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Published: Saturday, 12/25/2004

Country music: plenty to appreciate

Christmas seems as good a time as any to look back on and give thanks for the country music scene this year.

At the regional level, Pete Schlegel of Defiance started making a name for himself on the national stage. He appeared in Country Weekly, and his video for A Whole Lotta Liquor began running on GAC and VH1.

Rodney Parker of Delta cut a solid demo in Nashville with some of the best-known musicians in that town. The beginning of 2005 promises to be an exciting time for Rodney, who will be meeting with many of the major labels in Nashville.

Jenna Thomas, 18, the daughter of former Toledoan Marylou Thomas, performed at the Lenawee County Fair and continues to make connections in Nashville. She recently completed a demo with Razzy Bailey, a well-known producer, who is hoping to set up several showcases with label executives.

Although they parted ways in November, former Toledoan Michelle Poe spent the last couple of years playing bass guitar for Dierks Bentley. It was a good time to be in his band because she spent the year opening for George Strait, Kenny Chesney, and hanging out with Keith Urban while on tour. She's now hoping to land a record deal.

As for Urban, he continued to emerge this year as the next big star. For the first time, he had his own headlining tour.

WKKO-FM (99.9) and my buddies Craig Snyder, Harvey Steele, Gary Shores, and Cliff Smithers continued to dominate the local airwaves, helping to prove what a deep love Toledoans have for country music.

J.J. O'Shea and Jim Van Deilen made the switch from AM to FM. Their Sunday Ramble show, now on WJZE-FM (97.3), brings deserved attention to local artists.

Jim and Connie Prenger and Mike and Mary Jo Barhorst produced another star-studded lineup for Country Concert in Fort Loramie, Ohio, and were rewarded with a nomination for the outdoor musical event of the year by an international vendors group. Even better, the 2005 event will be the 25th edition, and organizers are vowing to break their budget and produce the best lineup ever.

And I'd be remiss in not giving thanks for Bootleggers, a full-time country bar that has given Toledo country music fans a hangout. The bar's success is no doubt driven by Bandera, probably the best country band in the city.

Nationally, there was no better news for country music than the breakout success of Gretchen Wilson, who is closing in on 4 million sales of her debut album, and her good friends Big & Rich, who offer a refreshing take on country music.

On a personal level, I was thrilled to see Kenny Chesney win the Country Music Association's Entertainer of the Year award. I know how much it means to him and how hard he works at putting on a good show. There really is no better entertainer in the business.

Perhaps more than anything, I'm thankful for those people who approach me on the streets and talk about country music, especially those people who say they've just started listening to the music, and they love it.

Because of them, country has a bright future.

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