On any given Friday or Saturday night, thousands of people pack the streets of Lower Broadway in downtown Nashville, flowing in and out of the honky tonks, listening to the sounds of the bands from the windows on the street, or catching a show at the world-famous Mother Church of Country Music, the Ryman Auditorium.
But what these thousands of people don’t know is that the ghost of Hank Williams may be walking among them too.
While there are several legends of spirits that haunt the city of Nashville, everybody from confederate soldiers to Thomas Ryman, founder of the Ryman Auditorium, the one ghost that seems to make his way around town more than any other is none other than Hank Williams, Sr.
Some claim to have spotted Hank at the Ryman, the very same building that he was once banned from after being kicked out of the Grand Ole Opry. As one story goes, singer Bill Anderson was rehearsing for an Opry show when he started strumming a tune on his guitar – a song that happened to be a favorite of Hank’s. But as Anderson began playing the song, suddenly the building went dark – everything from the sound, the lights, and even the emergency exit signs. No cause was ever found for the power outage, and Anderson reportedly remarked that he believed the blackout was related to his playing of the song that Hank was so fond of.
There have also been sightings of Hank’s ghost at the Ryman.
According to one legend, a construction worker was accidentally locked inside the building during renovations in the early 1990s – and came face to face with Hank Williams Sr. himself.
Still others believe they’ve seen the spirit of Hank himself hanging out in the alleyway between the Ryman and Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge.
Occasionally, the ghosts of Hank (and other country legends) are seen slipping out of the back of the Ryman and across the alley into one of the nearby bars to have a drink – with some believing that Hank still hangs out in and around the Ryman because he was banned from the building all those years ago.
Of course it makes sense that with Hank being one of the most frequent ghostly sightings in Nashville, there would be songs about seeing the spirit of the country music legend. There’s Alan Jackson’s “Midnight in Montgomery,” about paying a visit to Hank’s grave and being visited by his ghost.
And you probably know “The Ride” by David Allan Coe, a tale about a guitar player being picked up by the ghost of Hank Williams as he was hitchhiking back to Nashville from Williams’ hometown of Montgomery, Alabama. But did you know that the songwriter of “The Ride” claims that the song was inspired by a conversation he had with none other than the ghost of Hank Williams himself?
As Gary Gentry told The Tennessean back in 2015:
“I was living at Country Place Apartments. I lit candles in the living room, and I wanted Hank to show himself. I wanted to write a masterpiece about Hank…I said, “Hank! Why were you so big? Just because you died young? Show yourself! Help me write this song.” I looked down that long hallway, and Hank was sitting there without a shirt on, on my couch, in the living room. And I said, “Hank, we’re gonna take a ride. I wanna write about you. I think you’re the greatest songwriter and entertainer that ever lived.” Thus, “The Ride,” at 4:00 in the morning.”
But that’s not the only experience Gentry had with the spirit of the man who inspired his biggest song.
Later, Gentry was performing “The Ride” for a TV show at the Grand Ole Opry House. And when he got to the line in the last verse revealing the character in the song to be the ghost of Hank Williams, all of the lights and power in the Opryland complex went out – just like they did on Bill Anderson. Apparently Hank just has a way of making his presence known.
So is the ghost of Hank Williams still roaming the streets of Nashville? Is he at the Ryman, still desperate to get back on the stage he was banned from so many years ago? Who knows. But the next time you’re in Nashville, keep your eyes peeled, and maybe you’ll just be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the country music legend for yourself.