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Superstar Reba To Headline Johnny Cash Music Festival; Artist Recalls Tender Memory of Johnny Cash


Special to Arkansas State University
By: Jim Bessman

This year’s fourth annual Johnny Cash Music Festival at Arkansas State University’s Convocation Center in Jonesboro on Aug. 15 is shaping up to be a country music superstar spectacular, what with Queen of Country Music Loretta Lynn, newly enshrined Country Music Hall of Famer Bobby Bare and multi-format and media sensation Reba McEntire sharing the bill.

In fact, McEntire, herself a Country Music Hall of Famer (as is Lynn, of course), has been wanting to perform at the Festival for years, but her many activities, last year including her TV series Malibu Country, got in the way.

“We’re not doing the show anymore, and we made a point of coordinating our concert dates this year so we could do Johnny’s festival,” says McEntire, who was gently swayed by Bill Carter, the festival’s producer and founder, and her former manager (she’s now managed by her husband Narvel Blackstock).

“Bill’s a very inspiring person, and if he believes in something, you better take notice!” McEntire continues. “His word goes a long way for me and Narvel, so we penciled in the date and then put it in ink—and now we’re doing it.”

Both Lynn and Bare were contemporaries of Johnny Cash. Although McEntire is younger and didn’t achieve her own country chart dominance until the mid-1980s, she too, has a deep connection to the Man in Black.

“In 1991, when the plane crash happened, we asked Waylon Jennings to speak at the funeral,” says McEntire, recalling the event that tragically claimed the lives of eight of her band members.

“He said, ‘I just can’t do it. It’s way too close to what happened to me.’”

Jennings was playing bass for Buddy Holly in 1959, and was going to fly with him to the gig following their appearance in Clear Lake, Iowa—but gave up his seat to J.P. Richardson—a.k.a. The Big Bopper who perished along with Holly and Ritchie Valens when that plane crashed.

“I said, ‘Waylon, I totally understand,’” McEntire continues. “So I asked Johnny—who had just buried his mother—and he came and spoke.”

McEntire had performed with Cash once, in Switzerland.

“I didn’t know him really well personally, but my good friend did,” she says. “Johnny understood that someone was needing some comforting: We put people on a pedestal and think they’re immortal and beyond perfect, but they have hearts and feelings and care. For Johnny to come and speak at the memorial was so sweet and special for all the families, and meant the world to them.”

McEntire is especially glad to support the Johnny Cash Music Festival’s charitable endeavors, which include the restoration of his boyhood home in Dyess, Ark., and a scholarship fund established in his name.

“Getting kids in college is very important to me,” says McEntire, “and refurbishing Johnny’s boyhood home is such a cool idea.”

Meanwhile, McEntire is focusing on her own cool idea in spreading a positive message via her new composition “Pray for Peace.”

“That’s been a big project for me,” she says. “I was walking around on my place in Tennessee, and just started singing the words ‘pray for peace’ and got the biggest chills and said, ‘Wow! That’s a song.’ Then every time I went out walking I came up with more of the song.”

She eventually brought the song to the studio and recorded it, and is now asking her fans to contribute to a YouTube video for the song that she’s just posted.

“I’m asking the fans to submit clips of them, from wherever they are in the world,” says McEntire. “I want them to invite their friends, family and co-workers to film and upload themselves doing the ‘Pray for Peace’ motions in the video in spreading a message of peace, from a location that shows where they are in the world—like a landmark or scenic view.”

“If we can reach an agreement on praying for peace, maybe I’ll settle down!” she adds.

Until then, McEntire remains busy as ever.

“We’ve been doing concerts all year long,” she says, noting also her appearance in Nashville at the May 6 “We’re All 4 the Hall” benefit concert for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. And projecting ahead to the Johnny Cash Music Festival, she says she’s particularly excited to see her fellow headliners, though she singles Bare out.

“I haven’t worked with Bare in years!” she says. “I’m really looking forward to it!”

"Tickets for this concert have sold very quickly," said Haley Stout, manager of the University’s Central Box Office. "I encourage anyone who wants to see it to get their tickets as soon as they can because we have only a few at each price level left and we expect an early sell-out."

Tickets for the Johnny Cash Music Festival are on sale now and available at Arkansas State’s Central Box Office (1-888-278-3267) and online at Tickets.AState.edu. Tickets can also be purchased by logging onto the official website of the Johnny Cash Music Festival: JohnnyCashMusicFest.com.

Reba McEntire
Reba McEntire