to the talent lineup for George Strait‘s Country Music Festival. They will perform on the second stage on the all-stadium tour, which launches March 24 in Tampa, Florida. BR5-49 recently played at the Aspen, Colorado, wedding reception for “Almost Famous” actress Kate Hudson and Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes. …

Lucinda Williams and her new band are scheduled to perform at the Austin Music Awards, to be held at the Austin (Texas) Music Hall on March 13, the Austin Chronicle reports. Other scheduled performers are James Cotton, Vallejo and the Gourds. …

Randy Travis is working on an album combining new, original material and some of the songs he’s done in his movie and TV projects. The album is due in the fall from new label Relentless/Nashville. …

John Michael Montgomery has been added to the lineup for Fan Fair, scheduled for June 14–17 in downtown Nashville. Other artists joining the roster include Tracy Lawrence, Bryan White, South 65, Gary Allan, Tim Rushlow, Craig Morgan and Kristin Garner. Four-day tickets, allowing access to all events, are on sale and range from $90 to $115. …

Vince Gill has announced several tour dates for the summer: June 30 in Kelseyville, California, at Konocti Harbor Resort; July 11-12 in Cherokee, North Carolina, at Harrah’s Cherokee Smokey Mountain Casino; August 24-25 in Westbury, New York, at the Westbury Music Fair; and August 26 in Cohasset, Massachusetts, at the South Shore Music Circus. …

— sonicnet.com staff report