Legendary crooner Ray Price headlines this year#039;s Hank Fest

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 31, 2006

It started on a small scale some 27 years ago to honor Butler County’s arguably most famous native son. Today, the Hank Williams Festival draws thousands of fans from across North America Europe, Asia and other far-flung places, to the little south Butler County town of Georgiana each summer.

The 27th Annual Hank Williams Festival is Thursday through Saturday, June 1-3.

The headliner for this weekend’s event is a living legend in the country music world, Ray Price.

Price will take the stage after Jett Williams’ performance on Saturday night.

The Texas-born musician once planned a career in veterinary medicine, but singing at a local caf\u00E9 led Price down a very different path.

He made his first record in late 1949 and soon was singing on Dallas radio programs.

Early in his career, Price became a good friend and roommate to Hank Williams, the man he credits with giving him his big break in Nashville.

&uot;The reason why (Hank’s) music is still so popular is he wrote and played from his heart. He learned to be himself,&uot; Price said.

After Hank’s death in 1953, Price began to use members of the Drifting Cowboys, Hank’s band.

&uot;Most of the songs I sang back then were either played or written by Hank. One night after a concert, a lady came backstage and told me, I was beginning to sound more and more like Hank,&uot; Price recalled.

&uot;That’s when I decided the band and I needed to break up, because I knew there could never be another Hank Williams.&uot;

Letting his own voice shine through, Price proceeded to put his stamp on country’s honky-tonk tradition. He hit number one with the 1956 song, &uot;Crazy Arms.&uot;

Other chart-climbing tunes for Price were &uot;My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You&uot; and &uot;I’ve Got a New Heartache.&uot;

By the mid-60s, Price was diversifying his music with pop-tinged ballads such as &uot; Make the World Go Away&uot; and a jazz-flavored version of Willie Nelson’s &uot;Night Life.&uot;

He continued his crossover success in the early ’70s with &uot;For the Good Times&uot; and &uot;I Won’t Mention It Again.&uot;

Price was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996. He continues to tour and share his distinctive voice, belting out honky-tonk, country, country, pop, blues, jazz or anything else with audiences across the nation.

&uot;We’ve waited a long time to get Mr. Price, and I would like to tell all the folks, to please come out. It’s not very often you get to see a country music legend like him in person. It will be well worth your time,&uot; festival performer Jett Williams said.

Georgiana Mayor Lynn Watson believes this weekend’s lineup is &uot;one of the best the festival has ever offered.&uot;

&uot;We have got a lot of really good performers who have put out a lot of hits coming this weekend…it’s going to be a great festival,&uot; Watson said.

In addition to Ray Price and Jett Williams, Doug Stone and Brad Magness will be performing on Saturday night.

On Friday night, fans can enjoy the music of Brad Magness, John Conlee and Billy Joe Royal.

Other scheduled festival performers include Mary McDonald, Colin Leatherwood, David Church, Ray Bruce, Jeremy Houston, Garrett Miles, Hilary and Haleigh Spangler, Starla Jones, Elaine McMillian, Robert Layton and Blu Braden with The Music Makers and Jamie Lyn Barber and Tony Brooks.

The weekend kicks off tomorrow at 5 p.m. with a picnic and jam session at the Hank Williams Fan Club House. A fan club breakfast is slated for 7 a.m. on Saturday at Georgiana High.

Gates to the Hank Williams Music Park open on Friday at 3 p.m. and at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning.

Hank fan extraordinaire, Mary Wallace, is looking forward to another choice opportunity to &uot;keep on Hankin.’&uot;

&uot;I think it’s going to be a great weekend with all the fan club activities and the music at the park…and don’t forget, we have George Hamilton IV performing at 2 p.m. at the G-Ana Theatre on Sunday, too,&uot; Wallace said.

Today is the last day to buy discounted advance tickets of $30 for the weekend. Friday tickets are $15; Saturday tickets are $25.

Refreshments will be available at the park; please, no coolers, lounge chairs, food, drink or pets should be taken into the festival. Bring your lawn chair and get ready for some great country music!

For more information, contact (334) 376-2396 or visit cityofgoergiana@centurytel.net.