Charleston to host 10th annual Hank Williams tribute concert
John Lilly and Rob McNurlin like both kinds of music — country and western.
The two celebrated Americana songwriters who travel the country each playing their own unique country songs, come together Saturday night to celebrate one of their great influences — the songs of Hank Williams Sr.
The two who live in Charleston, and Nashville, respectively, have been getting together annually around New Year's since 2003 which was the 50th anniversary of the death of Hank Williams who died in Oak Hill, W.Va., on his way to a show in Canton, Ohio.
Williams was to perform at Charleston's Municipal Auditorium on New Year's Eve 1953 but couldn't make it because of the weather. His plane had to turn back and he tried to make the trip by car. He and a driver made it as far as Oak Hill, West Virginia, where Williams died in the back of his Cadillac at age 29 under a deadly mix of heavy medication and alcohol.
Lilly, who in 2005 won the international Ghost Writers in the Sky songwriting contest, sponsored by HankFest, a Chicago-based festival honoring the music of Hank Williams for Lilly's original song "Blue Highway," said he, McNurlin and Buddy Griffin had such a good time at the first New Year's Hank show in 2003, they've made it a tradition.
The 10th annual Hank Williams Tribute Concert is set for 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 29 at the Culture Center Theatre in Charleston. The concert features John Lilly and Rob McNurlin, along with steel guitar legend Kayton Roberts, fiddler Buddy Griffin, guitarist Ritchie Collins and bass player Roger Carroll. Tickets are $20, $15 seniors, $10 students, Free under 13 and AmeriCorps / VISTA workers. Call 304-415-3668 or go online at www.footmad.org Tickets available at footmad.org.
FOOTMAD (The Friends of Old-Time Music and Dance) are presenting the concert.
Tickets are $20, $15 seniors, $10 students, Free under 13 and AmeriCorps / VISTA workers. Call 304-415-3668 or go online at www.footmad.org Tickets available at footmad.org.
The tradition started down at Sister's Coffeehouse in Princeton with McNurlin and Lilly swapping Hank songs that they ended up doing two nights, and now have chalked up Hank-themed shows at least a couple times a year.
In a laid-back coffeehouse atmosphere, McNurlin and Lilly usually trade off singing three or four of their favorite Hank songs, well known fare such as "Your Cheating Heart," "Hey Good Lookin'" and such, and then blending in a lot of Hank's more obscure work from Lilly's favorites, the ones with a good hearty yodel, to McNurlin's penchant for those Luke the Drifter recitations.
"It's a good dynamic with Rob and me," said Lilly, the editor at Goldenseal magazine, and a former guide at the Country Music Hall of Fame. "We have parallel interests but know a lot of different Hank songs. He's drawn to the recitations, and I am drawn to the ones you can yodel. Some we do together that we harmonize or trade off verses."
Lillysaid Williams put a deep stamp on music with his songs and stage presence.
It was that electric combination that garnered him a legendary seven encores for his song "Lovesick Blues" when he debuted it in 1949 on the Grand Ole Opry, a place where encores weren't standard practice.
"He had simplicity mixed with depth in the songwriting itself," Lilly said. "It's that beautiful combination that people strive for in country songwriting saying something profound in a few words and using common images and language to say something so universal. The same thing with his delivery. He was just a plain singer, but he delivers it with such authority and conviction that he really stood out as an entertainer, and then there was a kind of mystique about Hank Williams. He had troubles with alcoholism and marriage and getting kicked of the opry. It was sort of soap opera always going on in his life."
Interestingly, Williams’ death and connection to West Virginia has not faded away with time.
In fact, the Huntington-based Appalachian Film Festival had a special showing of the indie film, “The Last Ride,” a feature film about Hank Williams Sr.'s last three days alive and his death in Oak Hill, W.Va. That film, which starred Ray McKinnon of "Deadwood" and "O' Brother Where Art Thou" fame, as well as Henry Thomas, who's worked in films such as "Legends of the Fall" and "All the Pretty Horses" since he starred in "E.T,” was shown at the Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center.