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‘Hankfest’ offers diverse line-up

The Hank Williams Festival’s 2018 edition promises to mix home-grown talent with Nashville greats, an up-and-coming viral sensation and performers from as far away as Europe. The festival, now in its 39th year, is set for Friday and Saturday, June 1 and 2 at the Hank Williams Music Park in the heart of downtown Georgiana.

This year’s event kicks off at 3 p.m. on June 1 with a diverse collection of entertainers saluting Butler County’s most celebrated native son.

Nashville recording artist and long-time touring country musician T.G. Sheppard will close the show Friday night with his band.

On Saturday, Nashville recording artist Tony Jackson will close the show.

Sherri Brackin of Greenville, president of the Hank Williams International Fan Club and a member since 2007, loves seeing the town “come to life” during Hankfest weekend each year.

“Our fan club also sponsors some of the music for the festival, kicking things off from 3 to 5 p.m. on Friday and again on Saturday from 9 a.m. until 12:30 p.m.,” Bracklin said. “This year’s ‘Hank the Man’ Show will have some of the best entertainment, along with our great house band, Flashback. Mason Ramsey, the viral sensation known as ‘The Walmart Yodel Boy’ and a die-hard Hank fan, will undoubtedly be one of big draws at this year’s festival.”

Bracklin added, “We call him ‘Lil Hank,’ and it’s amazing what Mason’s done in just the past nine weeks—he’s been on the Ellen DeGeneres Show twice, on stage at California’s Coachella Festival, walked the red carpet for the Billboard Awards in Las Vegas, appeared at the Grand Ole Opry twice, and to top it all off, he’s recorded his first song ‘Famous.’ And yes, Mason will be with us in Georgiana both Friday and Saturday.”

Brackin said people planning on attending should look forward to much more than just the ‘Walmart Yodler.’

“The fan club has Ricky Fitzgerald of Montgomery and Jimmy Stewart returning from Tennessee, and Jimmy will be bringing some of his excellent Hank artwork to display and sell at the fan club house,” Brackin said. “Also returning will be recording artist Mary Battiata from Maryland and Jessie Lynn from Prattville, both great girls who have written some beautiful songs. Another returning artist is Nashville’s Terry Smith, an accomplished songwriter of many tunes.”

The performer who will likely travel the greatest distance to perform in Hank’s stompin’ grounds is Edward Johannson from Halmstad, Sweden.

Gerald Hodges, who maintains the festival website, initially received an email from Johannson. A longtime Hank enthusiast, the Swedish vocalist and guitarist has his own band, Edward and the Hayriders, and is a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame in Jackson, Tenn.

“Not only is Edward coming to perform a few songs on Saturday, he is also doing research while he’s here,” Hodges said. “Edward received a grant through his hometown in Sweden for research on Hank Williams’ life and music, and he will be taking his findings back home with him. I think it’s so interesting because there’s folks in Sweden who want to know more about Hank.”

Margaret Gaston, one of the volunteers at the Hank Williams Boyhood Home and Museum in downtown Georgiana, says approximately 10 percent of the more than 5,000 visitors to the museum in 2017 were international.

“Hank truly has fans from all over the world, and it’s great to have some of them make us a priority on their itineraries when they travel to the U.S,” Gaston said. “We’ve also had four tour buses, one of which was Phil Proctor’s Southern Culture class from McGill-Toolen in Mobile. This is the ninth or tenth year they’ve visited us.”

Gaston said she is excited over this year’s Hankfest lineup.

“The fan club has put together an excellent group of performers for their part of the festival. And Saturday’s headliner Tony Jackson is a country singer who regularly appears on the Old Dominion Barn Dance in Virginia. Fan favorite T.G. Sheppard will be closing on Friday night. He’s always a real crowd pleaser.”

Brad Magness and the Flying Buffalos, a midwestern act that has been performing since the music park’s construction in 1993, is returning for their 25th appearance at Hankfest.

As for Butler County’s own vocalist Starla Jones, this veteran of the Ritz stage says she has been performing at the festival since it was still held at the Georgiana football field 30 years ago.

“I’m honored to continue to have this opportunity to sing,” said Jones, who will perform a special patriotic tribute for Hankfest each year.

She is scheduled to sing at 7 p.m. Saturday night to kick off that evening’s slate of performers.

“I want to commend the Hank Williams Fest organizers for continuing to set aside this moment in the weekend’s program to pay tribute to our great country and the men and women who have fought for our freedoms,” Jones says.

“I encourage everyone to come out and support this great Butler County tradition and enjoy some wonderful music during the Hankfest weekend.”

Other entertainers slated to perform during the festival include a popular local group, New Vision, along with Hankfest regulars Jett Williams, Hank’s cousin, Elaine McMillan, Mary McDonald, Colon Leatherwood, The Real Deal Band, Kim Carson and more. In addition, there will be food and arts and crafts vendors on site, and the chance to purchase a variety of Hank memorabilia from the museum gift shop, says Gaston.

“Look for us at our new location under the pavilion catty-cornered from the post office. We hope to see you there!”

The music kicks off at 3 p.m. Friday and at 9 a.m. Saturday at the park.

Tickets will be available at the gate and are $20 for Friday and $30 for Saturday; advanced tickets for both days are $40 but must be purchased by tomorrow (Sunday).  Children under 12-years-old are admitted free when accompanied by an adult.

Advance tickets may be ordered online via credit card by following the link on the official festival website, www.hankwilliamsfestival.com. Artists bios can also be read on the website.