Hank III reminds us we'll never get out of this world alive

Hank III
Photo by Nikki Miller
Hank III
In the past year I've been to only a handful of shows that really stand out, and seeing as how I've been to more concerts in my lifetime than the number of pills choked back by Johnny Cash, Hank Williams and Mindy McCready combined, it's usually not the performances anymore that make a show memorable - it's the crowd.

The last memorable show I attended was when Insane Clown Posse visited First Ave late last summer. Friends warned me I'd be raped. I'd be mugged. I'd be raped and mugged and then sprayed with Faygo.

Not at all the case. Those Juggalos were the most polite group of kids I'd encountered in a good long time at a show, aside from the handful who called me a "bitch" but even that, I was told, was a Juggalo term of endearment. A show of respect.

You know who wasn't being so polite? The crowd at Hank III/Assjack's show Saturday night at First Ave. Unlike the Juggalos, I hadn't expected so many of these folks to take Hank's shoot 'em up lyrics (drugs or guns, take your pick) to heart, but boy, did they. After I saw a 400 pound gorilla of an angry man look like he was edging closer and closer to punching the next sprite of a girl who squeezed around him to get closer to the stage, I turned to my companion, myself edging closer and closer to wanting to fight one of these drunk 'billies. (I'll disclaim we'd been drinking and were a little punchy as a result, perhaps ourselves a little too wiling like most of the men in the crowd to take Hank's lyrical who-gives-a-fuck-let's-fight attitude a little too seriously, and in fact before we walked in were engaged in a yelling match with a parking attendant outside. Intense night.) I said to him, "If I get in a fight, you don't have to have my back. Just grab my camera." "I'll throw a punch, then I'll grab your camera, okay?" Okay. If I get in a fight with a man three times my size at least my camera's safe. Now I can relax.

Hank III 2
Photo by Nikki Miller
Hank III

Drinks in hand, feeling more at ease, we stopped scoping the aggro- crowd and listened to the band. And they were amazing. Upright bass, steel guitar, banjo, fiddle and all the rest kept a steady pace as Hank confidently and professionally powered his way through a set of his own songs peppered with country classics by his grandfather and Johnny Cash. For as much as he's not embraced the country establishment, he and his band sound more authentically old Nashville Ernest Tubbs-style country than anything out there today, whether you compare them to bands trying to embrace that style or those playing slick pop with few references to their country roots at all.

Photo by Nikki Miller
Hank III

Toward the end of the country set, the band played Hank Williams' hit "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive," a song which is obviously poignant after it hit #1 posthumously for his grandfather and which really seems to emphasize Hank III's attitude toward life and music. His angle clearly has been to embrace rather than wholly deny his heritage, though you'll more easily draw comparisons and hear him make reference to his dead grandfather, whom he'd never met, than his father, who likely doesn't even remember a whole lot of his own father himself.

The other night, ABC broadcast a pre-Country Music Awards special which covered a handful of young country artists who, like Hank, have parents or grandparents in the business - Rosanne Cash, Tayla Lynn. Vince Gill, whose daughter tours with him and is trying to make it big in her own right as a solo artist, mentioned that if she did well in country people would say it was because of him; if she flopped, people would say it was because of him. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. The only option is to do your own thing so there's little room for comparison, and Hank III has done it well.

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