Saturday, July 21, 2007

Hank III at the Ridglea

The night Hank Williams III came (back) to town
(or "When the wife's away, Whiskey will play, part 2)

If you want to get up near the stage at a Hank III show, be prepared to dodge stage divers and slam-dancers, to see crazed young women lift their shirts, to see someone get beaten up (and possibly take an errant punch or two yourself), and to have a damn good time. And then maybe question the future of American society when it's all over.

I caught Hank Williams III at Ft Worth's Ridglea Theater on Monday the 16th - one of the wildest shows I've ever been to, and I've seen acts ranging from Fugazi to Anthrax / Public Enemy to the Butthole Surfers. If you wouldn't expect a country show to draw the sort of audience who enjoys mosh pits, slam dancing, and crowd surfing, you're obviously not familiar with Hank III. The grandson of the legendary Hank Williams, and son of "Bocephus" (Hank Williams, Jr.), Hank III has been performing "Hellbilly country" and speed metal / hardcore for several years. Many of his country songs are extremely up-tempo, with machine-gun drums and raucous steel guitar and fiddle-playin' presented with "outlaw" attitude... the hillbilly equivalent of Metallica or Megadeth. I'm sure you can imagine the kind of crowd that might attract.

Typical of Hank III's performances, Monday night's show was broken into three parts, beginning with the country set. I was mainly interested in experiencing his country material, since the last time I saw him I arrived late and missed most of that portion. It's the part of the show that draws the biggest crowd (a sizeable percentage of the audience departed when the metal started), and for my money, was easily the most entertaining. When Hank III replaces his cowboy hat with a trucker hat, the country stuff is over and the band delves into their speed metal and hardcore set. The third part of the show is the "Assjack" performance -- Hank III's band with a different vocalist replacing Hank. It's even louder and noisier, and I didn't stick around for that part.

My evening began when I arrived at the Ridglea around 8:30 pm. I had already missed the two opening acts, and I had to stand in line 20 for minutes or so since I didn't already had a ticket. Cover was $17. When I went inside, the lines at the bars were too long, so I just headed on down as close as I could get to the stage so I could take some pictures. Hey, I owe that much to my loyal blog readers, don't I? Hank III and his band took the stage around 9, opening with "Straight to Hell" followed by "Thrown out of the Bar".

Lining up outside to buy tickets

Hank Williams III drew a sizeable crowd, especially for a Monday night...

Other songs they played included "Dick in Dixie", "Not Everybody Likes Us", "Pills I Took", "Country Heroes", "Low Down", "I Don't Know", "Cocaine Blues" (Johnny Cash cover), "Long Haired Redneck" (David Allan Coe). They even dedicated a song to the late, notorious punker GG Allin. The mosh pit started around the third song ("Smoke & Wine"), right in front of where I was standing. Then the crowd mellowed out for a song or two before starting it up again, and more or less kept it up, with varying degrees of intensity, throughout the remainder of the set. Some of these idiots were even slamming during Hank III's slow-tempo cover of his grandfather's "I'll Never Get Out of this World Alive"! The moshers opened a gap in the crowd so I was able to get up even closer to the stage for more photos.

Hank Williams III at the Ridglea

Hank III and his band

Always a showman - it must run in the family...

The scariest looking man in country music? Hank III's bassist "Joe-Buck" performs at the Ridglea...

Joe-Buck and Hank III

The crowd looked like what I'd describe as "Saturday night at the trailer park" -- lots of wife-beater tank tops; Slayer t-shirts next to Kevin Fowler t-shirts; women in revealing, low-cut halter tops and too-short miniskirts; bad teeth; mohawks; shaved heads; long-haired heavy-metal types; piercings and facial hair galore; and tattoos, tattoos, tattoos.... a white trash meltdown in every sense of the word -- not that I'm saying there's anything wrong with that, but I suppose it was probably a good thing that K and the kids were out of town and couldn't go.

a disorderly crowd...

At least three women climbed up on stage during the show and raised their shirts (receiving copious applause) before jumping into the crowd. And about halfway through the show, a guy and a girl were punching and kicking some skinny punk who had fallen down right in front of me. Hank stopped playing right in the middle of the song until some of the bystanders helped him get back up. It was a little unnerving to see a guy physically assaulted right in front of me, especially with one of the assailants being a young woman. Of course, I had no idea what he had done to provoke the attack -- he may well have deserved it! The guy seemed ok afterwards (he was pretty "out of it") and he wasn't attacked again. I noticed a handful of other minor altercations (people trading trash talk, shoves, and punches)... some people really need to grow up or else lay off the booze and drugs when they go to a show.
I'm sure the audience was a little better behaved farther back, but since I wanted to get some photos, I had to brave the rough stuff so I could get closer to the stage. I never really feared for my own safety, though; even at 35, I feel like I can hold my own in the pit... hell, I've got 20 years of experience -- way more than a lot of the snot-noses in the crowd at the Ridglea! And it was cool to feel that same adrenaline rush I remembered from some of the shows I used to go to. At any rate, consider yourself warned -- when Hank III comes to your town, will you be ready?

Was I glad I went? Oh yeah... I'm familiar with most of Hank III's songs, so it was cool to hear them performed live. He and his band played with tons of energy and sounded great. It was a fun show, and one I'll remember for quite a while. Wonder how soon his next show will be...
np: Billy Joe Shaver / Waylon Jennings - "Oklahoma Wind"

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