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Cash kith and kin make Johnny Cash Music Festival at ASU a sold-out success


On Thursday, Aug. 4, Arkansas State University’s Convocation Center was the scene of a sold-out concert—the first-ever Johnny Cash Music Festival. More than 7,000 tickets were sold, yielding $310,000, with every penny earmarked for the restoration of Johnny Cash’s boyhood home in Dyess, Arkansas. Fans young and old, urban and rural, from
places as close as Bono and as far away as Norway, crowded the Convocation Center to witness a behemoth concert of Cash family and friends, what Johnny Cash himself might have called “kith and kin,” who had gathered in tribute to the man himself and his musical legacy and to contribute to the restoration of the New Deal-era frame house that housed Cash and his six siblings.

The multi-artist show was produced by Bill Carter, a native of Rector, Arkansas, and an alumnus of ASU.
The set was stark yet impressive, featuring a triptych of screens that featured an evolving montage of black-and-white Cash family photos, interspersed with clips of Johnny Cash performing many of his hits, including “Man in Black,” “Old Chunk of Coal,”and others.

Rosanne Cash opened the four-hour show with “Pickin’ Time,” and welcomed the audience, explaining the reason for the concert and introducing Kris Kristofferson, who talked about his relationship with Johnny Cash and performed an acoustic set—“Sunday Morning Comin’ Down,” “Here Comes that Rainbow Again,” “Good Morning, John,” and “Me and Bobby McGee.” John Carter Cash and Laura Cash performed “If I Were a Carpenter,” and Laura Cash performed “Keep on the Sunny Side.”  Bill Miller sang “The Ballad of Ira Hayes,” with accompaniment by Laura Cash on fiddle, and singer/songwriter John Francis and John Carter Cash performed “No One Gets Out of Here Alive.”  In an earlier press conference, John Carter Cash had promised that the audience would hear “some Johnny Cash songs and some original songs by the artists, and some family favorites,” and the artists made good on that, including bluegrass and gospel numbers as well.

The concert’s momentum shifted with John Carter Cash’s rousing solo performances of “Folsom Prison Blues” and “Rock Island Line,” followed by Tommy Cash’s renditions of “Five Feet High and Rising,” and “I Walk the Line,” followed by Joanne Cash’s version of “Suppertime.”

Bluegrass duo Dailey and Vincent and members of their ensemble brought the crowd to its feet with an a cappella rendering of  ”When the Roll is Called up Yonder.” They then joined Laura Cash on “Billy Christian,” and finished the show’s centerpiece set with “Daddy Sang Bass,” interspersed with “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”

Country music legend George Jones performed several songs, including “I Got Stripes” and “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” Other highlights of the show included Gary Morris and Matt Morris in an ethereal rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Jonesboro native Denny Strickland sang “Cry, Cry, Cry.” Rodney Crowell and Tommy Cash performed Crowell’s “I Walk the Line Revisited,” a bravura piece of songwriting detailing Crowell’s memories of hearing “I Walk the Line” as a child. Rosanne Cash performed the evocative “Radio Operator,” “Tennessee Flattop Box,” and “I Still Miss Someone” as solos, but performed “Give My Love to Rose” with Rodney and Chelsea Crowell. Kris Kristofferson offered a moving performance of “Why Me Lord,” and the finale, including the entire cast and many Cash relatives onstage for the first time that night, was “Angel Band” and a reprise of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”

With the finale, the full house at the Convocation Center was on its feet, snapping photographs and singing along with the final chorus at John Carter Cash’s urging. In northeast Arkansas, on a hot August night, for at least the length of a hymn chorus, blood was thicker than water, and kith (friends and familiars and acquaintances) honored Cash’s kin and his enduring musical and cultural legacy.