Saturday’s birthday bash for the man everyone knows as “Hank” is shaping up to be a huge event, though a mega-huge one is lurking just five years down the road.
Hank Williams was born Sept. 17, 1923. He only lived to be 29, but in that short time he carved a huge legacy as a singer-songwriter with hits like “Kaw-Liga,” “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “Honkey Tonkin’,” “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” “Hey Good Lookin’, and many more.
“Ninety-five is a pretty big year,” said Beth Petty, director of the Hank Williams Museum in downtown Montgomery. “And then, gosh, five more years. We’re going to have to start working on the hundredth right now to make it a special one.”
But for now, the focus is on this weekend, which will see singers and fans from across the nation, and around the world, converge on Montgomery for a chance to honor Hank’s memory.
“From all over the United States, we have singers to come to pay their respects and to sing a few songs,” Petty said. The event usually draws some international visitors as well.
It all kicks off at 8:45 a.m., with a gathering at Oakwood Cemetery Annex in Montgomery. There will be music at Hank’s gravesite. “Its the Shepherd Family, who are cousins of Audrey Williams,” Petty said.
Then at 9 a.m., there will be a wreath laying ceremony at both Audrey and Hank’s graves, Petty said.
From there, the celebration moves down to the museum at 118 Commerce St., with live music upstairs from 10 a.m until about 3:30 p.m.
Singers scheduled to perform include Mary Battiata, Ben Bruce, Karen Collins, Wesley Dennis, Jeremy Drawbaugh, Arty Hill, Becky Hill, Woodie Hill, Tyler Jones, Brad Magness and Tammy Sue, Zachariah Malachi, Gaynell Moore, Andy Norman and Roger “Hurricane” Wilson.
The house band that will play for all the singers has Woodie Hill on bass guitar, Arty Hill on electric guitar, Susanne Woolley on fiddle, Jeremy Drawbaugh on steel guitar and Debbie Thibodeaux on drums.
On the first floor in the museum there will also be live music featuring many of these same singers, plus Rick Henderson, Nathan Robinson, Billy Williamson and JR Rose.
Along with the music, they’ll have a very special guest in Irene Smith, Hank’s niece who lives in California. “She was here two years ago, and the crowd just loved her,” Petty said. “She’s one of those people who when she speaks, you listen.”
Smith was a young child when her uncle died, but has special memories of Hank, as well as stories that were passed along by her family. “You know, there’s really not a whole lot of people left that really had that one-on-one connection to Hank Williams,” Petty said.
Admission to Saturday’s birthday celebration is free to lifetime members of the Hank Williams Museum. For non-members, admission is $15, which includes all festivities and the tour of the Museum.
Petty said there will be door prizes, Chris’ Hot Dogs will be served, and 95th birthday t-shirts will be available. Plus, the museum also has it’s new 2019 calendar.
“I don’t think Hank’s music will ever die,” Petty said. “He’s been dead 65 years and his music is still as strong as ever. I just can’t see it ever going away.”
Hiram bar sneak peek
Hiram, a whiskey bar named for Hank, is set to open on Monday, Sept. 17, (Hank’s actual birthday) on Commerce Street in downtown Montgomery.
“It’s called Hiram, which is Hank’s real name,” Petty said.
The bar is owned by Mike Watson. Petty said Watson’s been gracious enough to open the space for a private event for the museum’s birthday guests.
“(Watson) is going to open up for us to come in and do a little jamming Saturday night after our birthday show, just to get a little feel of it,” Petty said. “Because we have so many fans in town, he didn’t want us to miss out on seeing it.”