In 1979, the Hardeman County chapter of the American Cancer Society was looking for a way to reach their fundraising goal, and so the “Hardeman County Hee Haw & Howdy Show,” was born. It was modeled after the popular television variety series of the time, “Hee Haw.”
Don Shackelford, Bertha Vaughan, and Bunny Orr combined their efforts as founders of the production so that it would showcase the musical and comedic talents of hundreds of Hardeman County residents and raise money for cancer research. Don was the show’s first writer and director, serving as such for 10 years prior to retiring in 1990, while Bertha Vaughan stayed on for 18 years as musical director before handing her duties over to Jeff and Kandy Shackelford. Bobby Sain is the current writer and director.
The wonderful set has amazing art, put together by the Arts Council with the late Helen Stahl, an artist originally from Memphis, who retired to a farm in Hornsby, TN.
The Hee Haw & Howdy Show, now commonly referred to as “Hee Haw,” has been running for 40 years and continues to be a success, selling out multiple performances. The annual variety show is full of laughter and country music. It is put on by Hardeman County residents who devote months of preparation and hard work to make it happen. Local talents provide musical entertainment for the audience while characters from the original television series, including Lulu, Stringbean, Junior and Grandpa, make their way onto the stage to deliver jokes.
Until 2006, “Hee Haw” was performed in the Bolivar Central High School auditorium on a weekend in the spring. Now, the show takes place at the Hardeman County Arts Center and runs for an entire week due to ticket demand. In fact, of the more than 1,200 seats available, over 1,000 were sold within the first week of ticket sales. What’s even better is that thanks to the people of Hardeman County, the Hee Haw & Howdy Show has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the American Cancer Society; over $700,000 in the forty-year run, to be exact.
Shackelford Funeral Directors has been a long-time sponsor of this great effort. As mentioned before, Don Shackelford, former manager of the Bolivar location prior to his death in 2000, was writer and director of the show for a period of time and continued to support the show for years after. Jeff Shackelford, present manager and President of Shackelford Funeral Directors of Bolivar, Inc., is the current musical director and plays lead guitar in the Hee Haw band alongside his wife, Kandy, who plays bass guitar.
We were able to go to this year’s show, and it was truly an honor to be able to talk with the people behind the stage who work so diligently to put this extravaganza on. The hard work and dedication were very apparent, even to the ‘kids’ that come back each year, taking a vacation from their jobs elsewhere to come home and be a part of something good. “It is a family tradition,” shared Jeff Shackelford, “there are six Shakelfords in the show this year.” And they aren’t the only family that does that, lots of cousins, brothers, sisters, parents, all come together to put this production together for a sell-out crowd that’s not just from Hardeman County. Some of the visitors come to see it from other states like Arizona and New Hampshire, and most were from out-of-town at the performance we attended. “I’d be nervous if I knew all those people,” finished Jeff Shackelford. It’s really a good show, professional talent, professional writing, and it makes you laugh, a good, deep, clean, laugh.
Next year, please go. Take the time, buy a ticket, drive over, and have fun—but don’t forget to get some popcorn, Mr. Danny makes the best popcorn around, and has for a long time at the Hee Haw show!
Thank you to the Arts Council, the Shackelford, Smalley, Weems, and Vaughn family members who took me backstage to meet the crew, Bobby Sain, and to Darrell Teubner, who plays a wonderful doctor.