Festival celebrates legend’s 100th birthday

By Haley Mitchell Godwin 

Over the weekend fans flocked to Georgiana from around the world to celebrate the music and life of Hank Williams, Sr.at the 44th annual Hank Williams Sr. Festival. The anniversary of what would have been William’s upcoming 100th birthday in September was observed during the festivities. 

Several notable country music stars, including Darryl Worley and Chris Cagle performed during the event, where an estimated 1200 attendees enjoyed two days of live music, festival food, arts and crafts, and  southern hospitality. 

The often-oppressive south Alabama heat stayed at bay, but devoted fans like Mark Smyth of Luverne said they would brave any kind of weather to attend the festival. 

“It was actually very pleasant this weekend and the humidity continued on the reasonable side,” Smyth said. “ It really doesn’t matter to me though, I would be going rain or shine thanks to the huge pavilion.” 

“I’ve been going to the festival, off and on, since it first started. I go back year after year because I enjoy listening to live country music, especially traditional country music, and to just enjoy the atmosphere at the Hank festival.”

Smyth, like many Alabamians, grew up listening to Williams’ music and hearing stories of the legend’s early visits around Crenshaw County. 

“My father used to listen to Hank play at various places in and around Crenshaw County in the late 40’s and he would tell us about those days, so I’ve been interested in Hank’s music from early on,” Smyth said. “I especially liked going to the shows in the early years because former members of the Drifting Cowboys, Hank’s band, including Don Helms and Jerry Rivers, Hank’s steel and fiddle player, would perform and be available after the show to talk with and for pictures and autographs. Although most, if not all, of the former band members are no longer with us, it doesn’t take away from the uniqueness of this festival.”  

Edward Johansson of Laholm, Sweden attended the festival for the fifth year in a row. 

“I’ve been a big fan of Hank Sr since I was a little kid, listening to my father’s LP records,” Johansson said.  “Me and my band back in Sweden, ‘Edward and the Hayriders,’ always include Hank songs in our shows. I found out about the festival when I was planning on visiting Alabama for the first time back in 2018. I wanted to see and visit the places where Hank Sr. grew up which I had read about back in Sweden. I wrote to the Hank Williams Sr. Fan Club here in Georgiana and talked to the president, Sherri Brackin and to E.T. Thomas. They welcomed me the kindest way possible and Georgiana Chief of Police Jeremy Peagler introduced me to the town and we all became very good friends.”

Although final tallies on numbers and revenue were not yet available at press time,  Rosa Marie Blackmon, curator at the Hank Williams, Sr. Boyhood Home & Museum in Georgiana, said the festival was not only a great success, but also a special annual commemoration of what would have been Hank Williams upcoming 100th birthday.

“The weather was perfect, a little hot, but nothing like we’d had in the past,” Blackmon said. “This year was special because it was a celebration of Hank Williams 100th birthday coming up in September. Darryl Worley and Chris Cagle, along with all the other entertainers put on fantastic performances.  It takes a village and teamwork to make the festival come alive.” 

The festival featured a tribute to Williams from singer and songwriter Jason Petty, who has portrayed Williams onstage for many years. Also performing was The Burning Bush Family, Colon Leatherwood, Today’s Yesterday Band, New Vision, Jeff Rabren, Mary McDonald, Jeremy Peagler, Edward C Johansson, Starla Jones, Mason Ramsey, The BroJo Band, and others. 

The BroJo Band, consisting of  Brody Cartwright and Joseph Ealum from Greenville, earned their performance slot when they placed second in the inaugural Hank Williams Sr. Talent Showcase that was held May 6, at the historic Georgiana Opry House. Ealum said it was an honor to play at the festival. 

“It really meant the world to me to be able to play and the Hank Williams Sr. Festival,” Ealum said. “I have been attending the festival for many years and now to actually say I had the chance to play where many other greats have played just means the world to me.”

Located on Rose St, the museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.  

“Hank’s spirit is in this house where  he lived as a little boy and started his music career,” Blackmon said. “I’m sure Hank is in heaven looking down, thankful for his legacy being kept alive. As Hank Sr. would say, ‘We love you, God bless each and everyone, and if the Lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise,  we’ll see y’all again’ at our 45th  Hank Williams Festival Sr. Festival.”

For more information on next year’s festival visit https://hankwilliamsfestival.com or find Hank Williams Festival on Facebook.