Hank Williams Birthday Party – The Sutler (Nashville, TN)
A special edition of the Western Beat Barndance, a weekly event in Nashville, this event coincided with what would’ve been Hank Williams’ 73rd birthday. Jett Williams, Hank’s daughter, kicked off the proceedings by singing “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”, followed by Bill McCrory of Pirates of the Mississippi rendering “Honky Tonk Blues” and Paul Burch, Jr. singing “Log Train”.
The regular Barndance house band, which backed up many of the performers during the show, then left the stage to make room for Jason Petty and the Lost Highway Band. Petty performs the story of Hank Williams’ life several nights a week at the Ryman; on this evening, he and his band played “You Win Again”, “High Gone Lonesome Blues”, “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and “Moanin’ the Blues”. This portion came across as a little overblown; perhaps Petty is so used to playing the much bigger Ryman that he had trouble adjusting to the cozier confines of the Sutler. The music was infallible, but the gestures and mugging got a bit old after a while.
After a brief intermission, the Barndance Band returned with Tracy Nelson and Al Kooper. Nelson offered a very bluesy rendition of “May You Never Be Alone Like Me”, with Kooper on mandolin. Mandy Barnett (formerly the star of “Patsy Cline — Always” at the Ryman) followed with a beautifully sung “Mansion on the Hill” and “My Sweet Love Ain’t Around”.
Billy Block (host of the Barndance) and Jason Petty then introduced Don Helms from Hank’s original band to the crowd, followed by new Mercury Records artist Neal Coty blazing through a significantly reworked version of “Weary Blues From Waitin'”. Turning the heat up a bit, Rick Vito blazed into a rockin’ version of “Move It On Over”.
Nashville favorite Jim Lauderdale followed with a lively set that featured “Half as Much”, “Hear the Lonesome Whistle Blow” and the crowd-pleasing singalong number, “I Saw the Light”. Victor Mecyssne wrapped his Lyle Lovett-like styling around “Keep It On Your Mind”, and Austin Church (who plays Ernest Tubb in the show “Thanks, Ernest Tubb”) did a spoken-word version of “Just Waitin'” in addition to singing “You Win Again”. Harley Allen, another recent Mercury signee, had the crowd in the palm of his hand with “Cold Cold Heart”, and Almo/Geffen newcomer Paul Jefferson delivered one of the best performances of the evening with “Lovesick Blues”.
The stage then belonged to Lucinda Williams, who seemed refreshingly at ease onstage as she sang “Take These Chains From My Heart”, followed by a song she could have written herself, “Mind Your Own Business”, followed by the Ralph Jones-penned “Please Don’t Let Me Love You”. Allison Moorer, sister to Shelby Lynne, followed, singing “Cold Gray Tombstone” and showing off the kind of pipes that apparently run in the family.
Phil Lee, who Billy Block introduced as “a rat on acid,” played a rousing version of “Kawliga” before the crowd was treated to a very special version of “Hey Good Lookin'” as singer Sonny George brought a couple of his buddies, Eddie Angel from Los Straitjackets and Garry Tallent from the E-Street Band, to accompany him. Upping the ante, Nashville’s half of Fleetwood Mac (Rick Vito, Billy Burnette and Becca Bramlett) stepped up for an unforgettable “Honky Tonkin'”. The crowd wouldn’t let Bramlett leave, so the first non-Hank tune was played, a gorgeous version of “You Send Me”.
The second intermission of the evening was followed by my favorite Hank — Hank Flamingo. This big band of swingin’ guys rocked through a fired-up, true-to-the-original version of “Settin’ the Woods on Fire” and followed it with “Never Lovin’ You Again”. Duane Jarvis’ offering was a very rootsy cover of “You’re Going to Change”. Mandy Barnett took the stage a second time to offer a very Patsy-esque version of “I Can’t Help It If I’m Still In Love With You”. The barnburner finale was an all-star version of “Jambalaya”.
The sheer volume of music made for a pretty overwhelming event. But Barndance drummer/ringleader Billy Block kept the show rolling, and there was never the sort of down time or lags in the pace that sometimes happen with a show of this nature. All of the artists seemed clearly to love the songs they were singing, and perhaps that’s the best tribute to Hank Williams: His music is still loved and sung, and won’t be forgotten anytime soon.