CAC season opens tomorrow

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 10, 2014


The Covington Arts Council’s 2014-15 season opens this Saturday night with Jason Petty’s production of “Hank and My Honkeytonk Heroes.”


“Jason Petty is the ultimate Hank Williams tribute artist,” said CAC executive director Paula Harr. “He was here many years ago in a production of ‘Lost Highway.’ When it was over, someone who saw the show said to me, ‘He does Hank better than Hank did Hank.’ ”


He’s good enough to have done Hank tributes at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium and the Grand Old Opry. Tonight, he is at the Hank Williams Museum in Montgomery.


Petty, who was born 16 years after Williams died, said one of his earliest memories is sittin gin the front seat of a car without a seatbelt on.


“I’m about 3,” he said. “My dad sang ‘I want a be a football hero,’ and ‘Hey, Good Lookin’.”


When he was a little older, he said, he was a “huge Elvis fan.”


“I got to see him in concert,” he said. “He said he was going to sing the saddest song he ever heard. It was ‘I’m So Lonesome, I Could Die.”


Petty said he looked it up in the Encyclopedia Brittanica when he got home.


“So, I knew who Hank was, but I didn’t have any of his records,” he said.


Music wasn’t in his career plan.


“I had no designs when I was in college in the 80s that I was even going to do this as a career,” he said. “I wasn’t interested in music at all. I was a business major, with a minor in history.”


He was working as a marketing rep for Phizer Chemicals when he got involved in singing in church.


“Somebody in my church knew somebody who did entertainment at Opryland,” he said. “I got a contract there to sing on weekends while I kept my regular job.


“In my 20s, I could work seven days a week,” he said. “Somebody said, ‘You look and sound a lot like Hank Williams. Have you ever tried to sing like him?’ “


From there, a 30-second tribute was written into the Opryland show. The right person heard that 30-second chorus, and the man who would go on to produce “Lost Highway,” a two-hour musical about Hank’s life, asked Petty to audition.


That led to a two-year “Lost Highway” stint in ’96 and ’97, followed by a Nashville tour. They took it to New York City and planned to perform it for six weeks Off Broadway. He earned an Obie Award for Performance there.


“That was extended to almost a year,” he said. “Since then, I’ve put written four or five different shows. Two have Hank in them.”


Of those, he said, the Hank shows are the most popular. Next year, a big movie about the late singer’s life, “I Saw the Light,” is due out. Petty thinks it will increase Hank’s popularity.


Part of what made Hank Williams attractive, Petty said, is that “Hank was very raw.”


“He never had any singing lessons,” he said. “That was a blessing, because singers now are very polished. I think with country and Ameriana, people want to hear someone with a raw edge to them.”


There is a lonesomeness in Hank’s voice, he said, and he tries to duplicate that.


“He was a rare gift from God,” Petty said. “He was supposed to burn bright, and burn out quick.”


In “Honkeytonk Heroes,” Petty also pays tribute to those who influenced Hank and those Hank influenced, including Jimmie Rodgers, Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, The Carter Family, George Jones, and Webb Pierce.


“This is a wonderful, family-friendly show,” Harr said. “


The 2014-15 season also includes Embraceable You, an Eagles tribute band, and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.


“We’ve got country music, Gershwin, Broadway and our first classic rock performance,” Harr said. “I think we can appeal to all ages and groups of people.”


Season tickets for all four productions are $50.


Tickets for “Hank,” are $15 in advance, and are available at Harold’s, The Star-News, and Young’s Florist. Tickets are $18 at the door. Student tickets are $10.