"I wouldn’t be surprised if Hank Williams doesn’t tap us on the shoulder today," Billy Bob Thornton told Billboard glancing around Shreveport's historic Municipal Auditorium where Williams, as well as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and many others, performed on the Louisiana Hayride country music radio and later television show from 1948-1960. "It's an honor for us to even be in the building. I can't believe we're here. We got a chill when we walked on that stage."
Thornton and his band the Boxmasters were on hand at a press conference Saturday to announce "The Year of the Louisiana Hayride," an initiative spearheaded by entertainer/entrepreneur Maggie Warwick and her husband, Alton, to reestablish the Louisiana Hayride as a weekly radio and TV show. It will also lead the development of the Louisiana Hayride Museum and Hall of Fame and include a major concert/television special in the fall.
Louisiana Lieutenant Governor Jay Dardenne, Shreveport Mayor Ollie Tyler, Bossier City Mayor Lo Walker and Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden spoke at the press conference where they presented Thornton and Boxmasters Brad Davis, J.D. Andrew and Teddy Andreadis proclamations declaring April 11, 2015 Boxmasters Day. Music teacher Krista Fanning was also honored at the event. Later that night the Boxmasters played to a packed house at Bossier City's Margaritaville Hotel and Casino supporting the April 7 release of the double disc set Somewhere Down the Road on 101 Ranch Records.
"Maggie and Alton [Warwick] are great people and they're close with Brad Davis, of the Boxmasters," says Thornton. "When we heard they were going to revamp the Louisiana Hayride and start having it again, I was thrilled. I'm a big supporter of preserving history. If you got rid of the Louisiana Hayride, you might as well get rid of the Washington Monument. This is where it happened. We have to appreciate that. Everything we have today, every man, woman and child needs to know where it came from, and I wish that any historic building or entity at all would be saved. This one [Shreveport's Municipal Auditorium], thank goodness, is not only going to be preserved -- it's going to be used."
The Boxmasters took a tour of the renovated Municipal Auditorium and had photos taken on the stage where Elvis had once performed. It was a landmark moment for Thornton. "When I was 3-years-old, Elvis was traveling," the Arkansas native recalls. "He had just been inducted into the Army and was either traveling from Fort Polk to Fort Chafee in Arkansas or the other way around. I don't remember which, but his bus stopped in Alpine, Ark., population 110, to gas up and get a baloney sandwich, probably. And Elvis waved out the window at me and mom. My mother was holding me and she was saying, 'That’s Elvis!' I knew how to say Elvis. They would play his songs and I knew them, even as a 3-year-old."
Known as "the Cradle of the Stars," the Louisiana Hayride was broadcast from the Municipal Auditorium from 1948 to 1960. "The Louisiana Hayride was an early competitor of the Grand Ole Opry," Lt. Governor Dardenne told Billboard. "The Opry stuck to the more traditional country western type music in the late '40s and '50s and the Hayride became a place that branched out and embraced guys like Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, whose music was a little different, introducing rockabilly in the early days of rock and roll. This was really the Petri dish for the development of those forms of music. There's such a rich history about this place. I love talking about it and sharing it with Louisianans and people outside of Louisiana. It's one of the magnets that brings people to our state."
Warwick, who performed as Margaret Lewis, was a cast member of the Louisiana Hayride and has been tireless in her efforts to revive the show. "The argument has been made that the Louisiana Hayride could actually qualify as the Holy Grail of rock and roll," she says noting performances by Elvis and other seminal stars. "That’s where it happened. It's amazing the story of how the evolution of American music came about the and influence of this area and the music that was made here."
To keep the legacy alive and create the Louisiana Hayride Museum and Hall of Fame, Warwick says Louisiana Hayride Foundation is partnering with Community Renewal International (CRI) for a series of summer concerts that will support the work of CRI Friendship Houses and help create the Louisiana Hayride Museum and Hall of Fame.
"Maggie and the foundation are going to be doing some innovative and creative things," says Lt. Governor Dardenne. "They've got fabulous plans and translating those plans into reality is going to be what this next year is going to be about."