Marie-Elena Schembri Writer, Photographer & Visual Artist Marie-Elena Schembri Writer, Photographer & Visual Artist

Family Tradition: Hank Williams Jr. plays Ironstone

Hank Williams Jr. plays Ironstone Amphitheater

Marie-Elena Schembri, Calaveras Enterprise, July 27, 2023

“I’m gonna play where I want to, when I want to, and for who I want to,” said 74-year-old country-rock legend Hank Williams Jr. to a delighted crowd at the sold-out July 22 concert at Ironstone Amphitheater.

Williams told the crowd the Murphys stop was No. 20 in his tour of 22 shows, joking that he returned to play the venue after setting “the all-time record in beer sales in Murphys at Ironstone,” on a previous visit. Williams could have been referring to his July 2012 concert at Ironstone, which may have also set another record — for the most arrests during an event at the winery’s outdoor venue. During that concert, 10 individuals were arrested. Williams’ more recent performance seemed to take place without incident, though plenty of beer was consumed.

Amber-colored liquid sloshed from clear plastic cups that were raised in celebration throughout the night. Cowboy hats were also held aloft and fists pumped in the air as excited fans shouted along lyrics to Williams’ most famous songs.

Known for his rock and blues-inspired style, lyrics that praise the hillbilly lifestyle, and a defiant disregard for the status quo, the rebel cowboy delivered plenty of songs to raise a cup to. The setlist featured a cross-section of hits from the singer’s six-decade career, including the 1984 party anthem, “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight,” and love-song-gone-wrong, “There’s a Tear in My Beer.”

Williams’ performance opened with his 2016 song “Are You Ready For The Country,” followed by “OD’d in Denver,” “Mr. Weatherman,” and the 1979 quintessential drinking song, “Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound.”

A full band with electric guitars, drums, bass, piano, harmonica, and a saxophone accompanied Williams’ most danceable songs. Williams also performed an acoustic medley, mashing up some of his most popular songs with those of his father, country star Hank Williams, changing his guitar tuning and sharing personal anecdotes as he transitioned seamlessly from one song to the next.

“Go down to the Country Music Hall of Fame; you’re going to see my father’s plaque; you’re gonna see my plaque; and you’re gonna find out June Carter Cash is my godmother,” Williams said, before singing a few bars of “Walk the Line,” a song June wrote for her husband, country legend Johnny Cash.

Williams stood on stage wearing an understated camouflage shirt and khakis, and stopped every song or two to change his hat from an extensive lineup that sat behind him on stage. Donning a black ball cap with “ICON” written in gold for one song, a tan cowboy hat for another or a super sharp suede fedora, Williams seemed to have a different hat for every decade of his career, and a different persona for every song.

Williams delivered stories between songs in a thick Southern drawl, with banter just as interesting as his extensive hat collection.

Williams said: “You can’t imagine what it was like for a little bitty boy growing up and at that time, everybody that is anybody is over there at your daddy’s house looking at his piano and his guitar. I’m talking about Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Fats Domino, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis,” before launching into “Your Cheating Heart,” a classic country love song written by Hank Williams Sr. in 1952 that has since been covered by greats Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, Loretta Lynn, and Patsy Cline.

Williams also played more recent songs, including “Just Call Me Hank” from his 2016 album, “It’s About Time,” during which he sings “Don’t call me an icon / I don’t care about the hall of fame / Just gonna live my life in / My country boy kinda way,” and “Georgia Women” from his 2022 release, “Rich White Honky Blues.”

“Family Tradition” closed out the approximately 90-minute performance. The 1979 hit song might just be the most unapologetically “Hank Jr.” song of all, ending the show with the iconic words, “Try to put yourself in my unique position / If I get stoned and sing all night long / It’s a family tradition,” followed by an eruption of colored-paper confetti and one more screaming guitar solo for good measure.