Fans come to pay tribute to Hank Williams

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 9, 2004

Thousands of fans flocked to Georgiana last weekend for the 25th Annual Hank Williams Festival, held on June 4 and 5, in the City Park.

Featuring a country and western star-studded cast of performers, people came to the annual event from as far away as Maine, California and Washington State in the U.S., and England and Germany overseas.

People were lined up at the gates for nearly a block when the event officially opened up on Friday at 3 p.m., and people were able to socialize, mill around vendors selling arts and crafts, and talk about their favorite country music legend, the late Hank Williams.

Email newsletter signup

One of the most moving welcomes home in recent history was that of the 781st Transportation Battalion of the Georgiana National Guard.

Georgiana Mayor Lynn Watson served as emcee for the event.

&uot;We were unable on such short notice to put together a fitting tribute when our troops arrived back home last month from Iraq,&uot; Watson said to the troops, gathered in front of the stage on Saturday evening. &uot;I can think of no better way to honor them then to say, as the Mayor of Georgiana and a citizen of the United States, I thank God for you all coming back home safely.&uot;

In a telephone interview on Tuesday, Watson said he had never seen anything so moving and spectacular in his life.

&uot;That (tribute to the troops) may the best thing we have ever done since we have had the Hank Williams Festival,&uot; Watson said. &uot;Starla did one heck of a job in her tribute of song to the soldiers, and everyone in the park gave the troops a flag-waving standing ovation. I don’t know of anyone else’s troops that have ever come back home and gotten that kind of applause.&uot;

&uot;I would say on Saturday we probably had close to 2,200 people in attendance during our tribute to the Georgiana troops,&uot; he said. &uot;And on Friday night we probably had close to 1,500 in attendance.&uot;

Topping the entertainment on Friday night was Leroy Parnell, a native of Abilene, Texas, and the CMA award nominations, two Grammy nominations, two BMI Millionaire songwriting awards and the Star of Texas award for preservation of Texas music.

Parnell was preceded by JC’s Pure Country Band, David Church, Brad Magness and the Flying Buffaloes, Mary McDonald and Colon Leatherwood.

On Saturday, the events began with more than 500 avid Williams fans gathering for the Annual Hank Williams Fan Club Breakfast, and once the park opened at 8 a.m., entertainment continued throughout the day, with former Drifting Cowboys. Also entertaining was Larry Crocker, Hillary and Haleigh Spangler, Tery Smith, Gerald Songe, Garrett Miles, Larry Darnell, the Kandu Band of Crenshaw County, David Church, Connie Smith (wife of Marty Stuart and herself a country music star), Brad Magnuss again, the patriotic tribute by Starla Jones and Jett Williams.

Then the moment that everyone had been waiting for had arrived came – Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives came onto the stage. Stuart’s band, the Fabulous Superlatives, consisted of Kenny Vaughan of Opp on the lead guitar, and also from Alabama were drummer Harry Stinson and bassist Brian Glenn.

Stuart has played country music for more than 30 years, traveling from the Mississippi Delta to Nashville and back again.

They stayed on the stage until after 11 p.m.

Born in the Mt. Olive West community near Garland as Hiram King Williams on Sept. 17, 1923, &uot;Hank&uot; as he was known was the second child of Elonzo H. Wiliams and Jessie Lillybelle Skipper Williams.

Afflicted with a birth defect known as a form of Spina Bifida, Hank grew up as a young boy in Georgiana, and as stories have it, was in constant back pain for his entire life.

Williams learned to play the guitar from a bluesman, Rufus Payne, known as Tee-Tot. Payne and two other black men, one playing a bass fashioned from a broom and a tub, were buskers, or street performers. Payne had in young Williams a protg who would not be deterred, no matter how the wandering musician, weary of the boy’s ceaseless questions, tried to put him off. &uot;All the musical training I ever had came from Tee-Tot Payne,&uot; Williams later said.

Williams became a regional favorite on radio and in traveling shows and, after a wartime detour as a welder, was in Alabama in 1943 performing with a touring medicine show. There he met his future wife, an aspiring singer, who spurred his career and gave him plenty of anguish to draw on. The painful candor of his later hits &uot;House Without Love&uot; and &uot;Why Should We Try Anymore&uot; are believed to reflect his stormy marriage to Audrey Sheppard Guy.

It was in Banks, in nearby Pike County, that Williams and Guy met, and in Dec. of 1944 the pair was married by a justice of the peace who owned a local gas station near Andalusia, when Williams was 21 years old.

Williams penned scores of songs, some of which were later recorded by famous musicians and singers like Tony Bennett, who in 1951 recorded &uot;Cold, Cold Heart,&uot; and Johnny Cash, Louis Armstrong, Rosemary Cloney, the Grateful Dead, Henry Mancini and the Bee Gees.

Williams had one child by his first wife Audrey, that of course being Hank Williams Jr., who was three when the legendary &uot;Honky Tonk Man&uot; died on New Year’s Eve, while a passenger in the back seat of a shiny Cadillac with a hired driver who was taking Williams from Knoxville, Tenn. to Oak Hill, W.V.

When the driver opened the door the next morning at their destination, he found Williams dead of a reported heart ailment.

Five days after Williams’ death, his second child was born to Bobbie Jett. Her name today is Jett Williams, and the 52-year-old blonde-haired daughter has been singing since 1989, and is an annual favorite at the Hank Williams Festival in Georgiana.