Voices calling, voices crying: Cash Bash returns to The Ramkat
By: Katei Cranford
Multitudes will march to big kettle drums as Bright Leaf Smokes, Jason Moss and the Hosses, the Bo-Stevens, John Howie Jr. and the Rosewood Bluff, the Tremors, and Phatlynx come together in celebration of Mr. Johnny Cash and his music on Feb. 22 at The Ramkat.
As any good outlaw (or the Man in Black himself) might appreciate, the mission is simple, and the rules are few: each band plays a full set featuring a couple of Cash covers.
“What I enjoy most is hearing how bands make songs their own,” said Richard Boyd, Cash Bash organizer and member of the Bo-Stevens. “These aren’t cover bands,” he insisted, “they do two Cash songs, then their own stuff in their own style. It’s great to see how these bands pull from Cash’s influence.”
“It allows bands to be themselves while celebrating someone who influenced them and the audience,” he explained.
Interpretations flow freely. “This year we’re keeping our songs mostly straightforward,” said Crispy Bess, head of Phatlynx, who’ll close the evening, “but we are planning to twist up some Conway Twitty.”
They’ve taken similar liberties in the past. “One year, we added a Fuzz-Wah accordion to ‘Wide Open Road,’” Bess said. “Cash Bash welcomes us with a solid, friendly crowd that appreciates what we’re doing,” he added. “We try to return the favor by playing deeper cuts that we hope the crowd enjoys.”
Jason Moss, who shared his plans to cover Cash’s B-side “A Little Bit of Yesterday,” is likewise “dang happy” to play this year.
“It kind of fell in my lap,” Moss said of his chosen song. “I’d been trying to think of a good song no one else would likely choose. Then, this past Christmas, my girlfriend’s mom gave me a 45 with the song on it. I hadn’t told anyone that I was looking for a Cash song to play, so I thought to myself: this is the one. Funny how things worked out,” he said. “On top of that, she also gave me a nice black pearl snap shirt that I’m going to wear in his honor.”
For the independent music world, cover shows are staples for holiday celebrations. And most mainstream folks often encounter tribute bands more than original acts. The magic of Cash Bash is how it walks the line between the two.
“Playing the occasional cover is important, as a songwriter,” John Howie Jr. said, “it gets you inside the head of another writer, and it gives you a chance to reinterpret a song you love.“
“At this point, I’ve probably covered Cash songs from every decade except the ‘80s,” Howie noted. “This will be the 17th Cash Bash, and I think I’ve played 14 of ‘em. If I’m around and we can make it happen, I always say yes,” he said.
“Maybe next time we’ll try ‘the Chicken in Black,’” Howie laughed. “But seriously, I don’t think Cash had a bad period. His religious stuff can be a little trickier to relate to, but even then, his delivery is so real–it’s hard not to appreciate,” he said.
As for Howie’s set, “I try not to do obvious numbers when I can help it,” he noted. Deep cuts coupled with favorites remain a common pursuit.
For Jimmy Tremor, “it’s always cool to hear the different takes on the songs at these shows.”
“Sometimes they sound like the records, sometimes like a different song completely,” he said, “they’re fun to play and give you a sense of where you’re coming from musically.
“Cash’s music defies genre,” Tremor noted of the central figure. Howie agreed, “Cash was one of the big gateways into country for me from punk, which is a huge deal. He was the first artist where I was like–ah, okay, I can like the same music as my dad.”
“Any song he played, whether he wrote it or not, is a Johnny Cash song–an amalgamation of country, rockabilly, hillbilly, rock’n’roll, blues, honky tonk, gospel–just pure American music,” Tremor added.
“It’s wonderful that he had such a great resurgence at the end of his career,” he noted, “it says a lot about the timelessness and far-reaching appeal of his music.”
Rumour had it Johnny Cash could “change harmonicas faster than kiss a duck.” Make a good run to the Ramkat for Cash Bash on Feb. 22 to see if any other bands can, too.
Just be sure to leave your guns at home.
Katei Cranford is Triad music nerd who adores Johnny Cash, and hosts the Tuesday Tour Report, a radio show that runs like mixtape of bands touring through NC, 5-7pm on WUAG 103.1fm.