For the 12th year in a row, Rob McNurlin and John Lilly helped usher in a new year with a celebration of the music of Hank Williams.
This year, again, the pair brought the show to the Culture Center for a performance Saturday night.
It drew a decent crowd. Somewhere just shy of 300 people braved the cold to come out and hear the music of Hank Williams.
Joining Lilly and McNurlin on stage was guitarist Ritchie Collins, pedal steel guitar player Kayton Roberts and Roger Carroll on bass guitar. Fiddle player Dan Kelly, a Nashville player who has toured with everyone from Clint Black and Alan Jackson to Faith Hill joined the group for this show, along with flat pick guitar champion Robert Shafer, who sat in for several songs.
Missing this year was fiddler Buddy Griffin, a regular for the previous tribute shows, who Lilly joked had taken a better gig in Florida.
Lilly and McNurlin played some of Williams better-known works like "Cold, Cold Heart" and "Hey, Good Lookin," as well as a few of his lesser-known pieces (some of which were attributed to the country star's alter-ego, Luke the drifter). They also worked in a couple of songs apiece meant to show off how the music of Hank Williams had influenced their own songwriting.
The band dressed in a mix of classic country western-style shirts, cowboy hats and denim jeans that was a rough approximation of the costumes worn by the old singing cowboys and honky-tonk troubadours of the 1940s and 1950s.
They played in a loose, casual way, with only sketches of a playlist to guide them through the night -- and all of this was fine.
The show was never meant to be the end-all-be-all Hank Williams music revival or a greatest hits compilation and history lesson. Instead, it was what it was: a loving tribute to the American music icon's music and his influence by a couple of talented fans and their band.
The band had fun and didn't take themselves too seriously.
They played with genuine joy and excitement -- particularly lap steel player Kayton Robert, who couldn't stay in his chair for longer than a song before he had to stand, pat guest fiddle player Dan Kelly on the back, applaud or otherwise point out how great everyone sounded to him.
They did sound good, though they had the occasional rough spot with one musician or another seeming uncertain where they were supposed to come in on a tune.One thing: the band looked fine, but the stage was bleak, bare and reminiscent of a punk rock show. It could have used a little dressing. At the very least, somebody should have got Kayton a more comfortable chair.