Hank Williams Jr. flashes his own brand of charisma

HE'S READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL: Hank Williams Jr. was in uniform for his Patriot Center show Saturday night.
HE'S READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL: Hank Williams Jr. was in uniform for his Patriot Center show Saturday night. (Tracy A Woodward/the Washington Post)
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By David Malitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 11, 2010

Hank Williams Jr. kept up a torrid hat-per-song pace early in his Saturday night performance at Patriot Center. He donned new headgear for each successive tune, if for no other reason, it seemed, than to show brand support. "Monday Night Football" (for which he provides the theme song), the University of Alabama, John Deere and something called Dunn's Sporting Goods are all Hank-approved. But the one brand that trumps all others is Bocephus himself.

He started the show with the personal anthem "My Name Is Bocephus." He sported a New Orleans Saints "BOCEPHUS 58" jersey all night. You can guess what it said on his guitar strap. Even his piano was emblazoned with "Bocephendorfer."

Williams's country-fried, Southern boogie rock is plenty road-tested and fan-approved, and he proved to be a willing showman even while mostly on autopilot. He didn't switch roles quite as much as hats but still took turns ripping riffs on guitar and fiddle, playing piano with his feet while telling stories about growing up as country royalty with Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis visiting his home, and offering a solo acoustic medley that covered Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings. (For the latter it was, appropriately, "The Good Ol' Boys," sticking with the TV theme-song motif.)

But the music was almost secondary, as the evening was more about celebrating the Hank brand and everything he and his rowdy friends hold near and dear. Football is most certainly one of them. An introductory video featured cameos from Bill Cowher and Ben Roethlisberger. Williams egged on the crowd by claiming he remembered when the Redskins used to be good, and there was an extended and clunky training camp metaphor that Hank himself didn't seem to understand.

America is another of Hank's passions. At least, one version of America. He dissed Albany and Chicago but was happy to play for "the hillbillies" in Fairfax. A banner on the drum riser read: "I'll keep my freedom, my guns, my money, my religion and you can keep 'the change.' " He later said "the [expletive] is gonna hit the fan on November 2" before endorsing Republican candidates Meg Whitman and Marco Rubio.

The concert ended with the staple "Family Tradition," celebrating hard partying, outlaw living and the Williams name. Bocephus put an exclamation point on it by stating the obvious at the end: "If you don't like it, you can kiss my [expletive]."

If Williams's motto was something like "If you don't like America, football and Hank Williams, you can kiss my [expletive]!," opener Jamey Johnson's was basically just the very last part of that. The Alabama native never said as much -- he barely said anything at all -- but his steely stage presence and icy stare sure seemed to indicate it. One young concertgoer brought a sign that read, "Jamey, I dumped my homecoming date for you." That sounds like the story behind a Taylor Swift song; Johnson's songs are about the guy who got dumped and how his life after that became a miserable parade of failed relationships and drug use. He sings with a sterling authority, rarely changing tone, which makes his immaculately crafted tales of woe even more devastating.

After 40 minutes of marvelous misery, he and his seven-piece band ended with a positively uplifting version of "I Saw the Light." "Now I'm so happy/No sorrow in sight," Johnson bellowed. We can only hope that's not actually the case.

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