Do You Remember When Hank, Jr. Played Windy Hollow Speedway
Well, Blake Smith does. And, he is the biggest Hank fan of them all.
It was 30 years ago today. We asked Blake to share his memories and ask other what they recalled.
A crowd of 12,000+ flocked to Saturday’s “Big O Music Fest” at Reid’s Orchard for a concert featuring today’s hottest country artists. Many people in the crowd may not remember the “Ohio River Festival” which was held in the early 1980’s in the western end of Daviess County at Windy Hollow Speedway.
The Ohio River Music Festival got its start in 1980 but reached its peak at the 3rd annual concert, 30 years ago today. On August 22, 1982, a rising country music superstar by the name of Hank Williams, Jr. made his first and only appearance on a Sunday afternoon at Windy Hollow Speedway. He was accompanied by artists Merle Kilgore and Connie Cato. Kilgore, who was Hank’s manager for over thirty years, was co-writer of Johnny Cash’s RING OF FIRE and composed Johnny Horton’s ode to the War Between the States, JOHNNY REB.
With his latest album, High Notes rising on the charts and his biographical movie Living Proof in the making, Hank Williams Jr. signed onto the Ohio River Music Festival for a price of approximately $17,000. Tickets purchased in advance were $9.50 with a gate price of $10.00. Tickets could be purchased at Wax Works, Sound of Music, Sound Shop, Disc Jockey and Record Cellar. Tickets were also available by mail, not online at Ticketmaster.
In the current day and time, Hank Williams Jr. charges approximately $200,000 for a one hour performance. The rising cost of entertainers has caused ticket prices to exceed well over $50 and sometimes as much as $120 for current concerts. T-shirt costs have also doubled. At a pair of recent concerts that I attended, t-shirt prices varied from $30.00 to $35.00 and were nearly SOLD OUT!
Evelyn “Rooster” McCarty remembers that nearly 10,000 people attended the Ohio River Festival that day, despite it being the eve of the school year starting back. At one point in time, traffic was backed up from Windy Hollow Speedway to St. Martin’s Church on Highway 81 - nearly 5 miles and that was just one way of many to get to the speedway. This traffic jam eventually led to the 30 acre parking lot being completely full. According to area residents, Hank’s tour bus took an alternate route that day, taking Highway 554 to Highway 1514 to Windy Hollow Road. Although Hank’s bus took an alternate route, Hank had a direct flight on a helicopter landing at the speedway and flying out immediately following the show.
The promoting company, Professional Artists sub-leased the property from the Speedway to host the event. Contrary to popular belief, this was not a Windy Hollow Speedway event. The site was chosen to be a convenient location for “rowdy friends” to party with Bocephus. Fans could bring in a cooler for an extra charge for $1.00, and barbequed chickens were sold at the concession stand. T-shirts and merchandise booths were also placed throughout the crowd.
So, the next time you visit Windy Hollow Restaurant for a Sunday breakfast, check out the Ohio River Festival Poster in the back room along with all of the other unique memorabilia on the walls at the historic restaurant.
With the new convention center and arena being constructed in downtown Owensboro as well as the music festivals around the city, expect some big names to make a return to Owensboro. One thing is for certain as it was in 1982 and in 2012…WBKR will be here for all of your Owensboro country music concerts!
- Blake Smith, with a little help from Moon