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Hank Williams Festival slated June 3-4

SPECIAL TO THE JOURNAL:

Country music legend Mickey Gilley and his piano will headline this year’s Hank Williams Sr. Festival.

The 37th Annual Hank Williams Sr., “Salute to a Legend” Festival, will be held on the grounds of the famous singer’s boyhood home, which is now the Hank Williams Museum, in Georgiana, Ala., on Friday, June 3 and Saturday, June 4.

In addition to Gilley, Saturday’s lineup features, Williams’ daughter, Jett Williams, Brad Magness, Mary McDonald, Colon Leatherwood, Southern Legends, Elaine McMillan, Lottie Moore, Starla Jones and others.

For Jett Williams, 2016 will mark her 24th festival appearance.

“Coming back to Georgiana is like being part of a great big family,” said Williams. “I look forward to eing able to walk around the grounds and talk with all the great friends there.

“It’s a thrill knowing that all the entertainers that will be there loved and appreciated Hank’s music. I don’t say it just because he was my father, but he was the greatest. His music and songs have touched and inspired so many people, not just fans, but other songwriters and musicians. If you listen to the radio, you will hear pop, blues, and just about every other type artist singing his songs.

“His style of music is still the standard by which our modern country music is judged.”

Like Williams, Mickey Gilley grew up in a small town, and had to overcome many struggles before ever reaching star status. Growing up in Ferriday, Louisiana, with his two cousins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Jimmy Swaggart, Gilley didn’t achieve success as quickly as his two relatives.

While he was gifted in music, his first goal after getting married and having a son, was to earn enough money to make ends meet at a regular day job. After being inspired by the success of Jerry Lee, Mickey, who was living in Houston, Texas at the time decided to pursue his own professional music career.

In 1960, Gilley was able to land a job for himself at the Nesfadel Club in Houston at the rate of $90 per week.

“I had hoped for something bigger, but the gig was surprisingly successful,” he told J. D. Davis, in the book “Unconquered,” “I felt successful. I was making enough to get by on. It was a good steady job and the people were coming out to hear me play.”

In 1971, Gilley teamed up with Houston businessman, Sherwood Cryer, to open “Gilley’s” in Pasadena, a suburb of Houston.  It became the world’s largest and hottest country music night spot.

Mickey Gilley had arrived. But despite his increasing popularity in the Houston area, it wasn’t until he recorded “Room Full of Roses” in 1973 that he gained national attention. The hits followed. In 1974, he had “I Overlooked an Orchid”, “City Lights”, and “Crazy Arms”.

He had three more top-tens in 1975, and in 1976 was named, Best Male Vocalist of the Year at the Country Music Awards.

Then in 1984, the movie “Urban Cowboy” was made at Gilley’s. Suddenly Mickey Gilley was a household word with country music fans throughout the country.

He eventually moved to Branson, Missouri where he could play many of his 17 Number One hits for fans on a nightly basis.

One of his biggest challenges occurred in 2009, when he fell backwards while helping a friend move some furniture. The fall damaged several vertebrae in his neck, and he was left paralyzed from the neck down. In the hospital he thought, “God, please let me die. If I have to live like this, I’m ready to go now. Please don’t make me live like this.”

It was a long, uphill battle. Doctors thought he would remain permanently paralyzed on his left side, but he proved them wrong. On April 12, 2010, nine months after the accident, Mickey Gilley returned to the stage of his theater in Branson.

“I don’t know if it’s the music or the fans that have sustained me,” said Gilley. “I love them both. There’s nothing I would rather be doing than sitting down at a piano and playing songs for the people that come out to see me.”

Gilley will take the stage between 8:45-9 p.m. pm on Saturday evening.

Guest stars that will appear on the Fan Club portion of the show: Terry Smith, Larry Pittman, Jerry & Lisa Queen, Ron & Nita Jeffers, Mary Battiata, and George Hamilton V.

The gates open on Saturday at 8 a.m., and there will be continuous music starting at about 9 a.m. Admission is $30.

Appearing Friday night, June 3: The LACS,  Scott Brantley, Brad Magness, Mary McDonald, Colon Leatherwood, and others.

Fans can enter the park on Friday at 3 p.m. Admission is $20. Music will begin about 3 pm. Barbecue plates will be available at 5 pm for $10.

The festival will feature a free karaoke session on Thursday night, beginning at 7 p.m.

The Hank Williams Festival is an outdoor event, sponsored by the Hank Williams Museum. There is no reserved seating. Bring your lawn chairs. No lounge chairs, coolers, food, drinks, or pets can be taken into the park. The festival is biker friendly.

A special weekend ticket, which will be good for both days, can be bought for $40, through May 27. This is a savings of $10 over the regular single-day admission price. This ticket must be purchased in advance. To order, or for additional information, call 334-376-2396, or log on to: www.hankwilliamsfestival.com.

To reach the festival, take I-65 Exit 114, and go one mile east.