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Paying tribute to Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash is for everybody. An early country star who along with Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis put Sam Phillips and Sun Records out of Memphis on the musical map, Cash grew into an American icon, moving well past the confines of country music into the world of folk, Americana-roots and rock, gaining fans who dug all genres of music including music lovers from the independent, under-the-radar world who were loving Cash’s late-career covers of Beck, Danzig, Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden.

Cash is still honored worldwide with cover and tribute bands digging into his entire catalog. The Man in Black will be honored on May 16 when Johnny Cash Tribute band J.C. Cole and Folsom ’68 pull into the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College.

For J.C. Cole (whose initials are just a wonderful coincidence) there’s nobody like him.

If you go

WHAT: J.C. Cole & Folsom ’68 – Johnny Cash Tribute.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. May 16.

WHERE: Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College, 1000 Rim Drive.

TICKETS: $20/$40.

MORE INFORMATION: Visit www.durangoconcerts.com.

“He was folk, he was country, he was rockabilly, he was grunge,” Cole said in a recent interview. “He was everything, and none of that at the same time. He’s just such an anomaly, there’s nobody that can really compare to him.”

Cash has always been in the musical atmosphere. For a young Cole, who remembers listening to Johnny Cash while riding as a passenger in his father’s Cadillac, it was the music of Cash that set him on this trajectory.

“I truly say that it found me. I grew up on these guys, this is how I learned to play guitar. Of course I loved The Beatles and other styles, but this was the music that I could always easily do. It was something I’ve always loved, so when I decided to put it head on and full force. I said I’m not going to play music that I don’t want to do,” he said. “But the country and the folk, it’s just in my DNA. And Cash came naturally for me; when my boot hits the stage, I’m obviously doing a tribute, but it’s me as well. So hopefully that comes across to the audience, but that’s what it is.”

Where does a Cash tribute band begin and end the musical narrative? Cash had a career that went on for decades, playing rockabilly, country ballads and roots rock. For Cole and Folsom ’68, it’s all about keeping it classic.

“I start from Day One in 1954 and go up to about 1970. That was the era that I truly feel he was at his peak in terms of that band, its almost as if the band continues today from that era. It’s the ’50s and ’60s that I particularly focus on,” Cole said. “He changed a little bit, of course he was getting older, and I happen to look a little bit like him from that era, so that of course fits. But I agonize over the set list. But the ’50s and ’60s is where I put it.”

What you’ll get with Cole and band is an authentic tribute. He’s being himself, but he’s also being Johnny Cash. Forget any novelty knockoffs; what this band wants to present is Johnny Cash as he was, an apt representation for those that may have seen Cash, or for those that never got the chance.

“One of my biggest goals from Day One was not to make it hokey. There’s other guys doing Cash and that’s fine, but I don’t like a hokey tribute. I try to do it authentically, respectful to the music and to keep it as authentic as possible, down to the guitar strings and the guitar strap,” Cole said. “I do it all in his original keys, and it fits my voice, so it works out well.”

Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him at liggett_b@fortlewis.edu.