Johnny Cash Tribute
Austin City Limits Festival
Sept 20, 2003
When the word came down that Rosanne Cash had canceled her ACL gig after her father died, word quickly spread that the slot would be filled by a tribute to the great man. Yesterday afternoon, word proved true.
Hosted by Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel, Austin country’s toastmaster general, the set opened with the award-winning video to Johnny Cash’s remarkable cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt,” projected onto the Cingular stage screen. The images of days gone by, juxtaposed with footage of Cash as he looked last year, were all the more powerful for their massive size.
Things didn’t let up when the live music started. Benson and up-and-coming belter Tift Merritt glided through a strong version of “I Still Miss Someone” that set the tribute’s casual vibe. Then Merritt announced she would pay tribute to Cash by “honoring his daughter” with a lovely cover of Rosanne’s “Seven Year Ache.”
The ringleaders of the recent Southern rock revival showed up to pay tribute as well. At the start of his band’s set, Drive-By Truckers’ frontman Patterson Hood talked about envisioning June Carter Cash and Johnny sitting down to have dinner in heaven. Then guitarist Jason Isbell provided his own version of celestial music: a moving version of “I Walk The Line” that was marked by his plaintive vocals. Guitarist Mike Cooley followed with a deft reading of “Give My Love to Rose” and then Memphis’ North Mississippi Allstars played acoustic versions of “Home of the Blues” and “Big River.”
Dallas’ Old 97’s all but stole the show with “Let the Train Blow the Whistle” a song they covered on an early 7″, and “Ring of Fire,” which brought everyone back on stage for the tribute’s most heartfelt moment.
“ACL” producer Terry Lickona introduced the final part of the tribute — Johnny Cash’s 1987 appearance on “Austin City Limits” shown on the stage’s monitor — by decrying “the plastic pop that passes for country” these days. About five minutes after the screening started, it began to pour. Which was somehow totally appropriate. — Joe Gross
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