A Hankin#039; good time

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 6, 2007

They came by car, truck, SUV, motor home and even by plane.

The 28th Annual Hank Williams Sr. Festival in Georgiana brought throngs of people from all over the nation and from abroad to enjoy two days of classic country music, arts and crafts and festival food in this tiny southern town.

Fans from tots to senior citizens, sporting Hank T-shirts and cowboy hats in every shade from &#8220good guy” white to baby blue, congregated at the Hank Williams Park downtown. They chowed down on corn dogs, funnel cakes and &#8220chicken on a stick” while they visited with friends and listened to the music.

The giant covered pavilion sits next door to the singer's childhood home, a museum devoted to all things Hank since 1993.

Along with souvenir T-shirts, mugs and caps, fans purchased copies of the special commemorative festival program created by the Three Arts Club of Georgiana. This year's edition was filled with informative articles about the festival performers and historical pieces on Hank himself.

As cool breezes blew through Friday night and the sound of the long, lonesome train whistle rang through the air, Williams' music played over the speakers between the acts, recalling cold, cold hearts and hot jambalaya on the bayou.

And there was plenty of live music last weekend.

Headliners Mark Chesnutt, Brad Magness, Tresa Street, Gene Watson, Jett Williams and David Church, were joined by performers like Mary McDonald, Colon Leatherwood, Bill Floyd, Chase McGinnis, the Jay Girls, little Ricky Fitzgerald, Omar Rivers, Larry Darnell, Terry Smith, and Butler County's own Starla Jones, who performed a patriotic tribute on Saturday night.

Some of Hanks' former band members, The Drifting Cowboys, were also on hand for the event.

Greenvillian Cherry Mosley made the trip down south to the festival Friday night.

&#8220This is my first time in five or six years, I guess. I love Gene Watson's music,” Mosley said.

&#8220I am also a big fan of (Saturday's headliner) Mark Chestnutt, but we've got other commitments tomorrow night.”

Festival favorites Brad Magness and his Flying Buffalo Band and David Church performed both nights.

Magness, sporting a Western shirt, cowboy hat and beard, certainly looked the part of the frontier man as he performed both original songs and hits made famous by Hank, Johnny Paycheck and other country luminaries.

Church, who is often lauded for his uncanny resemblance on stage to Butler County's most famous native son, donned a traditional C&W suit embroidered with guitars for Friday night's set.

His simple, spare singing style evoked memories of the hometown boy who died much too young.

Later, hit maker Gene Watson, a 30-plus year veteran of the country music scene, was introduced by event emcee Kyle Haynes of Q-94 Radio.

&#8220Gene's written some beautiful country songs. He has his own distinctive sound - you recognize a Gene Watson song within the first couple of seconds, the first notes,” Haynes said.

Watson's fans cheered on the former auto repair man as he performed a number of his hits.

&#8220I've been doing this a long time. Actually, I am only 40; I just happen to have the face of a man who has worn out 15 bodies,” Watson joked with the crowd.

&#8220I'm glad I am doing what I do now. In my old job, folks came to see me after they wrecked their cars.”

A late night concert featuring a variety of performers was held at the historic Ga-Ana Theatre downtown following Watson's set Friday.

Chestnutt wows crowd

Country singer Mark Chesnutt played in front of a packed Hank Williams Park in Georgiana Saturday night as the closing act of the Hank Williams Festival and the 14-time No. 1 hit singer did not disappoint.

Chesnutt closed the evening after Williams' daughter, Jett, performed for the crowd.

During his set, which lasted more than two hours, Chesnutt entertained the crowd with hits like &#8220I'll think of something,” &#8220Bubba shot the jukebox,” &#8220Almost goodbye,” &#8220Brother jukebox” and &#8220Too cold at home.”

At one point, Chesnutt burst into four songs by country legend Johnny Cash and during &#8220Folsom Prison,” something special happened.

As Chesnutt sang the opening lyrics, &#8220I hear the train a comin', it's rolling round the bend,” a train came rolling down the tracks next to the park to the delight of the crowd.

Melissa Adcox of Pleasant Grove, who came with her boyfriend Blake Price of Vestavia, said the irony of the train coming through at that exact time was the highlight of the night.

Price, 26, said he has been a life-long fan of Chesnutt and came to this year's festival specifically to see the country star.

&#8220It's like I was 12 all over again,” Price said following the event. &#8220I wish my mom could have been here to see it.” – Austin Phillips