When it comes to country music, my knowledge is limited to duets with Julio Iglesias and the Dukes of Hazzard theme song. Up until a few weeks ago, I thought Brooks & Dunn was a freakin' law firm. As an entertainment journalist, I was determined to learn more. Frankly, I was determined to learn anything. After purchasing a most excellent ensemble (Wranglers, patriotic buckin' bronco shirt, big-ass hat) and growing the scruffiest mustache this side of Jeff Foxworthy, I took my city-slicker self down to Nashville in search of a little Southern comfort at the CMT Flameworthy 2003 Video Music Awards, which aired live on April 7. Could I become the next urban cowboy? (Watch your spurs, John Travolta!) More important, could I determine the origin of the word flameworthy?
I show up nice and early to pester some famous country singers for much-needed style pointers and insider info. Self-proclaimed redneck Chris Cagle actually seems excited to see me approaching. ''I got the exact same hat!'' he hollers. The hat connection must be strong, because Cagle invites me on stage with him to present the Breakthrough Video of the Year award. (Okay, it's only dress rehearsal, but still.)
I'm feeling good about my duds until Cocky Video of the Year nominee (yes, that's a category) Terri Clark shoots me down. Before I've even said howdy, Terri is molesting my chapeau to properly sculpt it (or so she says) and making me take off my boots so she can beat them against a bench to break them in (once again, so she says). At least she unravels the mystery of the word flameworthy for me. ''It's when people flick their lighters at shows when there's a song they really like,'' she says. Oh, of course.
Next stop is country superstar Kenny Chesney's tour bus. Chesney begins by explaining what it takes to write a hit country song. ''You gotta make 'em laugh, cry, love somebody, hate somebody,'' he says. ''If you don't do any of that stuff, you're missing the boat. I mean, I could write a song about how you're wearing a straw hat out of season, but nobody's gonna care.'' (Ouch!) While Chesney insists I look like someone out of Smokey and the Bandit, we seem to hit it off: Soon he presents me with a jar of Kentucky peach moonshine brewed by country duo Montgomery Gentry. ''You can't just sip it. You gotta swallow it,'' Chesney commands. One bitter swig (and a chaser of Michelob Ultra) later, and I begin to understand the country lifestyle. You gotta know when to walk away, and know when to run -- and with the moonshine kickin' in, it's time to run.
I stumble over to the red carpet just in time to meet Shania Twain. I know billions of music fans and horny Internet downloaders would kill to be in my shoes...or, in this case, my really uncomfortable cowboy boots. Shania sizes me up and says my look is ''working.'' Cool! ''Although I'm not sure about the straw.'' Damn! She says a bunch of other stuff, too, but she's so ridiculously hot I can't concentrate, and I just nod my head like an idiot.