Hank Williams’ music lives long after his death

Brittney Taylor

The Laguna Beach Playhouse opened their newest show “Hank Williams: Lost Highway” with a bang, Nov. 17.

A gala opening event with a pre-performance barbecue and post-performance champagne and cobbler reception, the event even drew the attention of a local Social Distortion band member Mike Ness.

Fullerton Public Relations students have been interning at the Laguna Playhouse in efforts to spread the word on theater to college students.

“Our campaign is to get students aware of the playhouse and aware of this play,” said Fullerton student Adrienne Giddings, 24, public relations. “Hardly anyone realizes the influence of Hank Williams in many other artists’ work. Mike Ness, for instance, credits Williams with being one of his primary influences.”

“Lost Highway” is a Johnny Cash type story about a young folk/blues singer from Montgomery, Alabama, who finds himself caught up in the world of traveling performance. Afflicted with a great gift of songwriting and performance, Williams slowly spiraled down as alcohol and drugs took over his life.

At the age of 29, Williams was discovered dead in the back of his Cadillac with a mixture of whisky, beer, chloral hydrate, and morphine in his system. Doctors merely said he died of heart failure.

“Williams is a guy who is very overlooked,” Ness said. “Country music today is very homogenized. It’s lost its heartfelt feeling, the same with punk, rock, jazz or blues. It’s the same sound. People don’t even realize that many songs they know are actually Williams’. The first time I heard Williams was ‘Movin’ on Over’ performed by George Thorogood.”

To this day, Williams’ hillbilly country music is alive and well in the music of modern musicians. Aside from Social Distortion, The Blasters, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, John Fogarty, Merle Haggard, Bill Haley, George Jones, Jerry Lee Lewis, Willie Nelson, Buck Owens, Bel Shannon, Boxcar Willie, Rank and File, Buddy Holly, Van Morrison, Ram Parsons, Ray Price, Charlie Pride, BJ Thomas, Conway Twitty, David Allen Coe, Hank Williams Jr., James Intveld, Rick Danco, Meat Puppets, Doug Kershaw and many other musicians credit inspiration to Williams.

These artists have performed covers of Williams’ songs in tribute, spreading his sound to a much broader audience.

“He has many raw, darker themes in his music,” Ness said. “I learned from him about elongating words. Williams’ music is urgent and pleading. I brought my kids tonight because in my opinion, this is just as important as taking them to see an independent film. This is education, and they don’t teach this in school.”

To draw a larger and younger crowd, “Lost Highway” will be featuring a student night Nov. 29, where tickets are half price and start at $12.50.

“These tickets will sell out fast,” Giddings said. “We are offering a ticket that costs as much as going to a movie, plus there will be free drinks and appetizers.”

With not a bad seat in the house, the actors treated the audience as if they were apart of the show. The audience became a part of the story and witnessed the success and tribulations of Williams.

“It was very different from what I expected,” said Saddleback student Katelin Neal, 21, psychology. “The music was great and it was a fun show. There was a lot of historical information that I didn’t even know would be happening, but it was presented in a fun way. Plus it was exciting to meet Mike Ness!”

To reserve tickets for student night, or any performance at the Laguna Beach Playhouse, call (800) 946-5556.