Shreveport Conference Includes Hayride Revival

The “Cradle of the Stars” will rock again this weekend in a revival of the Shreveport, La.-based Louisiana Hayride. The famous variety show, once broadcast on KWKH, will be staged anew Saturday night (May 4) at its original home, Shreveport’s historic Municipal Auditorium. The Hayride and the “Southern Americana Music Jam!” make up the marquee event of the four-day Southern American Music Conference getting underway Thursday (May 2).

The Cox Family , featured in O Brother, Where Art Thou? and natives of Cotton Valley, La., will appear on the Hayride bill, as will blues favorite Kenny Wayne Shepherd, a Shreveport native, accompanied by members of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s band, Double Trouble. The Derailers, from Austin, Texas, will entertain with a mix of Mersey beat and honky-tonk music. Jeannie C. Riley (“Harper Valley P.T.A.”) will sing. Former Hayride regulars Doug Kershaw, Dale Hawkins, Merle Kilgore, Maggie Lewis Warwick and Tillman Franks also are among those slated to appear during the four-hour show.

Presented by Shreveport’s Foundation for Arts, Music and Entertainment (F.A.M.E.) and Louisiana State University-Shreveport, the conference gets underway Thursday evening (May 2). Elvis Presley biographer Peter Guralnick and artist manager and songwriter Tillman Franks (“Honky Tonk Man,” “Sink the Bismark”) will give the keynote presentation, titled “Elvis, the Louisiana Hayride and the World After That.”

Throughout the weekend, scholars, artists and music professionals will explore Shreveport’s rich musical heritage. Urban planner Hunter Morrison, a key player in developing Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, will discuss plans for the revitalization of the Ledbetter Heights neighborhood around Municipal Auditorium as a historic music district with museums, new and restored housing and commercial development.

F.A.M.E. chairwoman Maggie Lewis Warwick is spearheading the effort to revive the district, with the Municipal Auditorium — where she appeared as a teenager — serving as the project’s cornerstone. The Hayride was first broadcast on April 3, 1948. Among the original cast were Johnnie & Jack With Kitty Wells and the Bailes Brothers. Hank Williams Sr. made his first appearance on the show in August 1948, and Presley was a regular from October to December 1954.

Many other country greats advanced their careers with stints on the show, among them Webb Pierce , Johnny Horton , Jim Reeves , Faron Young , Floyd Cramer , James Burton and Johnny Cash . For many, the Hayride was a proving ground before moving on to Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, earning it the nickname “Cradle of the Stars.”

The CBS radio network broadcast a portion of the Hayride show beginning in 1953, but discontinued the broadcasts in 1958. The show went into decline and ceased live, weekly broadcasts in 1960. The Hayride continued in various forms into the 1970s and for a while moved to nearby Bossier Parish as Hayride USA. That program ended in the early 1980s.

Guitarist Richard Bennett, who has played with Neil Diamond, Steve Earle and Mark Knopfler , discovered the Hayride through his love of Horton. He praises the show, saying its “flare and electricity … jumps right off the grooves of live radio transcriptions now 40 and 50 years old.”