Playwright draws on career to pen ‘Opening Hank’


Garret Mathews has long been fascinated with the life of legendary country singer Hank Williams.

“As a writer, I marvel that this fellow with a very limited education was able to write some hauntingly beautiful lyrics that will last forever,” the Carmel resident said. “Hank was probably the first big-time singer to pen his own material. Folks like (Frank) Sinatra depended on others to craft the lyrics and melodies.”

Mathews got his idea for his play, “Opening Hank,” which will be presented Nov. 18-20 at The Cat in Carmel, from two stories Mathews wrote in his years as a newspaper writer. Williams was found dead in the back seat of his Cadillac on the morning of Jan. 1, 1953, in Oak Hill, W. Va. Williams, who battled alcoholism for years, was 29 years old.

Mathews wrote for the Bluefield (W. Va.) Daily Telegraph from 1972 until 1987.

“Hank’s last ride took him through Bluefield en route to Canton, Ohio,” Mathews said. “Some folks believe he stopped at a bar I’m familiar with (King Tut Drive-In in Bluefield.”

Mathews interviewed Garland Hess in the early 1980s.

“He told me about the hubbub that ensued when the gang at the service station found out Hank was in the hearse that was headed for the funeral in Montgomery, Ala.,” Mathews said. “They insisted that the mortician open his payload. Garland remembered staring at an emaciated man with deep-set eyes who looked much older than his age.”

Mathews’ play is a fictional version with the mortician selling views of the late Williams. When Mathews was working for the Evansville Courier & Press, he interviewed a man who performed with Williams’ band, Drifting Cowboys, for a few tours.

“He told me Hank was a great guy to be around when he was sober, but that he was a mean drunk,” said Mathews, who moved to Carmel in 2013 after he retired from the Evansville newspaper.

“The G-rated comedy/drama is about 70 minutes,” said Mathews, who has written 10 plays. “We’re planning a talk-back after each performance, so the audience can ask questions of me and cast members.”

Dates for “Opening Hank” are 7:30 p.m. Nov. 18, 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Nov. 19 and 2:30 p.m. Nov. 20.

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