Hank Williams Festival draws large crowd

Published 3:28 pm Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Country music fans from across the country, and as far away as Germany and Sweden, flocked to Georgiana Friday and Saturday to salute a country music legend.

The weekend-long event featured performances from notable stars such as Gene Watson, Jim Ed Brown, Stonewall Jackson, David Frizzell and Jimmy Fortune.

But the real star of the 34th annual Hank Williams Sr. Festival was its namesake, Hank Williams Sr., who passed away in 1953. Williams was just 29 years old at the time of his passing, but he was already regarded as one of the greatest country music artists of all time.

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He recorded 35 singles, five of which were released posthumously, that would place in the top 10 of the Billboard Country & Western Best Sellers chart, including 11 that ranked No. 1.

During the weekend’s performances, artist such as Jackson, who had 35 Top 40 country hits from 1958 to 1971, paid homage to the Georgiana native by playing some of his most well known tunes, including “Move it on Over,” “Jambalaya,” “Kaw-Liga” and “I Saw the Light.”

Jackson, who joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1956, is such a fan of Williams’ music that he recorded a tribute album in 1969.

“Hank has always been my favorite country singer,” Jackson said. “I’ve done two tributes to him, because I’ve always loved his music. I grew up on his songs and sang them all the time. Wherever I went I was singing a Hank Williams tune. … I was just a small kid when I first heard Hank, but his music has always stuck with me.”

It was that music, and the haunting voice of Williams, that drew his fans to Georgiana for the weekend’s festival, which took place just yards from the house where Williams grew up in the city where a street performer named Rufus “Tee-Tot” Payne taught the future legend to play guitar.

The Hank Williams Boyhood Home and Museum served as a popular stop for many festivalgoers and provided a glimpse at the man behind the legend.

Museum curator Margaret Gaston reminds visitors that the home on Rose Street is where it all began.

“(Hank Williams) was 7-years-old when he moved here,” she said. “He got his first guitar when he lived here. And he shined shoes and sold peanuts at the depot, which was a block south. He attended school a block north (from the house). I like to tell people that this is where it all began. It started right here.”

Each visitor that passes through the doors to the museum, whether during the festival or another time of the  year, gets the same reminder from Gaston.

“You’re walking on the same floor he walked on,” she says.