Hank Williams Jr. and ‘Rowdy Friendz’ Rock Nashville
When Hank Williams Jr. throws a party, you can bet his rowdy friends are going to show up! That's exactly what happened Friday night (Apr. 23) at Nashville's downtown Bridgestone Arena, when Hank, Jamey Johnson, Eric Church and the Grascals raised the roof with bluegrass and country-rock.
After listening to a short set from the Grascals outside while waiting in line to get into the arena, folks were ready to be entertained and were not disappointed. The Grascals continued their performance inside, offering a bluegrass version of the Monkees' classic, 'Last Train to Clarksville,' a rousing rendition of 'Orange Blossom Special' and their take on Merle Haggard's 'Today I Started Loving You Again.'
Next, Eric hit the stage with his own brand of rocking country, breezing through a 40-minute set which included such crowd pleasers as 'Lotta Boot Left to Fill,' 'Guys Like Me,' 'Smoke a Little Smoke' and 'I Love Your Love The Most.' On their feet for most of Eric's set, the crowd enthusiastically responded to his fist-in-the-air punctuations with their own loud roars and similar gestures.
Anticipation was high as Jamey made his appearance, and he did not disappoint, with a nearly one-hour set of great country music. Backed by a band with a decidedly rock edge, Jamey's vocals are distinctively country and his stage presence reminiscent of Don Williams -- in that all he has to do is stand onstage and sing those great lyrics to songs such as 'High Cost of Living,' 'You Can't Cash My Checks,' 'Even the Skies Are Blue' and 'Actin' Like I'm Playin' the Part.' He covered Waylon Jennings' 'Mental Revenge' and Vern Gosdin's 'Set 'Em Up, Joe,' and finished out the evening with his mega hit 'In Color' and the George Strait tune he co-wrote, 'Give It Away.' Jamey actually turned the microphone over the the crowd as they sang along on 'In Color,' standing back and enjoying the moment, knowing that as a songwriter and singer, he connected with the heart and soul of those country fans.
Hank Jr.'s portion of the show was a lesson in what entertaining a crowd is all about. Without any added theatrics like fireworks, special effects or dance steps, this five-time Entertainer of the Year winner had the crowd's full attention from the opening notes of 'Rockin' Randall' to the waning sounds of 'Family Tradition.' Hank worked from center stage, playing a variety of instruments and sometimes pacing the floor from side to side as he belted out 'If Heaven Ain't a Lot Like Dixie' and slowed it down for 'The Conversation' and 'Blues Man.'
He picked up the fiddle for his version of 'Kaw-liga' and sat behind the piano while he reminisced about what it was like to be the son of Hank and Audrey Williams. "My childhood was not normal," he said, in what might have been the understatement of the evening. "When I was a little bitty boy all these cats would come over to my daddy's place ... and my mom would say, 'You got to help me do something with this boy, all he wants to play is boogie-woogie.' So there was this one cat who told her, 'If he wants to boogie-woogie, why don't you let me teach him how to really boogie woogie?'"
At this point, Hank broke into the Jerry Lee Lewis classic, 'Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On,' complete with Jerry Lee's grand finale of playing the piano with his backside.
The band exited the stage following the excitement of that moment and Hank took center stage with just an acoustic guitar, running through a 30-minute set of songs including 'Feelin' Better,' 'Dinosaur,' 'There's a Tear in My Beer' and 'All My Rowdy Friends Have Settled Down,' with fans singing right along.
"You know, I've got some of the best fans in the world," he told the audience at one point. "I only do about 20 dates a year, and I can take a year off and when I come back, they're right there with me. I think you're the most loyal fans in the world."
Hank took his time with the acoustic set, seeming to enjoy the intimacy it created, even in a room as huge as the arena. 'Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound,' 'A Country Boy Can Survive' and a few Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash songs, 'Lonesome, On'ry and Mean' and 'I Walk the Line,' finished the set as the band came back onstage for the finale.
Of course, Hank included 'All My Rowdy Friends Are Comin' Over Tonight' in his set. As Eric, Jamey and the Grascals filed back onstage, Hank sang 'Family Tradition,' giving each of them a line in his 'if you don't like so-and-so, you can kiss my ass' part of the song, which included a wide variety of singers, among them Johnny, Waylon, Kid Rock, Ludacris and Jerry Lee.
The evening's star-power was reminiscent of the package shows of the '50s and '60s, when fans were treated to music from a major headliner along with two or three other up-and-coming performers. The only difference in Nashville on Friday night was that each of the performers already are capable of headlining their own shows in appropriate venues. Opening for Hank Jr. on his Rowdy Friendz tour is just icing on the cake for all these talented singers and songwriters. Later in the year, while they are still out on the road, Hank will have played his 20 shows and will be relaxing in one of the many places he calls home, enjoying the fresh air while walking down that Gulf Shore Road or looking over the rolling hills while sitting on the porch of his home near Paris, Tenn.