August 17 promises to be a big night of entertainment at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, Arkansas, as the Johnny Cash Music Festival will stage its' third annual benefit show at the school. Concert producer Bill Carter has once again assembled a very strong lineup, with Vince Gill, Jimmy Fortune, and Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers all donating their talents for the occasion.
"Larry Gatlin – who was a longtime friend of Johnny's will be there, and he has so many stories about him. There's nobody on the show that can't talk about great Cash experiences. Jimmy Fortune will be there, and he is as good solo before an audience as anyone else," he said of the former Statler Brothers member. "Then, Vince Gill is on the bill. His show is one of the best in the business. I guarantee that anyone who comes this year will see an incredible show."
The show will be hosted by Johnny's brother Tommy Cash, and will also feature sister Joanne Cash Yates, who is looking forward to the event. "I'm really looking forward to this one. We couldn't have a better lineup of talent who have donated their time, and have wanted to be a part of it."
The event will help to raise money to continue renovations on the Cash boyhood home in nearby Dyess. Yates told Billboard that has the home is on target for a grand opening next year. "The construction on the house is completed. Everything is being restored to the way it was in the 1930s and 1940s, when we lived there."
Carter says the project has brought people in the area together for a common goal. "It's quite an event, and it's united the state of Arkansas in the name of Johnny Cash. The east Arkansas corridor along the Delta is very economically deprived. It's very important, and the whole state is behind this. It's really heartwarming."
Proceeds from the event will also fund a trio of scholarships for high school graduates in the area to continue their education. Carter recalls just how focused one of last year's winners was. "I called one of the winners and told him that Rosanne would like to invite you to the show tonight so you can be introduced. He said 'I can't. I just started a new job last week, and I would be afraid to take off because I might lose my job. So, he came over before, and he had his picture made with Rosanne. That said a lot about his character. It's really very gratifying to be able to participate in this, and see the good that is being done in the name of Johnny Cash. I know the kids talked about what he would have wanted – and that's to help the area where he grew up. It was so economically deprived then, and it has been since. He loved Dyess, and in one of his last interviews, Ralph Emery said ‘It must have been tough growing up in Dyess.' He said ‘No, just the contrary. I hunted, fished, and I loved growing up there.' He often talked about that. The Dyess roots were very important in Johnny Cash's life."
Of the entertainers on the show, Gill says that playing the festival allows him to pay a debt forward to the Cash family. "Rosanne was a huge part of me having a shot at doing this as a career. I got a record deal because I played in her band. The record company saw me playing guitar and singing harmony, and took a shot on me. I'm excited about going back to his homeplace, and doing something for the education of young people. That's never anything but a great idea. I got to know him a little bit through those years of being around Rodney and Rosanne when they were married. Those people who are iconic are that way for a reason. There's a reason that some people are better than you," he said warmly.
Yates continues to be amazed at the progress made on her family's former home. "It makes me very emotional. To see the house in its' complete disarray as it was, it was literally leaning. Now, to see the foundation of the house is like walking back in time. I'm the consultant on the house because I lived there the first seventeen years of my life, and I'm in charge of finding all the furniture. I've got a good memory, so we're getting all that together to make it look as it did when we lived there. People will come from all over the world to see it. It was only a five room house – very small, but to us, it was the Taj Mahal. It was wonderful."