Songs and stories were in abundance at “Volume One” of The Storytellers Music Festival which took place October 5 through 6, 2018 at the Storytellers Hideaway Farm in Bon Aqua, Tennessee. The event at the former creative home and retreat of music legend Johnny Cash showcased family members and music industry friends who knew, loved and performed with The Man In Black during his iconic career.
Headliners on Friday were Larry Gatlin, Crystal Gayle and B.J. Thomas. Saturday’s highlights featured T. Graham Brown and John Schneider. Other performers included Tommy Cash, Joanne Cash, Mark Alan Cash, Dallas Frazier, Phil Keaggy, Stan Perkins, Ron Haney, Kevin Max, Earl Poole Ball, Jimmy Weber and longtime Cash drummer, W.S. Holland. Johnny and June’s grandson, Thomas Gabriel also presented music from his newest studio project.
The outdoor music festival was staged at the renovated rustic barn adjacent to Cash’s circa 1860 pre-Civil War log home that now serves as a tourist centerpiece on the Hideaway Farm. Nearby is the Storytellers Museum at the corner of Old Highway 46. The former general store has a long history, most notable in the 1970’s it was converted by Johnny Cash to be the spot where the “Saturday Night at Hickman County” guitar pulls took place on the “Little Stage”. Later Johnny sold it to Red Wortham who turned it into a recording studio.
In 2016, the store structure was on the verge of collapse when Brian and Sally Oxley brought the building. Within months the couple along with supporters including Johnny’s daughter Cindy Cash had resurrected it to look like an old time general store on the outside. Inside it is The Storytellers Museum. The majority of the displays are dedicated to The Man in Black. Items of particular interest include Johnny’s guitars and the original handwritten lyrics to “Saturday Night in Hickman County”.
Back at the Bon Aqua Farm the well-staffed venue was equipped with state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems that were formatted for both covered and open air seating. Other notable details included stain glass windows and Bible quotes upon its floors. Concert-goers were encouraged to bring lawn chairs and enjoy the beauty of the rolling landscape that surround the home. Craft booths along with food trucks were also part of the festivities.
An impressive list of artists shared songs and stories over this sunny and warm weekend. The event opened with prayer and then Dan Oxley played the National Anthem on trumpet. The concert was hosted by Cash associate and friend Chance Martin along with one of JC’s daughters Cindy Cash. Both had tales to tell about Johnny with Cindy recalling her visits to the Farm. A short distance from the stage was a shed in which meet-and greets were held during set changes. Many of the festival’s musicians were available to say hi, sign merchandise and pose for photos after their shows.
One of the first acts we caught on Friday was Larry Gatlin who along with his brothers have enjoyed considerable success in country music over the years. On this occasion, Gatlin armed with an acoustic guitar performed solo. Larry’s show was loose with a focus on his hits and misses with songs written in the key of G which evolved into a talk about grace and how God and the Cashes helped him early on his career.
Crystal Gayle on the other hand was all glamour and backed by a full band. Crystal looked and sounded great. She was one of many over the weekend who commented on the natural and spiritual beauty of the Hideaway Farm. Crystal along with her sister Peggy Sue Wright who is also a singer-songwriter led their talented team though some of Gayle’s biggest songs including “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue.” Band solos along with history and humor made for a satisfying set from the still long haired legend.
B.J. Thomas is well-known for his hits of the 1960s and 1970s, which appeared on the pop, country, and Christian music charts. His best-known recordings are the Burt Bacharach/Hal David song “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” and the original version of the Mark James cut “Hooked on a Feeling”. Looking sharp B.J. with his group featuring a horn section presented plenty of popular tunes such as a winning “The Eyes of a New York Woman,” “Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong” and more to close Friday’s concert on a high note.
Saturday was also full of songs and stories which started off musically with Tommy and Mark Alan Cash who presented a solid set with a number of Cash covers along with a compelling composition declaring that the way we are living ‘scares the hell out of me’. Jimmy Weber who served in the air force and has toured the world performing for troops has seen his fair share of bad news. But, he started his segment with the upbeat and catchy “Thank God I’m A Country Boy” (John Denver) and “Wichita Lineman” (Glen Campbell). Ken Peltier from Alaska played “Good Hearted Woman” (Waylon Jennings) before Jimmy closed on a serious note with his version of “Taps.”
Guitar great and Christian artist Phil Keaggy kicked things off with his colorful instrumental “Shades of Green” that showcased Phil’s signature style of layering loops while playing a lead. The one-man band followed the pretty piece with the inspiring vocal number “Your Love Broke Through.” The spirited “Salvation Army Band” and an Elvis cover with a twist utilized more tricky Keaggy techniques before closing with a ballad to Jesus.
T Graham Brown is a country/soul/gospel singer who has more than twenty singles on the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts. He reminded us of a Springsteen meets Southside mix. Similar to those rockers, Brown surrounded himself with stellar players to add to his engaging and energized show that featured “Hell and High Water” and the delightful “Darlene.” Later, the animated vocalist admitted to being an alcoholic for a long time. He finishing with the moving “Wine Into Water” stating that he hoped this song would be a blessing to those who hear it.
Dare we declare Thomas Gabriel – the second coming of Cash – after all he is Johnny’s eldest grandchild with a deep voice. Like his famous forefather, Thomas has faced some demons but now he is traveling on the Long Way Home to pursue music. Gabriel with a serious stance at the mic sang his originals from the aforementioned album. His tracks were packed with vivid trials that included an innovative trip to “Folsom Prison.”
On both days, The Class of “55” Band featuring Mark Alan Cash, Stan Perkins, WS Holland (Cash’s drummer for 40 years), Ron Haney, Earl Poole Ball and Jeffery Todd paid fine tributes to Johnny, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis. During their fun-filled segment, Holland shared some of his strange experiences with the Man In Black before he recited the patriotic “Ragged Old Flag.”
Alongside his acting career, John Schneider has been a singer since the early 1980s, with a number of hits to his credit including “I’ve Been Around Enough to Know”, “Country Girls”, “What’s a Memory Like You”, and “You’re the Last Thing I Needed Tonight.” John tied up the theme of the Festival with songs that were also stories which was a prevailing point throughout. Schneider also had fond memories of the Cashes and considered it an honor to perform here. With a nod to his past and Waylon Jennings, John concluded his part of the concert with “Good Ol’ Boys (Dukes of Hazzard Theme)”.
By all accounts “Volume One” of The Storytellers Music Festival was a stellar success. It was two days of songs and stories from a wide array of artists and the good news is that the The Storytellers Hideaway Farm will be hosting their Second Annual Bon Aqua Bluegrass Festival on October 27-28, 2018. Entertainers already confirmed to perform are Ralph Stanley II & the Clinch Mountain Boys, Remington Ryde, Nothin’ Fancy, Blue Mother Tupelo, and Larry Stephenson. So if you enjoyed or missed The Storytellers Music Festival there is another opportunity to come out to the Cash Farm to experience faith, music and more soon.
Related Links: For more information on the STORYTELLERS MUSIC FESTIVAL and the other organizations mentioned please visit the following links — Storytellers Museum | Bon Aqua Bluesgrass Festival |Storyteller Stan Perkins