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Festival is underway in Georgiana

Decades after his death at the young age of 29, the world still celebrates the amazing talent of Hiram “Hank” Williams Sr., “the hillbilly Shakespeare.”

The festivities for the annual Hank Williams Festival in Georgiana kicked off early Thursday with karaoke at the park. A picnic and music jam at the fan club house was followed by the fan club show on the Ga-Ana Theater stage.

“This is our 30th year in Georgiana, but of course, the formal celebration of Hank here in the county goes back to the ‘70s,” Hank Williams International Fan Club president, Mary Wallace, said.

At least four different counties have claimed to be the birthplace of the country music legend. However, Wallace says folks like Bama Watson, who taught Hank in the third grade, and Ada Grace, who helped deliver him, could attest Hiram Williams was indeed a native son of Butler County.

“A marker was made testifying to this fact. It was unveiled on the church grounds of Mt. Olive West on Sunday, May 19, 1974. There were 2,000 people there,” Wallace said.

After several years with festivals alternating between Mount Olive, Evergreen and McKenzie, the Three Arts Club decided in 1979 to expand the festivities to include a street dance in downtown Georgiana prior to the Sunday event in Mt. Olive.

“Well, that was a lot of fun,” Wallace said with a grin. “When the City of Georgiana decided to purchase the house Hank lived in during his childhood in Georgiana in the early ‘90s, that became our wonderful Hank Williams Boyhood Home and Museum. And our Hank Williams Fan Club was born.”

This year, the club is “bringing it back” with the return of local talents Back Creek, formerly known as Back Creek Country, who performed 30 years ago at the street dances.

“We have had the greatest time performing together again,” said guitarist and vocalist Edna “E.T.” Thomas.

After a hiatus, the fan club also brought the Songwriters’ Contest back for 2009. Board member Sherri Brackin organized the event, held at the Georgiana Senior Nutrition Center Friday morning. T.J. Bender, 18, of Greenville, took top honors at the contest, winning a trophy, guitar, a full day of recording time at Instant Karma Entertainment in Birmingham and appearances at both this year’s festival and the Alabama Pecan Festival in Mobile.

“It’s great to have a homegrown talent take the trophy,” Wallace said with a smile.

Gates to the Hank Williams Park open at 8 a.m. today with continuous music from 9:30 a.m. to noon, and from 1 p.m. until the Honky Tonk Tailgate Party wraps up at approximately 10:30 p.m. Tickets are $25.