Hank Williams Wednesdays – Tractor Tavern (Seattle, WA)
For the second year in a row, winter was a little warmer in Seattle, thanks to this weekly series of midweek gigs by bandleader Ron Bailey and his cast of local yokels yodelin’ and pickin’ and moanin’ and grinnin’ through songs both famous and obscure from the catalog of country music’s most enduring legend.
It wasn’t too surprising to see this gig catch on when it made its debut in December of ’94. It was scheduled for a one-month run but was so popular it was held over through April, then returned this past November for another three-month stretch. Seattle had long been in need of a gig with such a continuous presence on the live music schedule, the kind of anchor that has long been a part of other scenes (Ronnie Mack’s Barndance at the Palomino and Jack’s in L.A.; BR-549 at Robert’s Western World in Nashville; Trailer Trash at Lee’s Liquors in Minneapolis; Toni Price Happy Hour at the Continental in Austin).
Not only did the Hank shows quickly prove they could draw good crowds — helping to boost the Tractor from an up-and-coming new venue to a major player on the local scene — they also pulled in a more diverse lot of folks than any other show in town. In a city populated by clubs that cater primarily to twentysomething slackers, the Hank gigs found those youngsters jockeying for space on the dance floor with couples in their ’60s who had been two-stepping since before those hipster whippersnappers were born.
Bailey and company also deserved credit for significantly lowering the threshold of sonic pain at a live gig. Using almost exclusively acoustic instrumentation, the band kept the volume at an ideally reasonable level — plenty loud enough to be heard and to dance to, but not so much that you had to shout over the band to converse with friends. Another plus was the employment of a revolving cast of singers, one that welcomed both genders to interpret Williams’ songs. Bailey frequently turned over the mike to guitarists Randy Minkler and Bill Jedrzejewski, and to guest female vocalists Emily Bishton and Rebo Flordigan.
Behind the scenes was a crack cast of players. Picketts guitarist John Olufs, steel players Dave Conant and Don Pawlak, upright bassist Paula Walters, fiddler Greg Canote, and accordionist/pianist Dan Duggin — who played a barrelhouse bar-type piano set up on the floor just north of the stage — were among those who kept things rolling throughout an extensive evening of music that generally included at least two sets and three dozen songs.
And what songs. Indeed, the main reason Hank Williams Wednesdays were such a success was the material, which was the whole point the band formed in the first place. Bailey believed these songs were worth playing week in and week out, both for the old-timers who came to two-step and for the young folks who came for an education. I, for one, would’ve been hard-pressed to say I knew many of Hank’s tunes by heart before attending a handful of these gigs; now, “Jambalaya”, “Settin’ The Woods On Fire”, “Lovesick Blues”, “Why Don’t You Love Me” and probably at least a dozen others are permanently ingrained in my mind.
And I’ll be back again next winter, waiting for Bailey’s cast of Hank honky-tonkers to stoke the fires of Seattle once again.