Celebrating A Legend

Country stars fall on Alabama at June 3-5 festival honoring Hank Williams

This appeared in The Decatur Daily News - May 27, 2004

Georgiana is shifting into high gear for its 25th annual tribute to a legendary native son.

The Hank Williams Festival is June 3-5 on the grounds of the singer/songwriter's boyhood home, now a museum. The lineup of stars includes Marty Stuart, Connie Smith, Lee Roy Parnell and Williams' daughter, Jett Williams.

"We invite everyone to bring their lawn chairs, but coolers, food, drinks or pets cannot be brought into the park," said Georgiana Town Clerk Barbara Clem. "Food and drinks will be available as well as several arts and crafts booths." Georgiana is south of Montgomery in Butler County.

The festival kicks off June 3 at 6 p.m. as songwriters pour in from throughout the southeastern United States for a Hank Williams songwriting contest.

Clem said more than 50 songwriters came in 2003 and she expects at least that many this year.

"They'll sing their original songs that capture the spirit of Hank," she said. "Admission to this part of the festival is free."

The gates for Friday's show open at 3 p.m. The picking and singing starts an hour later with Parnell, a triple threat as an ace guitarist, soulful singer and hit songwriter, serving as the headliner.

Parnell was only 6 when Bob Wills exposed him to music.

"I tagged along to many dances with my dad and Bob," Parnell said. "The first time I sang publicly was on live radio with Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys. From then on, I never wanted to do anything else."

He is noted for such songs as "Love Without Mercy," "Heart's Desire," "Holdin' My Own" and "I Declare." Others scheduled to perform Friday are Dakota, JC's Pure Country Band and Brad Magness.

On Saturday, the gates open at 8 a.m. with music beginning at 9 a.m. Stuart, Smith and Williams are headliners for the show that evening.

But throughout the day, Hank fans will be able to meet and hear former members of his "Drifting Cowboys Band," Clent Homes, Pee Wee Moultrie, Lum York, Braxton Schuffer, Felton Pruitt and Don Helms.

Other performances will include David Church, Larry Crocker, Magness, Mary McDonald, Colon Leatherwood, the Kandu Band and Starla Jones.

The multi-talented Stuart married Smith in 1997. Both are Grand Ole Opry stars but even he cannot pinpoint his role, which is the way he likes it.

"I really don't know where I fit in the music business," he said. "I just love to work. There are so many things I enjoy doing, but the bottom line for me is to make good music and be the best that I can."

Stuart says he doesn't worry about "where my place is. Actually, for most of my life, I've not fit in, and that's fine by me."

He plays guitar, mandolin, bass and fiddle and besides being a big Hank fan, he is an inveterate collector of country memorabilia, owning several of Hank's guitars.

Stuart, born in Philadelphia, Miss., was only 13 when Lester Flatt hired him as a mandolinist. He played with Flatt's band until the bluegrass legend's death in 1979.

He spent time as a journeyman sideman playing acoustic and electric guitar for Doc and Merle Watson and fiddler Vassar Clements, and most significantly a six-year stint as lead guitarist for Johnny Cash.

Stuart's own career as a leader in country music didn't come until he released "Hillbilly Rock" in 1990, which broke into the Top 10. His first Top 20 hit, "Arlene," came five years earlier.

Smith, a native of Elkhart, Ind., grew up in West Virginia and Ohio as one of 14 children. She taught herself to play guitar while in the hospital recovering from a lawn mower accident.

Her break came in 1963 when she was booked to sing at the Frontier Ranch, a park near Columbus, Ohio. Bill Anderson headlined the show and was so impressed with Smith, he invited her to Nashville.

Her recording of Anderson's song, "Once A Day," in 1964 made her an overnight success. The song spent eight weeks at No. 1 and 28 weeks in the U.S. country charts.

She moved from RCA to Columbia Records in 1973, where her first hit came with a recording of her own song, "You've Got Me Right Where You Want Me." She later moved to Monument Records, where her biggest hit was "I Just Want To Be Your Everything," a pop No. 1 hit for Andy Gibb.

She has a 50-plus album catalog, including an album of Hank Willliams' gospel songs.

She regularly plays at the Opry and on network radio and television shows. She delighted British fans in 1990 with an appearance in the United Kingdom. Smith stopped recording that year, but at Stuart's urging, she returned to the studio in 1998.

How to go

What: 25th annual Hank Wililams Festival

Where: Georgiana

When: June 3-5

Cost: Advance weekend tickets are available through Monday for $30. Friday tickets are $15 and Saturday tickets are $25. Tickets for a barbecue dinner Friday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. are $10 in advance. To order advance tickets or for more information, call (334) 376-2396 or e-mail cityofgeorgiana@greenlynk.com.

By Ronnie Thomas

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