In January 2011, Matt Brumlow invited me to his solo performance Nobody Lonesome for Me about Hank Williams Sr at Milwaukee Repertory Theater. Watching his incredible portrayal of Hank – rich with celebrated songs; physical manifestations of spina bifida, substance abuse, and heartache; and the down-home charisma of a legend – I knew American Blues Theater needed to treat Chicago audiences to his masterful characterization.
Backed unanimously by our Ensemble, we secured the AEA professional rights for the Chicago premiere of Hank Williams: Lost Highway. The cast and production team were filled quickly with Ensemble members and Artistic Affiliates, making this production one of our most home-grown shows of our existence. We were thrilled to reunite guest artists Damon Kiely and Malcolm Ruhl.
In fall of 2013, our production broke box office records and received phenomenal critical acclaim. Well, ladies and gents, the entire band is back together and better than ever.
American Blues is proud to present the collision of blues and southern rock in Chicago’s smash hit tribute. Hank’s inspirational poetry and haunting chords span living, dying, and all the complicated loving in between.
-Gwendolyn Whiteside, Producing Artistic Director
I’ve always been envious of people like Hank Williams. Artists who had troubled lives they could draw on. Pain they could spin into gold.
Hank certainly knew misery. He grew up poor without a father. His mother was loving but hard. He was in physical torment most of his life, with undiagnosed spina bifida. He was an alcoholic, a binge drinker who could throw away success as quickly as he grabbed it.
And he had a tempestuous, wild, passionate and ultimately doomed marriage to his first wife Audrey Williams. He knew heartbreak.
Luckily for us, he knew how to spin that pain into music. His songs ache with the true pain of loss. Loss and heartache that we all recognize. He also sang of a search for redemption. Something he had a hard time finding. He often wandered aimless, but rarely could find the light. And when he sang, audiences went wild. His suffering was their pleasure.
And so I ask myself sometimes. Would I be willing live Hank’s troubled and too, too short life to be a great artist? Is that what it takes to be a genius? Would Hank have been a break through star without the agony?
Regardless, I feel blessed to work on this impassioned story of his life and music with these talented artists. Hank did the divine work of turning the sting of human existence into timeless music.
–Damon Kiely, director