Jason Petty packs a punch on stage

Published 9:29 am Tuesday, February 21, 2023

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On stage, Jason Petty reflects the essence of musician and legend Hank Williams so fully that audiences say they sometimes forget exactly who they’re looking at and listening to.

Petty and his small band played and sang some of Hank Williams most popular songs to a packed audience at the Ritz Theater on Feb. 19. 

Petty was born in Manchester, Tennessee and says, like the sun glinting off a Cadillac tail pipe, his life was destined to be one of excitement, the bright lights of a stage, and roaring fans.

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He began portraying the larger than life Williams back in 1996 at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, a place considered to be the heart and soul of country music. His performance titled, “Lost Highway”, toured the nation for six years before landing just off Broadway in 2002.

“When I was in Nashville, I had a golden opportunity to sit down and become friends with a lot of the people who played in Hank’s band,” Petty said.“Hank meant something to people. He was very important to people’s lives.”

In 2001, Petty put together his “Hank and My Honky Tonk Heroes” show at the Claridge Casino in Atlantic City.

The singer said the show was a way for him to perform live on stage without having to bring in the bigger “Lost Highway” show.

Soon, Petty was writing his own shows. He now has six that are constantly on tour.

“I’ve been touring since 2004 non-stop,” Petty said.

Joyce Little, an audience member, as well as a huge fan of Hank Williams, sat in the front row at the Ritz waiting to see Petty’s familiar face.

“I saw him once in Tennessee,” Little said.

Clyde Mills, an underwriter for the Greenville Area Arts Council said he had never seen Petty, but was looking forward to the performance.

Petty opened the performance by starting at the beginning. He discussed various aspects of Williams’ life and performed individual songs that coincided with that point in the singer’s life.

“Hank Williams lived every word he ever wrote in a song,” Petty said and added that this same kind of drive and determination is what makes him such a success.

His solo shows tour to smaller venues and more intimate crowds, but that doesn’t mean the show isn’t a big deal.

Petty’ also includes songs from other well known musicians from the beginning days of country music; such as Roy Acuff, The Carter Family, and Jimmy Rogers.

“I’ve dedicated my career to bringing back these artists, songs, and stories for as long as people will show up to hear them,” Petty said.

Since then, Petty hasn’t looked back. He’s doing what he loves, while traveling the world and meeting people who love the music of  heart and soul as much as he does.

“Hank became one of the greatest songwriters in country music history,” Petty told the crowd. “I’m a very lucky man.”

Nancy Idland, Director of the Greenville Area Arts Council, took the Ritz Theater stage and said a few words of gratitude to the packed theater.

“As we wind up season 40, I just want to thank everyone here,” Idland said, “You’ve been awesome. We love you and we appreciate you.”

She told the audience the Arts Council was already shopping around for next season’s performances.

“So, if you have shows that you love, I’d like to hear about them,” Idland said.

Idland expressed her personal feelings about the hard work and effort that goes into making the Ritz Theater such an important part of historic downtown Greenville.

“I want to thank those of you who sponsor our program in any way you can. That is what keeps us going,” she said.

Idland acknowledged those present who are volunteer members of the Lions Club in Greenville, thanking them for all their hard work.

“I’m so grateful to them,” she added.