It’s been six years since longtime local music fixture Ross Emery and promoter Jacqueline Murphy birthed the Johnny Cash Music Festival, which returns to the Ventura County Fairgrounds on Saturday, June 14. Given Cash’s connections to the area, it made perfect sense to pay homage to the Man in Black just miles from the home he shared with his first wife and within walking distance of some of his favorite haunts. Plus, it seemed as though nearly everyone had a Johnny Cash story, a testament to his tremendous influence as both a musician and a man.
The inaugural event drew 2,750 people, and attendance has increased at a rate of about 30 percent each year since. Emery and Murphy eventually parted ways, and over time the festival has gone through a number of changes (most notably being renamed Roadshow Revival: A Tribute to the Music of Johnny Cash and the involvement of Johnny’s daughter Cindy) but musical congruity has always been a priority, and this year is no exception with rockabilly, outlaw country, bluegrass and Cash tribute acts on tap.
The lineup will appeal to all American music enthusiasts but especially to those who remember clubbing it in cowboy boots during the roots-rockabilly resurgence that took over Hollywood’s punk scene in the early- to mid-’80s, and Emery couldn’t be more stoked about the headliner.
“I’ve been trying to book my favorite band for four years now,” he says, “and it finally worked out. To see Los Lobos play some Johnny Cash . . . maybe in Spanish.”
Los Lobos brought L.A.’s robust Hispanic music scene to the mainstream with its 1985 radio hit “Will the Wolf Survive?” Produced by T-Bone Burnett, the debut record made a big splash and earned the band a rightful place on classic-rock radio rotation. Los Lobos celebrated its 40th anniversary last year with a live album and continues to tour. If you visit the official website, www.loslobos.org, you can actually request a song for the show.
One of the more exciting additions to this year’s bill is The Paladins, one of the best old-school rockabilly bands that you may not be familiar with. Also established in the ’80s, this San Diego trio is a favorite among musicians for its chops and sincere passion for roots music. With other projects taking priority during the aughts, the band went on a long hiatus, so seeing a Paladins performance in Ventura will be a rare treat.
Social Distortion guitarist Jonny “Two Bags” Wickersham is touring in support of his debut record, Salvation Town, which released in April. He has been getting critical praise and the rock ’n’ roll luminaries are lining up to sit in with him, so it wouldn’t be unusual for his Social D bandmate and Venturan Brent Harding to appear on stage with him at the Roadshow Revival.
As great as the music promises to be, the event will feature lots of other attractions, including a pin-up pageant, car show, unique vendors, a Johnny Cash memorabilia exhibit and, new this year, a sightseeing tour of local landmarks associated with Cash (his home, church, office and parents’ home) plus an appearance by legendary rock music journalist Robert Hilburn, who will be on hand to sign copies of his book Johnny Cash: The Life.
Emery sealed the deal for Hilburn’s appearance over fish ’n’ chips in Ventura. When Hilburn, who wrote for the L.A. Times calendar section during the ’70s and ’80s, asked Emery to give him a good reason to attend the Roadshow Revival, Emery took it on faith to explain.
“I said, ‘Well, sir, besides the obvious, I pride myself on the gospel side of his life. I have a couple pastors come out from separate churches to read out of John’s Bible his favorite scriptures and share his passion for the Lord. He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “John would have loved that. Count me in.’
For more information about the music, tour and other attractions at Roadshow Revival: A Tribute to the Music of Johnny Cash, visit www.roadshowrevival.com.