So when I was tabbed to review the Hank Williams Jr. "Rowdy Friends" tour stop at the amazing BOK Center my thoughts immediately were of my father. You see, I am a child of the 1970s (the era before the current era of MTV, kids) and my dad was a BIG fan of country music. While it was quiet in the early years of my life, which were not spent here in America’s Most Beautiful City, it took off when the Lohman clan set foot on Oklahoma soil in 1973 in a big way. This was of course after a failed attempt at going country by use of a CB radio in our Plymouth station wagon (think Griswold family truckster…and I’m not kidding), resplendent with two huge antennae that made the car resemble a rolling football goal, uprights and all.
Once the whole "outlaw" country music thing happened in 1978 my dad rushed out to Peaches records and tapes located at 51st and Sheridan to snap up a copy of the Outlaws album, featuring the talents of Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Jessi Colter and Tompall Glaser, among others. It was a an odd dynamic around my house when I was a kid as my Mom was the rocker and my Dad was the hick/redneck music guy. Anyway the old man did his best to emulate the whole "country" thing all the way down to the seamless transition from hybrid east-coaster accent to an "aw shucks" country boy dialect when faced with a group of native in conversation.
My dad is gone now, but I have my memories.
Most of which were swimming through my head when I entered the amazing BOK Center Friday evening to witness an assemblage of not only the aforementioned Hank Williams jr but three other artists including Thr Grascals, Jamey Johnson and Eric Church. If you were a fan of southern rock, your cup would indeed runneth over reading a playbill such as this. Showtime came before I knew it and the Grascals took the stage, sporting a mandolin player, guitar players, a fiddle player and no percussion and giving us a take on the classic 1960’s his "Last Train To Clarksville".
That’s right, the opening song for a night that would feature one of the legendary names of "rebel" southern rock and country music opened with a tune originally sung by The Monkees.
Sad thing there was though the number was catchy…what Monkees tune WASN’T catchy?…it didn’t improve upon the original. In fact, the nearest comparison I could envision while watching and listening was of a similar version being done by The Soggy Bottom Boys, complete with Clooney, Tuturro and Tulsa native Tim Blake Nelson lip-synching the number. Overall the Grascals were well received and their performance was entertaining, their whole show came off as it would during an early morning show in Branson.
Next up came Jamey Johnson. He is officially billed as a country singer but his performance, to me, gave off a vibe that made me think of Nickelback, who performed in the BOK Center last month, or other guitar heavy artists like Staind. I guess if you have a pedal steel guitar on your stage you immediately qualify as a country music artist. Anyway, Jamey played a selection of his hit songs, a majority of which he DIDN’T make famous. Mostly, other artists like George Strait…who made the song "Give It Away" a hit in 2006. He rocked the house, but with a definite country vibe. Johnson moved through his set list mechanically and without commentary to the audience. He then gave way to Eric Church.
Church was touring in support of his new album Carolina, which sports the singles "His Kind Of Money (My Kind Of Love)" and "Love Your Love The Most". His set was a little more elaborate than the previous two artists in that a more elaborate light show and steam effects highlighted the performance. Church’s set was high spirited and more rock laden then exclusively country and he seemed to connect well with his audience. Once his set was over he stepped aside in favor of Bocephus…Rockin Randall Hank…Hank Williams, jr.
I have always found Hank Jr to be an interesting quantity in country music. He’s known the best for the uniquely American anthem song "A Country Boy Can Survive", and the oh-so-recognizable "All My Rowdy Friends", which is better known for it’s mutation in the NFL season as the theme for ESPN and ABC’s Monday Night Football. Though he considers himself an artist independent of his legendary father, he references Hank Sr.in many of his songs, even sharing a song with him via technology (1989’s "Tear In My Beer’). All of those songs were covered in his set, a highlight of which was a break in the middle where he was alone, seated at center stage with a acoustic guitar. Throughout Williams set, aside from the acoustic break he prowled the stage, switching hats more than 10 times.
Williams took time to offer his political opinions…including an unfavorable, (and unprintable)…reference to President Obama. If there was any true flaw to Hank’s set it was that ne didn’t sing his more famous songs using their original lyrics. At first, it was was a fine example of an artist in firm control of his work but by the second or thrid time he altered his own lyrics, it was somewhat annoying, I suppose if that was the only true detraction from the headliers show, Hank Jr is doing pretty well all things considered. He finished his set with his legendary explanation of why he is the way he is, "Family Tradition", with his opening acts joining him onstage. There was no encore.
Photos by: Kevin Pyle
So, in lieu of making a cheesy reference to the thousands of rowdy fans that filled the BOK Center Friday evening, I’ll close with the notion that if my dad had attended the show in his earthly form, he would have enjoyed it. Y’all.