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Cash Historian Added to List of Presenters at Johnny Cash Heritage Festival


JONESBORO – Mark Stielper, personal historian to country music icon Johnny Cash, has been added to the roster of presenters at the Johnny Cash Heritage Festival scheduled for Oct. 19-21 in Dyess.  Stielper will join more than 20 other presenters, including keynote presenters Bill McDowell and Michael Streissguth, at the festival symposium titled “Arts and Artistry from the New Deal and Beyond.”

Stielper will wrap up the Friday afternoon schedule with his 4 p.m. presentation of “Fifty Years After Folsom,” which chronicles Cash’s road to recovery and redemption that began in 1967.  McDowell’s and Streissguth’s presentations will close out the symposium Saturday from 9-11 a.m.  McDowell’s presentation, “Resurrecting Images from the Great Depression,” and Streissguth’s “American Culture and the Art of Johnny Cash,” will be introduced by Rosanne Cash, a winner of multiple Grammy awards and eldest daughter of Johnny Cash.

The symposium will begin Thursday, Oct. 19, with presentations scheduled from 1-5 p.m.  A full day of presentations is slated for Friday, beginning at 9 a.m. and running until 5 p.m., with a 90-minute lunch break scheduled at 11:30 a.m.

Food vendors, a “Memories of a Lifetime” oral history project, arts and crafts booths, and demonstrations are scheduled throughout the three-day festival, which will culminate Saturday afternoon with a concert in the former cotton field next to the Johnny Cash Boyhood Home. 

The concert will feature Grammy Award-winning artists Kris Kristofferson and Rosanne Cash, along with Johnny Cash siblings Joanne Cash and Tommy Cash, and Northeast Arkansas native and award-winning country music artist Buddy Jewell. 

Music is also scheduled for Thursday and Friday during “KASU Music Nights,” which will feature nine regional acts over the two-night schedule.  With the exception of Saturday’s concert in the former cotton field, all events at the Johnny Cash Heritage Festival are free.  Thursday and Friday events will be held at the Dyess Colony Circle, while the Saturday morning feature presentations will be held at the Dyess Community Center.

Tickets for the Saturday concert are on sale now and available online at AState.edu/tickets, or at the A-State Convocation Center Box Office on the A-State campus (lower red entrance), or by calling 870-972-2781 or 800-745-3000. 

Jewell will open the concert at 12:15 p.m., followed by Joanne Cash and Tommy Cash at 1:30 p.m.  Kristofferson and Rosanne Cash are scheduled for 3 p.m.

The complete schedule for the Thursday-Saturday symposium is as follows:

Thursday, October 19

1:00-2:00 p.m.                    It’s All About Politics

 “Banning Rock ‘n’ Roll Festivals in Arkansas?” Dr. Michael Dougan, emeritus professor of history, Arkansas State University, recalls early efforts to essentially prohibit “rock festivals or other such mass musical and/or singing performances” in Arkansas - with the likes of Johnny Cash as possible exceptions.

 “J. Marion Futrell Paradox:  Governor vs. Dyess Colony Attorney.” Dr. Revis Edmonds, outreach coordinator, Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, explores contradictions between the man who waged war on tenant farmers as governor, versus the man who later became attorney for Dyess Colony.


2:00-3:00 p.m.                    Chronicling Life and Lore Across America

Impact of the New Deal Federal Writers Project on Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, and other notable authors once employed in this "back to work” program for writers and intellectuals.  Arkansas State University panelists Dr. Adam Long (Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum), Dr. Amy Schmidt (English), and Carmen Williams (graduate student).


3:00-3:30 p.m.                    Aesthetics in the Music of Johnny Cash

 “The American Idea of Beauty.” Dr. Paul Hunter, professor emeritus of rhetoric and world literature, North Lake College, Dallas, Texas, follows the emergence of American regionalism, especially in song, and examines one album of Cash’s work, Bitter Tears, as a portal into American aesthetics.


4:00-5:00 p.m.  Cinematic Ode to the Mississippi:  The River

 Viewing and discussion of the award-winning 32-minute Works Progress Administration film written and directed by Pare Lorentz, including clips from the 1937 flood that inspired Johnny Cash's Five Feet High and Rising.  Led by Dr. Robert Cochran and Dr. Suzanne McCray, authors of Lights! Cameras! Arkansas! in conjunction with Pare Lorentz Center, FDR Presidential Library.


Friday, October 20

 9:00-10:00 a.m.                                    Arkansas In Me:  Keeping It Delta

 Storyteller-songwriter Joe Chipman of Manila, tells stories through songs and narration of the hard times, hard work and dedication that his ancestors and others endured after moving to Mississippi County to raise a family.


10:00-11:00 a.m.               Spiritual Connections to the Delta

 “Johnny Cash: Wrestling with Questions of God, Sex, and Death.” Dr. Micki Pulleyking, Religious Studies Department, Missouri State University, explores Cash’s contributions to theopoetics through his song writing.

 “Chicken Train: Poems from the Arkansas Delta.”  Reflections by retired pastor Terry Minchow-Proffitt, St. Louis, on the voice, themes, and landscape of his 1950s upbringing in West Helena and Dyess.  


11:00-11:30 a.m.               A Long Way Around to a Lonesome Sound.

 Vince Allen, software engineering manager for Spotify, Brooklyn, NY, analyzes how the audible qualities of Cash’s recorded material evolved, while his lyrical style, voicing and subject matter remained grounded in early life experiences. 


1:00-2:00 p.m.                    He Was Just Plain J. R. (Classmates of Johnny Cash)           

Panel discussion with members of the Dyess High School Class of 1950, recalling their class vice president, J. R. Cash, and memories of growing up in the agricultural resettlement colony. Moderated by KASU station manager Mike Doyle.


2:00-3:00 p.m.                    Delta Themes in the Music of Johnny Cash

 "Cultivating the Fabulous Johnny Cash: The Environment and the American Artist." Dr. Aaron Miller, History, Ivy Tech Community College, Columbus, Indiana, discusses the river as metaphor in Cash’s songs.

 “Jesus Was Our Savior and Cotton Was Our King.” The influence of cotton in the songs of Johnny Cash is explored by area historian and Marion Evening Times newspaper reporter Mark Randall. 


3:00-4:00 p.m.                   Art by the People and For the People

 John Gill, Little Rock attorney and author of Post Masters: Arkansas Post Office Art in the New Deal, and Anthony Childress, graduate assistant and curator of the Works Progress Administration poster exhibit opening in the Dyess Administration Building, discuss these two popular aspects of the Federal Art Project.


4:00-5:00 p.m.                    Becoming Johnny Cash

 “Ray and Johnny: How Johnny Cash’s Father Influenced His Life and Career,” presented by Colin Woodward, formerly at the UALR Center for Arkansas History and Culture and author of the manuscript in progress, Country Boy: The Roots of Johnny Cash.  Woodward currently is editor of Lee Family Digital Archives in Stratford, Virginia.

 “Fifty Years After Folsom.”  Johnny Cash's road to recovery and redemption began in October 1967.  Within an astonishingly brief period, he went from lost soul to American icon, with stops along the way at Folsom Prison and the White House. Cash's friend and personal historian, Mark Stielper, recounts the fateful events that marked this epic transformation.


Saturday, October 21


9:00-11:00 a.m.                                    Featured Presentations: The New Deal and Johnny Cash

 Introduction:  Rosanne Cash

 Resurrecting Images from The Great Depression

 Bill McDowell, author of Ground:  A Reprise of Photographs from the Farm Security Administration (FSA) presents images resurrected from unselected negatives that were routinely hole-punched by government officials to prevent printing. His book is prefaced with the printed lyrics to Sunken Land by Rosanne Cash, a nod to the hardships of life in Dyess.  McDowell is professor of art and art history at the University of Vermont in Burlington.

 American Culture and the Art of Johnny Cash

 Michael Streissguth, author of three books on Cash and writer-producer of the documentary film on his Folsom Prison concert, talks about Johnny Cash's early life and influences of this bygone place and time on his music. Cash’s childhood in Dyess informed aspects of his art, which, in turn, became windows through which we could understand American life. Streissguth is professor of communication and film studies at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, N.Y