How does a post about the renovation of Little Rocks’s Robinson Auditorium make me connect dots with Hank Williams and the Old U.S. Highway 70, the “Highway of Dreams?” It’s simple, they tell me I saw Hank there when I was three years old or so. In all likelihood, he came by way of Old 70, just like every performer that made the Nashville to Texas trip.
I wish I could remember details about the experience. I seem to remember more about seeing those enormous columns out front than the actual concert. They aren’t really columns at all but rings of cast concrete covering huge steel posts that hold up the pediment. Art is like that—there are many illusions involved. How often does apparent joy hide a tortured soul?
When I try, I can vaguely recall a group on stage led by a man with dark splotches around his eyes. It wasn’t long before Hank succumbed to his errant lifestyle in the back of his Cadillac, going from somewhere to somewhere else.. But, I can honestly say I’m one of a dwindling cohort that saw the Great One in person.
Minnie Pearl told the most interesting story I’ve heard about Hank Williams. Seems that the first time he appeared on the Grand Ole Opry, he was, in addition to being pretty much unheard of, slated at the very end of the show. The crowd was tired and restless and not too interested in this new act, a tall “drink of water” who followed greats as Bill Monroe and Ernest Tubb. It wasn’t exactly the intro most performers dream about when they reach “The Opry.”
Most of the other entertainers had left or were preparing to leave when Hank lit out, for this less than enthusiastic crowd, with “Lovesick Blues.” The yodeling lyrics suddenly brought the house quiet, then attentive, then enthusiastic. As the excitement built, the other entertainers, according to Minnie, began to turn to see what was going on.
What was going on was that the crowd was beginning to go wild. Hank finished the song, did another, and another. The crowd would let him off the stage. It must have been truly exciting.
They didn’t include this scene in the biopic they made about Hank back in the 1960s. I guess they were afraid it might have provided a perfectly appalling film with a moment of grandeur.
That’s the way art is though. Like Forest Gump’s box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get. That thought must have haunted all the hopeful acts that cruised down the old “Highway of Dreams.” There is such a contrast between glitzy entertainment venues and those lonely roads that bring the dreamers to them.
One can only hope that this massive investment in the Robinson will create a place where many more dreams will be fulfilled, where some young kid will witness history, and where urban life will flourish.
The architects seem to think so.
If I am a legend, then why am I so lonely? – Judy Garland