ALTON, Maine — Willy Hall of Bucksport would have had a hoot Sunday afternoon had he dropped by Happy Acres Bottle Club.
He would have caught performances by some of the state’s leading country music performers, including four members of the Maine Country Music Hall of Fame.
The retired paper mill worker would have spent time with family and good friends. He might have danced a waltz or two with Kathy, his wife of 47 years. And he might have heard a country-style rendition of his favorite song, “Amazing Grace.”
Willard H. Hall, however, died Tuesday at the age of 66 after a battle with esophageal cancer. The devoted husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather was laid to rest on Saturday.
Sunday’s gathering of the region’s premiere country music acts and an estimated 300 fans at the Alton dance hall was organized as a fundraiser for Hall’s family.
The performers — the Mainely Country Band, Jackie King, The Higgins Family, Bob Elston, Lefty Dean, Hank Hughes and Vintage Country, Wade Dow and Friends, Brenda Millett, Patti and Frank Coombs, Jeannie Scripture, George Harnish and The New Band and Family Tradition as well as master of ceremonies Dutch Heiser — donated their time and talent.
Happy Acres owner Patricia Clark opened up her club for the event. Attendees made donations at the door, bought raffle tickets and kicked in for a 50-50 drawing. By the time all was said and done, $3,000 had been raised to help defray Hall’s medical expenses.
Kathy Hall, who mustered up the strength to attend Sunday’s benefit, was visibly moved by the gesture.
“I can’t even begin to explain it,” she said of the overwhelming support she received. She said she and her husband were regulars at the Alton establishment as well as at many country music shows and jams.
“I just never expected to see everyone here for me,” she said, attempting to hold back her tears as her sister, Connie Shaw, put a protective arm around her shoulders. “I knew I had friends [in area country music circles]. I just didn’t expect to see them here all at once.”
During an intermission about halfway through the four-hour show, Kathy Hall took to the stage to express her thanks.
“If Willy was here, he would have been so proud and so pleased,” she said. “He’s not here, but I am, and I love you all.”
Among those who organized the Country Sunday Benefit Show were Carol and Armand Paquin and performer Brenda Millett, whose honors include being named 2008 Female Vocalist of the Year and 2008 Gospel Entertainer of the Year by the Maine Academy of Country Music.
Millett said she was eager to be involved in Sunday’s benefit because a year ago, she was the focus of a country community benefit when a nerve disorder temporarily put her in a nursing home and confined her to a wheelchair.
“The feeling you know you’re not forgotten, that you’re not out of the loop, it stays in your heart,” she said.
“So you need to pay it forward. If we can use our God-given talents to help others, then we need to do it,” she said, adding that the region’s country music community gets together for benefits several times a month.
Maine Country Hall of Famer Sonny Bickford of the Mainely Country Band added that taking part in benefits is a way for performers to thank the fans who support them.
“They’re great friends, dedicated country fans,” he said of the Halls. “That’s why we’re here. That’s why everybody’s here.”
Bickford’s bandmate Jeff Simon not only performed, he also handled the sound system and designed a flier promoting the benefit.
He noted that it’s difficult to make a living as a country music performer in Maine. Most of the performers who turned out Sunday have day jobs. Simon, for example, is a school bus driver in Dedham. Benefit gigs are part of paying one’s dues, he said, adding, “We do it because we love it.”