I feel connected to the story below on so many levels.
Most of my cousins and my favorite bishop went to Mississippi State. (One of my cousins named his dog “Ole Miss” just to tease the rest of the family, though he, too, graduated from Mississippi State.)
My dad loved Johnny Cash’s music. I do, too, though I had to grow into it.
I wish I could pay tribute to my dad at a festival, of any kind.
But, as with Cash’s friend’s quote below, I feel his presence often.
Rosanne Cash will headline the second annual Johnny Cash Flower Pickin’ Festival in the Mississippi city where her father was arrested more than 40 years ago.
Paying tribute to the Man in Black’s life through redemption and flowers on Oct. 17-19, Cash’s friends, family and fans from throughout the world will gather to honor his life and legacy. The festival will feature music, guest speakers, a charity auction and a symbolic pardon of Cash’s crime of “pickin’ flowers” in the small northeastern Mississippi town.
Johnny Cash was arrested for public drunkenness in Starkville on May 11, 1965, after performing at Mississippi State University. Cash gave his own version of the incident through the song, “Starkville City Jail,” on the “Live in San Quentin” album, recorded a few years later at California’s San Quentin State Prison. In his 1997 autobiography, “Cash,” the entertainer wrote about how he never spent time incarcerated in prison but did spend seven nights in seven different jails for minor misdemeanor offenses.
“Those weren’t very educational experiences, but I do remember learning in Starkville, Mississippi, that trying to kick the bars out of a jail cell isn’t a good idea,” wrote Cash, who died from diabetes complications in 2003.
Rosanne Cash said the arc of her dad’s life “was the story of redemption. Even when it didn’t totally pan out, he still believed in redemption.” Johnny Cash’s life was filled with struggles with alcohol and amphetamine abuse, straining his relationships with family and friends. He eventually contained his addiction but never forgot how it hurt people close to him.
“There were so many difficult, even devastating, events in his life that he bore and assimilated, without blaming others,” Rosanne said in a recent interview. “Starkville is the perfect little microcosm of that larger story.”
Marshall Grant, Cash’s original bassist and former tour manager, helped organize the festival. He said if Cash was alive, he would be proud of the festival paying tribute to his less than perfect life.
“For everything he did, something good seemed to come out of it,” Grant said. “Starkville is a good example.”
Grant will speak during the festival about his experiences with Cash as a member of his band, the Tennessee Two, and architect of Cash’s trademark “boom-chicka-boom” sound.
Johnny Cash is considered by many music experts to be one of the most influential American musicians in the 20th century. With songs like “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Walk the Line,” and “A Boy Named Sue” and Cash’s social consciousness, he established worldwide recognition and relevance.
Also featured at the festival will be Billy Joe Shaver, Cash’s longtime friend and legendary country music songwriter who wrote many of Cash’s songs, including “Old Chunk of Coal,” which Cash sang daily when he spent time at the Betty Ford Center for drug and alcohol treatment. Shaver said he still feels Cash’s presence around him.
“I can almost call on to him,” Shaver said before a recent concert. “He’s still a good friend.”
Johnny Cash sang in the song, “Man in Black,” that he wore the color black for the poor, the downtrodden and those without a voice in society. The festival will give partial proceeds to the Starkville Boys and Girls Club and the Palmer Home for Children, a local home for kids without a place to live, said festival organizer Robbie Ward.
“We hope to carry on Cash’s spirit of charity through the festival,” Ward said.
Along with sponsors, the festival supports itself by selling merchandise, including posters and a black T-shirt with Johnny Cash on the back and the words, “Pardon me, I’m pickin’ flowers,” on the front.
A few weeks before the festival, Nashville-based photographer Alan Messer will hold a photo exhibition in Starkville titled “Cash and Flowers,” showcasing the Man in Black through 30 years of images, along with photos of flowers the photographer has grown. The festival will also include a charity auction, 5-K run, jail tour and a Sunday gospel service.
Mayor Dan Camp, who will help issue the pardons, said he welcomes visitors to the city.
“We want Johnny Cash fans to think of Starkville as their second home,” Camp said.