by Gus Lubin

At 7:45 on Friday night, Richard Boyd of the bo-stevens struts around the Garage.

The big man wears a draping black shirt and a white cowboy hat. He mingles with the growing crowd, which contains dozens of cowboys, rockabillies, punks and other strange types. The show is Cash Bash 7 and the crowd is composed of the diverse fans of Johnny Cash. Cash, who died in 2003, had a distinctive sound, which stretched from country and gospel to hit covers of younger bands like Nine Inch Nails and Beck: bold and basic acoustic guitar and a clear, deep voice, with the force of scripture. Not a pretty man, Cash also had a distinctive look, and was known as the Man In Black. The host and founder of Cash Bash, Boyd wears black tonight and most nights. Under the shirt, a black tattoo of Cash marks his upper arm. Boyd considers his band the most traditional of the 14 bands that will play at the two-night festival. “Obviously, we play country music,” he says. “But it’s amazing how well Cash’s music translates to different genres.” Over seven years, Cash Bash at the Garage has built a strong following. The concert sold out for the first time in 2005, following the release of Cash biopic Walk The Line. Beginning in 2006, the festival was spread over two nights, and it has continued to sell out. Tonight it sells out by 8:20. The rule of the concert is that each band must play at least three Cash songs, and may fill out the rest of the set with their own material. The first band of the night, a jury-rigged version of Sidna Allen, immediately demonstrates the flexibility of Cash’s music with a punk cover of “Folsom Prison Blues.” The band continues with 45 minutes of garage rock that rarely sounds a thing like Cash. Sidna Allen sets the tone for an evening that explores and celebrates Cash, without churning out simple imitations. Therefore, the concert serves as a showcase for local and regional bands. As the night continues, many of the stranger characters from the crowd step on stage to perform. A blond man in an embroidered black shirt plays guitar and a tattooed and bearded behemoth in overalls plays bass for the second band, the Tremors. They play a high-energy honky-tonk interpretation of Cash, which draws the crowd right up to the stage. During a song about zombies, the blond, Jimmy Tremor, sings with hoots and twang, while bass player Slim Perkins roars into the mic. Perkins claws the bass like a bear sharpening its claws on tree bark. Another character from the crowd, a handsome cowboy with garish sideburns, steps on stage next as the frontman of John Howie Jr. & Rosewood Bluff. The band plays melodic country music with a pedal steel guitar. While he sings, Howie grimaces and smiles, and stomps and kicks his flame-covered shoes. The bo-stevens don’t come on until after 11. When they do, they play like the concert was made for them, as it sort of was. Boyd leads the band in an authoritative rendition of “Ring of Fire,” complete with two trumpets for the chorus. Now wearing black trousers to go with the black shirt and cowboy hat, and standing with guitar before the mic, Boyd looks like the man of his dreams. Midnight comes and the energy in the crowd continues to rise. Nathan Palmer of Truckstop Preachers has fun on stage, including one moment when he puts on a deer head, and another when he sings behind a large cutout of Cash’s face. Five hours into Cash Bash, The Straight 8s plays the best set of the night. Pat McGraw wears a Costello hat and plays a silver double bass, while Bernie Fox stands at the drum kit and swings his arms like a drunken samurai. Robert Steigler plays guitar and sings with smiles and winks. By this point, the crowd has thinned, but everyone who remains is having a good time. Couples bounce and grope. Girls dance together, and a pretty tomboy boogies barefoot. Tattoo-covered girls bop in the front row, cigarettes in hand. A Latino man spins his girlfriend, as she nuzzles to his neck. The rest do the beercan swing dance. At 2:10 management cuts off the mic because of city laws. There will be another Bash the following night, and every February hereafter.

The 7 th annual Cash Bash at the Garage in Winston-Salem saw artistsif every stripe paying tribute to spiritual forefather Johnny Cash.Above: Truckstop Preachers. Right: Richard Boyd of the bo-stevens.(photos by Gus Lubin)