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 Hank Williams III
Live in Richmond, VA 6 April 2006

by Travis Becker

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Unity music-Operation Ivy sang about it and Bob Marley sang about it, but either of those artists would have a tough time drawing as diverse a crowd as the one that showed up when Hank Williams III played Alley Katz in Richmond, Virginia last Thursday. Mohawks and Cowboy hats, old men and young girls, bespectacled Emo kids and square-headed frat boys, they were all there taking in a marathon performance from Country music's most interesting and unpredictable character. It's true, by the end of the set some of these people were trying to annihilate each other in front of the stage, but all in good fun. After over three hours and God knows how many cans of PBR, when Hank III finally left the stage, a good many of those diverse people probably had a whole new appreciation for at least one new kind of music.

A short set by III's guitar tech, Bob Wayne and his band, the Outlaw Carnies, opened the show. Featuring a standup bass and Wayne's storytelling delivery, the half-hour's worth of cowboy songs and rough-around-the-edges Country-Western swing elicited appreciation for a large crowd chomping at the bit for Hank III. Clad in black with a bright red bandana wrapped around his head, Wayne tore into numbers like "Ghost Town" and "Tellin Lies" and seemed to channel the spirit of the man in black's fun side if not quite his low slung baritone. 

When Hank Williams III finally got to the stage, the crowd had swelled even further, so that even getting close enough to the stage to see him proved a challenge. Wearing a black vest full of pot leaf and metal band patches and the most desiccated cowboy boys that could possibly still serve their purpose, Hank chatted casually with the crowd as the first part of the set began. He even dedicated the song "Thrown Out of the Bar" to the people who had already been thrown out, as he said, "Don't worry, happens to the best of us." The first hour or more of the performance featured songs from Williams' new album, Straight to Hell and his prior release, Lovesick Broke and Driftin. Rife with outlaw anthems like "Crazed Country Rebel", "Smoke and Wine" and "Mississippi Mud", Williams had the crowd energized and rocking. His own acoustic guitar accented a honky tonking performance by his backing band, the Damn Band. Steel guitar, standup bass, and a little fiddle here and there created a big sound in the small hall, but they never missed a note. Even though his hat looked like it had been flattened by a dump truck, Hank III filled the room and everything in it with energy and his appreciation of his audience was unmatched by any one else touring today.

As the Country set wound down, III replaced his acoustic guitar with an electric and literally let his hair down as his other band, Assjack joined him on the stage. With a different singer and all electric instruments, Assjack roared on the stage with a mixture of hardcore punk and thrash that had even the most mild-mannered Country fans jumping up and tearing the place apart. Assjack's set was closer to the music III is famous for making in collaboration with Superjoint Ritual with blast beats sending tremors through the floor and a moshpit that threatened to break loose into a full scale riot on more than one occasion. Sporting a Misfits t-shirt, Hank Williams III appropriately covered that band's staple, "Death Comes Ripping" and did an amazing job of it. By the time the stage diving and guitar dismantling riffs were done, the entire audience that remained from the beginning was left breathless and exhausted. 

Who says you have to pick a sound you're good at and stick with it? Hank Williams III clearly maintains the opinion that you should showcase as many types of music as you're interested in. He praised the remaining crowd for keeping an open mind, but it's Williams who deserves praise for sticking to his guns and playing the music he wants to play no matter what any one else tells him. In one of the classiest moves of any act I've seen, he remained at the edge of stage after he finished playing, shook hands, and talked with everyone who came up to see him. Who says you can't love Johnny Cash and love Slayer just as much? If you're one of the many who do, and Hank Williams III comes to your town, make sure you're there, and come as you are.

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