A sold out show at Arkansas State University raised more than $310,000 for the restoration of the boyhood home of music legend Johnny Cash in the east Arkansas town of Dyess.
Four generations of the Cash family, including daughter Rosanne Cash, son-in-law Rodney Crowell and son John Carter Cash were on hand to pay homage to Cash, as were many of his longtime friends like Kris Kristofferson.
"I’ve never met another human being who had the power just in the presence that John had and to be working on a tribute for him and for his home is just a real honor for me," Kristofferson said at a press conference before the show.
Johnny Cash’s father was one of 500 farmers who were given a small piece of land in Dyess after the town was created in 1934 as part of President Roosevelt’s depression era New Deal program. On their 40 acres the Cash family worked to grow cotton.
Arkansas State University recently bought the property, including the dilapidated home, and collaborated with the Cash family to put on the fundraising concert Thursday night.
"It has been quite a journey since I first heard the rumors of this happening and to see it come together and to watch it all coming together here today is beyond my greatest expectations," said Cash’s son John Carter Cash. "So I’m humbled and glad to be part of this."
That evening, he would perform "Folsom Prison Blues" after talking about his dad’s popularity among the incarcerated, accepting invitations to perform at prisons throughout the country.
Johnny Cash’s younger brother Tommy Cash, with an eerily similar resonate voice, performed the classics "Five Feet High and Rising" and "I Walk The Line."
George Jones called Cash his "dearest friend in Nashville" before performing "I Got Stripes." He also drew huge applause playing his own hit "He Stopped Loving Her Today."
Rosanne Cash shared stories with the crowd of what it was like growing up the daughter of Johnny Cash. Before performing "Tennessee Flat Top Box" she said when she recorded it in the 1980s she didn’t immediately realize her father had written it, saying she had heard it so often as a child that she assumed it was an old song that was in the public domain.
She performed alongside her former husband Rodney Crowell and their daughter Chelsea Crowell, who today is also performing. Rosanne Cash noted how there were four generations of Cashes on stage and "if it hadn’t been for that little house in Dyess none of us would be here."
Kris Kristofferson helped open the show and was one of the final performers. Cash performed many of the songs he had written over the years and during the press conference, Kristofferson was visibly emotional talking about his friend.
"John was unlike any human being I ever knew. But he was the reason I got out of the Army and went to Nashville to be a songwriter and he was very encouraging and it was like being touched by God or something. I never lost my awe of Johnny Cash."
In the audience for the show was 87-year-old Clint Foust of Newport , Arkansas . It was the first concert he had ever been to and he was able to attend thanks to a program called "Last Wish" run by a local hospice. His last wish was to attend the show as a tribute to Johnny Cash.
"I just loved him from the songs he used to sing, the train songs, Folsom Prison, all them songs. I just loved his music," Foust said.
He and his family were picked up at his home by a long white limo, which prompted neighbors to look on, who he said were more used to seeing him being picked up by an ambulance.
Foust also got to meet many of the performers, including Kris Kristofferson, and the elderly gentleman said he was having "an awesome time."
The show was sold out, with 7,000 people packed into the Convocation Center. ASU said afterward that more than $310,000 was raised and that every cent would go toward the restoration project.
The show was also filmed by PBS for a future special.