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Crazed Country Rebel: Hank 3 @ Emos, 8/11/12

“On an overdose of drugs, overdose of sin
I’m gonna live it to the fullest like I’m on ten
and I love gettin’ high – hate bein’ low
and I like to drive my truck down a muddy dirt road
and I’m workin’ real hard, tryin’ to get paid
’cause I’m a crazed country rebel and I’m driftin’ state to state”

~Crazed Country Rebel, Hank 3

The line wrapped around the building as I shuffled up to Emo’s in my slightly too big but necessary skull and crossbones cowboy boots. The 104 degree day was still punishing at nearly 8pm. A swift glance along the line revealed the unlikely demographic of cowboys, punks and metalheads. That could only mean one thing: we were here to see Hank 3.

Billed as “An Evening With Hank 3” I knew there would be no opener, but was still surprised when I could hear his twang seep through the cracks of the door at the back of the building before I’d even cleared a corner. Although we were antsy to be missing out, my 15 minutes of tardiness only put a slight damper on what was to be the most diverse, nearly 4 hour set I was about to witness.

The last time I saw Hank 3 was nearly 10 years ago across town after a championship Rollerderby match. I remember it being kinda weird and I was shocked when Hank Williams’ grandson was not what I’d expected.

I have a couple Williams related stories. Hank Williams Sr.’s standard opening act worked for my father for a long time. He told us a great story about cleaning out his attic and finding a master recording of a song Sr. had done. He gave it to Hank Williams, Jr. who then recorded the song himself. That song is “There’s A Tear in My Beer”…and it is probably his biggest hit. I’ve also heard that Hank Williams, Jr. is a fan of my family business. I have a great photo of ‘Bocephus’ and my mom from the ’80s.

Anyway, as I made my way across the packed room to enjoy my final Texas show before moving to LA, I started to think, as Doc would tell McFly, “fourth dimensionally”. After everything that happened that got me back here to TX, my first show was at old Emo’s. And here I am, going back to California, with my final show at new Emo’s. And it made perfect sense that it would be Hank 3.

I watched him play his Hellbilly Country, with the rowdy Texas crowd singing along as the upright bass and fiddle made their cowboy hats tip. It sounds like country but in many ways it ain’t: beyond the twang there lies a lyrical abyss of drug and sex-tainted proclivities. But between the themes of drinkin’, smokin’, and drugin’ are the country staples of bein’ broke, drivin’ trucks, and rebellion.

The first thing that one can’t help but notice when they look at Hank 3 is how much he looks like his grandfather….more so than Junior. When I see him, it makes me think of legacies. To be a third generation musician…where he honors what everyone expects of him….it’s very admirable. But what’s even more important to me is how he’s made his career so unique and his own.

A week from today I leave Texas and I’m not coming back for a long time. But to do so, again…it’s going against what every bit of my DNA is telling me to do. My family helped settle Texas, no one in my family for generations has left. I’m inheriting my family business- and it’s very ‘Texas’ itself- but I’m, in essence walking away. You see, my family name dies with my generation. In a way it’s an end of a tree branch. So my plan is to snap off the twig and replant it in a state I feel is better for me in a lot of way. I want to see if that twig can grow into something even better than my Texas roots could ever fathom.

The crowd raises a confederate flag and people are whooping and hollerin’. The acoustic guitar with ‘fuck’ carved into it is replaced with a banjo, and the foot tappin’ continues. It’s the perfect send off for my final show: rowdy and so TEXAS.

As the lights dimmed, and ‘Shelton’ did a costume change on stage that mostly required removing his hat and letting his hair down, a projection started to play as the ‘doom’ portion of the set took place. Now, I’m fully aware of Shelton’s work with Phil Anselmo of Pantera among other things, but I had not experienced this before. And it was when I heard the first few chords of Sleep’s “Holy Mountain” and saw the crowd check out as I checked in that I felt like I was staring at a kindred spirit.

My whole life I’ve been pulled aside by family friends, etc. and have been told that, essentially, I should do a better job at following in my family’s footsteps. But I’ve always been different. I’ve carried guilt my whole life that I can’t just give in and be like them. So as I look at someone like Hank 3, who’s taken what he’s been given yet made it his own, I’m so envious! I wish I could figure out how to make that evolution. I mean, I’m sure his daddy or grandaddy’s friends would look at him playing this doom music and scratch their heads…but at least it still involves a guitar.

The doom portion lasted a long time…almost an hour, and people were starting to leave. I was astounded. The transition from country punk to pure doom was something I only thought existed in this patchwork world I’ve created for myself.

So when the second costume change came, which involved a Mad Max-esque leather spiky vest with a confederate patch and a bandana over the face, and the metal portion of the set began, I was just drunk with delight. Watching the band up there as true psycho metal cowboys, it made me laugh at Rob Zombie’s imagery. I was also reminded of an interview I read with the recently released Randy Blythe, where he mentions that he penned a song for Hank 3 while in that Czech prison. I can’t wait to hear that!!

Headbanging with a cowboy hat on was a new sensation for me. I thought it funny that I would have this experience right before turning my back on Texas. As I watched the previously rowdy front row try to wrap their head around this portion of the set, or grow tired in the show’s third hour, my admiration grew for the unwaning energy of Hank 3, who barely sipped water along the whole way.

At the end of the set, he stripped off his vest and hat, threw down his instrument, pushed his hair up under a ball cap and with the same constant haste as the rest of the set, jumped down to the crowd. In a maneuver I’ve seen Willie Nelson do many times, he stood there and signed, talked, and took photographs with a crowd that mobbed him. I stood there watching for a little while, but ended up venturing over to the merch table instead. I’m glad I did, because I added a new favorite piece to my growing collection.

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