For country music fans, March 5, 1963 represents the day that the music died. Hawkshaw Hawkins, Cowboy Copas, Patsy Cline, and pilot-manager Randy Hughes were returning from a benefit concert in Kansas City and were roughly a hundred miles from Nashville, when they entered a late winters' storm. The plane never made it to Corneila Fort Airport, instead crashing just north of Camden, TN killing all aboard.
A half-century later, the town will remember those artists with the "Gone But Not Forgotten" memorial festival, which begins today and runs through March 2. The event will feature performances from the Grascals, Bill Anderson, Jean Shepard (Hawkins' widow), Hawkshaw Hawkins, Jr., and Mandy Barnett (who perfected the role of Cline in the "Always, Patsy Cline" musical.
Though Cline is the most prominent artist associated with the tragedy, event organizer Terry Hudson tells Billboard the event is a tribute to all.
"We wanted to be specific about just honoring one name from the crash," he says. "Patsy Cline has the most name recognition, but Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins were huge stars of the Grand Ole Opry from the 1940s on, and Randy Hughes was Cowboy's son-in-law, and Patsy's manager. We want to make sure that we give equal tribute to each of those artists."
Hawkins enjoyed a half-dozen top ten singles on the charts, with the biggest being Justin Tubb's "Lonesome 7-7203," which entered the Billboard singles chart on March 2, 1963 -- three days before the crash.
"He was a big crowd pleaser, and everyone loved him," notes Hudson. "You wonder what would have happened had he lived. You can't help but ask the question ‘What if?" Country Music Hall of Fame member Jean Shepard, his widow, will be at the festival along with their son, Hawkshaw Hawkins, Jr.
Hudson says that Shepard wanted to make sure that her husband's memory would be remembered as much as the others who perished in the crash. "Jean was very adamant about the fact she wanted everyone to remember her husband and the success he had" he says.
Cowboy Copas charted fifteen hit records on the singles chart, with the biggest being 1960's "Alabam," which was his lone number one hit. Hudson said that his daughter, Kathy, was planning to make an appearance at the event. She performed with her father during his live shows and on the Opry. Her husband, Randy Hughes, was at the controls of the plane. He also served as manager to Cline and other artists, such as Billy Walker.
Barnett, who will close the festival on Saturday, is excited to be performing. "I'm glad to be a part of it to represent her. It's been fifty years, but yet the music lives on." Strangely enough, Barnett has never visited Camden or the crash site.
"I never have. I never really wanted to go. But, this particular event gives me a good reason to remember all of their lives."
The singer, who is working on a new project, still marvels at Cline's influence. "It's amazing that her career was only less than a decade. She started having hits in 1957, but then disappeared for a while, and only really started having consistent hits in 1961. She's still the ultimate female country singer. Everyone still wants to sound like Patsy Cline. She left us wanting more."
There will be memorabilia from all of the artists on display at the festival, as well as tours to the crash site (where a monument was erected in 1996). A panel discussion concerning the impact of the artists involved will be held on Friday night, with Robert K. Oermann, USA Today's Brian Mansfield, and this reporter -- as well as Hall of Famers Anderson and Shepard.