Thousands turn out to celebrate Hank

Published 8:45 am Thursday, June 18, 2009

Fans flocked from everywhere from Greenville to Germany last weekend to gather in Georgiana for the 30th annual Hank Williams Sr. Festival. An estimated 3,000 attendees enjoyed two days of live music, festival food, arts and crafts and plenty of southern hospitality.

Thousands turn out to celebrate Hank

The oppressive south Alabama heat didn’t keep true-blue fans away. “I have been here for six years,” said Otto, who introduced himself as from “Europe, Bavaria, Germany, Munich.”

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“I love Hank’s music. And I love this town and county. It’s beautiful, it’s friendly. And I love the heat. It’s good for the body,” he said with a smile.

A crew from Dublin, Ireland was also on hand filming a documentary on the life of Williams, who has a large fan base in Europe.

Both the City of Georgiana, which mounts the event, and the Hank Williams Fan Club, which provides a variety of fan-related activities Thursday through Saturday, seem pleased with the weekend’s outcome.

“I thought we had a good crowd and I heard a lot of positive comments,” said Anne Browder, Georgiana city clerk.

She said the three performers – Trent Willmon, Jeff Bates and Mark Wills – who brought the Honky-Tonk Tailgate Party to the stage on Saturday night treated the fans very well.

“The show was over around midnight, and when I left there at 1:30 a.m., those fellows were still talking to fans, signing autographs and posing for pictures,” Browder said.

She said Ronnie McDowell, who headlined Friday night, also proved very accessible to fans.

“We had some really good, down-to-earth, fan-oriented performers at this year’s event and you could tell the fans really did appreciate that,” Browder said.

With acts like The Springs (the 2008 ICM Youth Artists of the Year), the Joe Wright Band and the Tailgate Party artists, this year’s festival reached out to younger generations of country fans.

Longtime festival favorites were also on stage, including Hank tribute artist David Church, Brad Magness (who drew a standing ovation on Saturday for his flamenco guitar performance of “Malaguena”), Jett Williams and Colon Leatherwood.

“We tried to have a mix of performers that would appeal to all ages and interests – something for everyone,” Browder said. Jeff Whitlow from Hartselle, an “old time country” musician drew rave reviews on Saturday afternoon, she added.

Resurrected from past festivals by the Hank Williams Fan Club this year was the Songwriters Contest, with 18-year-old T.J. Bender of Greenville, selected as the winner.

“We were glad to bring this back and we want it to be even bigger and better next year,” said president Mary Wallace.

Local musicians and vocalists were also seen at the festival, with Butler County’s Back Creek (formerly Back Creek Country) returning to the Hank stage after a 30-year hiatus.

Georgiana’s own Starla Jones, a longtime festival favorite, returned to present her patriotic tribute, performing the Star-Spangled Banner and the American Trilogy on Saturday night.

Final tallies on numbers and revenue were not yet available at press time, but Browder said she believes the weekend was an overall success.