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Region’s Libraries Celebrate Hank Williams’ Birthday
This September 17 will mark the 97th birthday of the country-music icon Hank Williams, and local country singer Tennessee Walt and the libraries of Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester Counties are marking the occasion with a concert of Hank Williams music, set to stream live at 8:00 p.m. on Thursday, September 17, on Facebook.com/TennesseeWalt.
“The libraries still can’t host their usual lectures and concerts,” explained Gayden Wren, the Garden City native who performs as Tennessee Walt, “and the audience in the greater New York area is still deprived of theater, movies and live music, so this is a way for people to make up for that, to kick back and enjoy some of America’s greatest music. Hank Williams isn’t just a great country musician—he’s one of our country’s all-time greatest songwriters, and his appeal reaches way beyond pure country fans.”
Sponsored by more than 50 tristate-area libraries, the program will feature Tennessee Walt’s live performance 21 songs originally recorded by Williams in the 1940s and 1950s. It will include such Williams perennials as “I Saw the Light,” “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and “Hey, Good-Looking,” some Williams rarities and, as always with a Tennessee Walt show, a mix of behind-the-scenes anecdotes about the songs and the artists who created them.
This is the sixth web concert to team Tennessee Walt and the region’s libraries (71 different libraries have co-hosted at least one of the shows, as have several other institutions and even the Grand Ole Opry itself). The once-a-month shows have drawn thousands of viewers since they were launched in April.
“This series started back in March, when Marialisa Arnold of the Baldwin Public Library asked me if an online performance was practical,” Wren recalled. “I figured that, if I was going to be performing in my living room for one library, why not invite another one to the party? Why not another 10, another 100, why not all of them? There are some drawbacks to online performance, but one big plus is that you have an infinite audience capacity. Before this series started, I’d never played to an audience of more than a few hundred people. Now I’m playing for thousands.”
The primary purpose of the “Hank Williams Birthday Party,” he said, is to entertain its viewers, whether they see it live on September 17 or view it later on via Facebook or YouTube.
“My performances don’t sound like Hank Williams--it’s one guy at a piano, no steel guitars or fiddles,” Wren said. “But the songs are the songs, and Hank Williams works in almost any context, I’ve sung everything from Gilbert & Sullivan to rock ‘n’ roll, from Episcopal church music to Broadway, and Williams ranks with the very best songwriters in any of those genres. I love Gilbert & Sullivan, Stephen Sondheim and Lennon & McCartney, but Hank Williams is as great as any of them. I do audience requests at all my shows, and Williams is always No. 1. Johnny Cash is a distant No. 2, but it’s always Hank Williams first. And I’m happy to hear it, because singing Hank Williams is a joy to me.”
“Tennessee Walt’s Hank Williams Birthday Party” will be presented live on Facebook.com/TennesseeWalt on Thursday, September 17, at 8 p.m. Admission is free, and no masks are required! (Those not on Facebook can see the show on YouTube within 24 hours afterward.) For further information, visit www.TennesseeWalt.com.