A show you'd be crazy to miss

Norm Johnson (left) and Rick Barrenger on stage in the barn at Hazel Creek Farm. A vintage poster (below) inspired the first Hank Williams-Patsy Cline concert, which is now a bona fide festival.  - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
Norm Johnson (left) and Rick Barrenger on stage in the barn at Hazel Creek Farm. A vintage poster (below) inspired the first Hank Williams-Patsy Cline concert, which is now a bona fide festival.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

An island barn hosts a tribute to Hank Williams and Patsy Cline.

A few years ago, Rick Barrenger came across an original 1952 poster advertising a Hank Williams concert in Corinth, Mass.

At the bottom, in smaller print: “New Up Coming Singer Patsy Cline.”

From that historic pairing came inspiration. Barrenger – island musician, host of open mic night at Pegasus and avid singer of Williams’ tunes – approached concert organizer Norm Johnson and proposed an evening of music celebrating the two legends.

“I think they’re just the icons of country music,” Barrenger said. “Hank Williams is often described as the father of modern country music. Patsy Cline embodied the emotion of country music. I’m always really touched by that.”

The first event in June 2005 and its standing-room-only follow-up nearly a year later were so successful that this year it’ll take a barn to hold the concert, which Johnson and Barrenger have now upgraded to “festival.”

Banking on a growing audience awareness and affection for the music of two American musical institutions, Barrenger has gathered more than 30 performers. Johnson has secured the barbecue, the drinks and the licenses needed to perform the music.

The Hank Williams-Patsy Cline Festival gets under way tonight at Hazel Creek Farm on Koura Road.

By the time Cline opened for Williams at that 1952 concert, he’d been around the block a few times, with hits to his name including “Lovesick Blues,” “Hey Good Lookin’,” “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” and the widely covered “Cold, Cold Heart.”

He also nursed a serious addiction to alcohol and painkillers that numbed his chronic back pain, the vestige of a spinal column disorder he’d suffered since birth.

Six months later, in January 1953, Williams died of an overdose en route to a show in Knoxville, Tenn.

Barrenger believes that Williams’ suffering was part of what made his music so powerful.

“A lot of people say he wasn’t that good a singer, but his songs are really heartfelt,” Barrenger said.

John­son, who characterizes himself as the event organizer while Barrenger is the musical “ambassador,” says he came late to Williams but is the richer for it.

“I guess my first real introduction to Hank Williams was through the songs that Rick Barrenger sings at the Sunday open mics at the Pegasus Coffee House,” Johnson said.

“Of course I had heard those songs on the radio when I was growing up in the 1950s, but I never really knew who Hank Williams was until I heard Rick talking about him.

“And the more I learned, the more I began to appreciate Hank Williams’ music and understand what impact he had on American music right up to today.”

In 1952, Cline was an up-and-comer with no hits to her name.

But she signed with Four Star Records not long afterward and begin a steady move star-ward, recording indelible hits like “Walkin’ After Midnight,” “I Fall to Pieces,” “She’s Got You,” “Crazy” and “Sweet Dreams.”

Cline’s trajectory, roughly a decade behind Williams’, was equally short; she died in a plane crash at age 30.

But unlike many female performers at that time, Cline’s career was marked by her outspokenness and a clear sense of control over her own professional and musical destiny – not to mention that large, plaintive voice, whose unmistakable boom she owed to a severe childhood throat infection.

One of the promoters’ hopes with the expanded venue, good food and idyllic summertime setting is to create a broader audience for old-time country music.

Current country and even popular genres owe an enormous debt to artists of Williams’ and Cline’s generation, yet Barrenger doesn’t think younger fans get much exposure to them.

To wit, Barrenger said he introduced a Hank Williams song at an open mic awhile back and queried two young women toward the front of the room.

“I asked them if they even knew who Hank Williams was,” he said. “And they didn’t.”

Tonight’s lineup, which will run from 5 to 10 p.m. and beyond if need be, will feature numerous Bainbridge and area performers, including Stephan Plummer, who hails from Cline’s home town of Winchester, Va., and who suggested the Hazel Creek barn as a venue; Michael Sciacca and his band Get the Oxygen Tank; and Danie Leigh, whom Barrenger says he’s particularly looking forward to.

“She sings probably the best ‘Crazy’ I’ve ever heard,” Barrenger said. “That’s going to be one of my favorites.”


Move it on over

Music Community Resources and Rick Barrenger presents the third annual Hank Williams-Patsy Cline concert from 5 to 10 p.m. tonight, June 23, in the barn at Hazel Creek Farm, 8903 Koura Road. Admission is $10 ($5 for students/seniors). Food and drinks will be available for purchase. See

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