Paying tribute to country legend Hank Williams

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His songs are the stuff of country music legend, but the life of singer-songwriter Hank Williams was a twisting narrative all its own. Williams died in 1953 from heart failure and struggled throughout his life with alcoholism and prescription drug abuse.

But according to Joe Matheson, who plays Williams in a musical theatre show coming to the Bert Church Live Theatre (BCLT) Feb. 21, there were plenty of other sides to the influential musician.

“Even if you don’t know who Hank Williams is, you’re really going to enjoy getting to know this guy,” Matheson said. “He was funny, and he was more political than most people think and he sort of lived life for all it was worth.”

The show, dubbed Hank Williams: Live 1952, follows the country star at a concert during the last year of his life. According to Matheson, guests who arrive at the BCLT will find themselves in a makeshift bar where the surprise guest is none other than Williams himself.

“We sing a lot of songs, but there’s a lot of talking, a lot of storytelling. It’s scripted, but it’s pretty ad-libbed, too,” he said. “It’s actually a pretty slick show and the music is the main thing for me. I travel with a five-piece band, and people always comment on how authentic the music sounds.”

Matheson, who wrote the show himself, said he wouldn’t have considered himself a big Hank Williams fan before playing the character, though he realized later how ingrained the music had been in his life.

“When you grow up on the prairies and your parents listen to country music and you’re surrounded by country music, you kind of absorb it without really even knowing,” he said. “As luck would have it, I think I have a similar voice to Hank, so to do the yodeling and to sing in that style comes relatively easy to me.”

According to Matheson, the show is not just a concert nor a tribute show – but something more.

“I don’t try to make Hank look like an angel or a superhero. He’s a pretty flawed guy. At a certain point you go, ‘This is who I am, this is what it is. Take it or leave it,’” Matheson said. “If you’re a fan of that old-time country that’s not too overproduced and it’s not all about the suits and the hair, you’re going to enjoy this show.”

The show plays Feb. 21 at 7:30 p.m. at BCLT. For more information, visit airdrie.ca

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