A Hank Williams Jr. concert is always a big deal. After all, he's not only the son of country music legend and pioneer Hank Williams, but he's one of the few such artists who have stepped beyond a parent's shadow to forge a career and identity almost fully separate.
Sure, he may have started playing when he was 8 at his mother's encouragement and later signed his first recording contract paying homage to his father's legend, but that didn't last long.
By the mid '70s he was forging his own path and by the '80s his sound had fully evolved, blending country with southern rock and rolling out a string of top 10 country songs. Arguably, Hank Jr. is the key figure to cut a path for new-breed contemporary country artists such as Eric Church and Jamey Johnson currently bridging the gap between rock and country.
It's easy to understand, then, why a Hank Jr. show is so special, but when looking at the calendar, this weekend's concert at The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino is one of only three to be found. Surely, that can't be right, can it? With a name so all encompassing and a concert experience that his fans are so adamant about, he has to play more often than that, right?
When I got a rare opportunity to speak with the icon last week and asked his that, his cold demeanor jumped right out.
"Son, you obviously know nothing about me," I was told. "I play less than 25 shows a year. I don't do a whole lot of shows and I don't do interviews. I wasn't even going to do any shows this year. I own mansions and have all the money I need. I go from fishing season to fishing season.
"My friends and people who know me tell me, 'Everybody in this town knows your name and what you've done -- it takes six figures to even get you to move,' and it does, Hank Jr. continued. "I'm just a guy who's written a few songs."
When digging further, that is in fact the case, making this weekend's show at the Hard Rock even more special -- a rare occasion in that he's playing the Tulsa area for a second time in as many years. Last year's show in May was part of his 10-show spring tour that stopped at the BOK Center. When he returns to The Joint, it will be an even more intimate show in the state-of-the-art 2,700 seat auditorium.
Obviously, Hank Jr. does things on his own terms. His personality and presence are larger than life, both affable and intimidating. He's nothing if not passionate, however. When Hank Jr. sets his mind to something, he's going to make it happen.
So what broke this year's planned absence from playing? More than anything, it was a series of deadly tornadoes in Hank Jr.'s home state of Alabama this past April. The event is considered by many the state's worst natural disaster, but Hank Jr. was among those concerned that within weeks the nation had forgot about the tragedy and moved on. Not one to sit back, Hank Jr. helped organize a fund-raising telethon on country music network CMT.
As Williams told Melissa Parker of Smashing Interviews Magazine in May, "It is our state's worst natural disaster in its history. I said, 'I don't want to run up here and call some friends and maybe we'll play some football and maybe raise a couple of hundred thousand dollars.' A couple of hundred thousand might last six hours of feeding and basic water, food, and clothes. In 2021, Tuscaloosa will not be back. When you've been there ... well, there is no way to describe it to someone."
So instead of do a simple benefit concert or event, Hank Jr. started calling friends and business acquaintances and putting together and event that could actually make a difference."
Aired live from the Grand Ole Opry on May 12 and rebroadcast on HLN on May 15, the event, titled "Music Builds: The CMT Disaster Relief Concert," featured a who's who of country stars, athletes and celebrities to raise millions of dollars specifically for the tornado victims and families affected by the flooding of the Mississippi River.
The event pulled the tragedy back into the public spotlight and raised millions of dollars for the families in need. As much as anything else, that's indicative of how Hank Jr. lives and carries himself: larger than life. Standard isn't big enough. Not when reaching out to help others and not when presenting himself.
The concert at The Joint on Saturday, July 2, may be in a small venue, but you can be sure the show will be huge and Hank Jr.'s giant personality will fill the room as much a catalogue of songs that spans a stunning 73 albums. As of press time, tickets were still available for $110 and $135, but act fast because it's one only a few shows he's scheduled and is likely to sell out.
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