The third annual Johnny Cash Music Festival will feature Cash’s two surviving siblings — Tommy Cash and Joanne Cash Yates — plus one of country and pop music’s most noted guitar pickers and balladeers, Vince Gill, along with veterans Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers, and a relative newcomer, at least by comparison with others on the bill.
Jimmy Fortune, a 20-year member of The Statler Brothers (none of whom were named Statler), went solo after the 2002 breakup of that group, which had once backed up Johnny Cash and toured with him for nearly a decade.
“Johnny Cash once said that when The Statlers first started out they got paid by Cash, and after I joined, they had a Fortune,” Fortune says, laughing at the memory of being the subject of a joke by the legend. (The Statlers had an early song, “We Got Paid by Cash” that memorialized their days on the road as Cash’s opening act.) “I didn’t get to meet Johnny until the 30th anniversary of the Statler Brothers, and after that we’d run into each other on the road, and I’d just sit back and listen to the stories he and them would tell.
“In the last couple of years of his life, his health was going down hill fast, and I lived a mile and a half from his old house, so I’d go over at times to talk. Of course, he was larger than life, and what I remember most about him was the way he had of going over to someone in a group or gathering who wasn’t really feeling like they were a part of things, and he’d go over and say something to that person and make them feel involved and appreciated and just make their day.
“I was one of those lucky ones, I guess. The last time I saw him, I was the last one to leave, and he got me by the shoulder and said to me ‘I never got the time to spend with you and I regret that. You’ve done a wonderful job.’ You can imagine how that made me feel.”
Tommy Cash is taking over festival hosting duties from his niece, Rosanne Cash, who can’t attend this year. The youngest of the Cash siblings, Tommy was born in 1940, eight years after his famous brother. After a stint in the U.S. Army, Tommy played for a time in Hank Williams Jr.’s band and began releasing singles in the mid-1960s. His Top 40 hits between 1969 and 1973 are “Six White Horses,” “Rise and Shine,” “One Song Away,” “So This Is Love” and “I Recall a Gypsy Woman.”
He continues to record and tour, and is also a Realtor with Crye-Leike Real Estate in Nashville, Tenn.
His sister, Joanne Cash Yates — the next to youngest of the seven Cash kids — is eagerly anticipating the restoration of the house she grew up in, which the festival was created to help finance. The old home place in Dyess is being restored to the way the new two-bedroom, one-bath house looked in 1935, when the family moved into it from Kingsland, not far from Fordyce in south Arkansas.
“I’m elated about how the construction on our old house has been coming along,” Yates says. “It should be ready to open to the public by next spring. I’ve had almost like a job acting as a consultant to Ruth Hawkins of Arkansas State University, who’s in charge of the [Arkansas Heritage Sites] project, and is replicating some of the furnishings from that era.”
Yates and her husband, Harry Yates, a pastor, co-founded the first Cowboy Church, 23 years ago in Nashville. She proudly notes that there are more than 5,000 Cowboy Churches now, worldwide.
Festival headliner is Vince Gill, who has won more Grammy Awards (20) than any other male country musician and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2007. He traces his regard for Johnny Cash back to the first record he ever bought, as well as appearing on stage with the legend in 1982, in the early stages of Gill’s career.
“I was part of a show with him, John Prine and Marty Stuart,” Gill says from his home in Nashville. “I also spent time in Rodney Crowell’s band when he was married to Rosanne Cash, and later I joined her band, so I have a warm spot in my heart for the Cash family.”
Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers were great friends of Johnny Cash. Larry — who Cash referred to as “Pilgrim” — and his two brothers released an album, Pilgrimage, which included the song, “Johnny Cash Is Dead (and His House Burned Down).” Gatlin named his son John Cash Gatlin, in appreciation for Cash’s years of friendship.
Along with raising funds to restore the Cash homestead, the Dyess community center and a former movie theater, the festival also supports scholarships in Cash’s name. The $75 “premium” tickets include seats on the floor or in the lower bowl, admission to the artists’ pre-show event and a commemorative program; the $150 “VIP” tickets include the benefits of the “premium” tickets, but with seating in the first five rows.
Third Annual Johnny Cash Music Festival
Featuring: Vince Gill, Joanne Cash Yates, Tommy Cash, Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers and Jimmy Fortune of The Statler Brothers
7 p.m. Saturday, Arkansas State University Convocation Center, 217 Olympic Drive, Jonesboro
(888) 278-3267, (870) 972-2781
Weekend, Pages 34 on 08/15/2013
Print Headline: Cash siblings leading tribute to famous brother