THE COUNTRY GENTLEMEN
To be sure, Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn are not entirely comfortable with the term “gentlemen.” “If we’re the country gentlemen,” quips Dunn, 53, “then the country is in trouble!” Brooks, 51, simply throws back his black cowboy hat and howls at the thought.
Granted, they may not be exactly jackets-required types. But Brooks & Dunn, country music’s leading duo for 15 years and counting, are certainly living the good life. Their most recent hits—the soulful “Believe” and the Sheryl Crow/Vince Gill collaboration “Building Bridges”—upped their tally of Top 10 singles to a whopping 40. Their latest album, Hillbilly Deluxe, is their ninth platinum record. And, after winning 15 CMA awards, the duo—who also host the Awards show Nov. 6—are again in the running for Entertainer of the Year. “Brooks and Dunn are beloved in Nashville as smart, funny guys who are loyal and hardworking,” says Tammy Genovese, COO of the Country Music Association. “Kix is like the unofficial major of Nashville. He knows everybody.”
That may account for why the duo rank among Nashville’s top party hosts. Several times a year they open the gates to Dunn’s sprawling estate and let as many as 1,000 guests descend upon his white-cupola-topped horse barn, now refurbished as a high-end playhouse with designer Southwestern-style furnishings, an oversize antler chandelier and glossy wood plank floors. “We put up a huge tent out behind the barn and we rock and roll,” says Dunn. “We always make sure to warn the neighbors.” Among their high-profile guests are Keith Urban, Nicole Kidman and Reba McEntire. Dunn’s favorite event is his annual July 4th blowout. “We bring trucks of fireworks and do them ourselves,” he says. “The first year, the company sent a professional, but we ended up just giving him tequila and letting him watch. Part of the fun is the fear factor. We shoot ’em off and then we have to run and hide under trees because the fire falls down on your head.”
Brooks, who lives “about 10 minutes over the hill,” also hosts a major fundraiser near his farm outside Nashville during the annual Music City Futurity cutting horse event. “I grew up in a party atmosphere,” he says, explaining his social nature. “We lived on a lake, and our life was a constant fish fry, people coming and going, waterskiing and boating. We were always entertaining.”
But it’s not all fun and games. Between dates on their current Long Haul tour, the duo are also finishing up a new album due next summer. “We’re music junkies,” says Dunn, who often plays and writes into the wee hours. Adds Brooks: “It’s more fun than ever. When you come up with a new idea at this point, it’s really exciting.”