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Building a quot;House of Goldquot;

The 2001 Hank Williams Festival kicked off last night with a bang, and what a bang it was. Although the storms rolled in in the early afternoon, it didn't stop the Hank fans from having a good time.

The weekend party began with a songwriter's contest. The entertainment continued until late in the evening with 25 acts followed by jam sessions. Toward the end of the night, all the songwriters were invited on stage where they did a tribute to Hank by singing his tunes, both well-known and rare.

Around 10 p.m., the judges returned with their decisions.

The winners of the Hank category included: Ray Farnell, first place; Donny Mills, second place, and Gary Purvis, third place. The winners in the regular country category were: Ray Farnell, first place, Billy Studstill, second place; and Glenn Johnson, third place. The overall grand prize went to Ray Farnell of Daphne, Ala. for his song, "That's the way a memory's made."

After the show, Farnell commented, "I wrote the song a couple of years ago. It is basically about all the small things my grandfather did in life."

Farnell's song "Hank" was the winner of the Hank category. "I wrote the song in about three weeks and the idea basically came from visiting here last year and my memories of the place. I would sometimes think about the backyard (at Hank Williams boyhood home) and what his life was like."

And many visitors came from far and wide to also visit that boyhood home. One songwriter, Larry Overturf, along with his wife, traveled from Benton, Ill. to join in the festivities.

He performed a song "Grandad said a prayer," which moved many audience members to tears. "I wrote the song in about an hour or two and then changed the ending here and there."

Although Benton may not have placed in the songwriters contest, he, along with others, were happy to come together to celebrate the music of Hank Williams.

That was the point of it all

to celebrate and remember Hank. Surely Hank Williams is smiling down from heaven and must be proud to know that he was able to build a "House of Gold" on earth, one that fans return to every year.

The Hank Williams Festival will continue through Sunday evening and will feature such acts as George Hamilton IV, Loretta Lynn and T.G. Sheppard.